By Simon Richards
The Italian president’s decision to reject the verdict the Italian people gave in March's election has done more than simply create a major political crisis in Italy; it has opened up a second front against an EU elite which had been concentrating on fighting Brexit’s threat to its comfortable existence. The British Government ought, as Jacob Rees-Mogg, the spokesman for the European Reform Group of Conservative Party MP has pointed out, to be negotiating from a position of strength, given that the United Kingdom is a massive net contributor to the EU coffers and imports vastly more from the EU than it exports. So far, Theresa May has felt either unwilling or unable to demonstrate even a small fraction of the negotiating strength that Margaret Thatcher once brought to the table. The Italian crisis should encourage the British prime minister to stand up to Michel Barnier’s bullying tactics and to take advantage of the EU’s new difficulties.
There is much talk of populism - it has become synonymous with democracy. The EU is not just deeply undemocratic, taking power as far away from the people as possible; it is fundamentally anti-democratic because it is designed to prevent national elections from having the power to influence events. Add to that the EU’s disgraceful record of ignoring referendum results that do not suit it - in Denmark, France, Ireland and the Netherlands - and it is clear that the Italian crisis is just the latest, but also, potentially, the greatest, challenge to the self-serving ancien regime in Brussels. This well-paid elite has a fanatical adherence to an EU superstate project which has never had popular support. It fears and loathes what it calls populism because it knows that it has no popular mandate for its project.
There is a precedent for the populist rebellion against the EU in the fall of the Soviet Empire. The Soviet Communist Party lost any legitimacy it might once have had long before the Berlin Wall came crashing down. It had put down rebellions in Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia with much the same ruthlessness as the EU deployed to bully Greece into submission. But, in the end, a combination of economic failure and lack of democratic legitimacy brought the Soviet Empire to its knees, when challenged by populists - Lech Walesa from within, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II from without. When the Euro came into being, Lord Tebbit - a populist conservative if ever there was one - warned that, by removing people’s ability to influence economic policy, people would, in desperation, turn to extremes. The EU elite refused to listen, of course, but how right he has proved to be!
Although the 5-Star Movement and the League are not long-established parties, there is a good reason why they have gained growing support from the Italian people. They have had the sense to see that the Euro benefits Germany at Italy’s expense. The corporate financiers - as clueless and out of touch as the politicians they cosy up to - issue dire threats of economic ruin should Italy have the temerity to free itself from the shackles of the Euro, just as George Osborne’s Project Fear did in the Brexit referendum campaign.
The Italian people know better; they know that the Euro has led to massive youth unemployment. They know that Italy has borne the brunt of what has become a German racket, just as they know they have borne the brunt of the flood of immigrants encouraged to risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean by Chancellor Merkel’s foolish open-door policy.
The EU was able to bully Alexis Tsipras in Greece; he proved to be “all mouth and no trousers”. Having witnessed his emasculation, the Italians are likely to prove more difficult to browbeat. Italy has a vastly more powerful economy than Greece and, moreover, the Italian democrats (for that is what the “populists” are) will have taken heart from the way the British people refused to fall for the lies of Project Fear and voted for freedom and independence from EU rule.
As with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU faces a formidable threat from outside its borders in the shape of the avowedly populist President Trump, who will do all in his considerable power to encourage and assist the Italian rebellion against the EU elite that he too holds in such contempt. The Italian people have an opportunity to achieve an historic victory against their anti-democratic rulers, just as Garibaldi and the Risorgimento did in the 19th Century. Two great populist leaders, Charles De Gaulle and Margaret Thatcher, both offered the EU a vision of a “Europe of Nations”. The EU elite, obsessed with its hated superstate project, chose to ignore them. Now, the Italians have the opportunity to force the EU to abandon the path which has made it an economic laggard and to give hope to a generation of unemployed young people whose lives have been blighted by the Euro.
_Opinions expressed in View articles are not those of euronews.