“They saved the banks, we’re protecting savers”.
This message, in the shape of a meme comparing the former centre-left Italian administration to the current populist Five Star Movement, started to circulate on Facebook on Tuesday as news broke that the government had greenlit a possible bank bailout to inject money into troubled Banca Carige.
Carige was recently placed under temporary administration by the European Central Bank after its main investor refused a crucial capital increase in December. The possibility of its failure alarmed the Italian banking system, already faced with the prospect of a slowing economy and the uncertainties linked to the increase in government bond yields.
But the coalition government’s issues when it comes to Carige are not purely economic. They have more to do with credibility. During its years as a growing opposition party, the Five Star Movement has been at the forefront whenever it could accuse the ruling Democratic Party of using the people’s money to save bankers when they should have been investing in citizens instead.
Many have been quick to point out the hypocrisy behind Rome’s willingness to recapitalise the Carige. But Five Star leader and vice-PM Luigi Di Maio has maintained an "Us versus Them" rhetoric on Facebook, asking: “do you really think that the media and these failed politicians would be fighting us like this if we were really helping the banks?”.
Where's the hypocrisy?
Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore managed to get its hands on the Lega-Five Star Movement decree to save Carige – and revealed it to be identical to the decree former centre-left PM Paolo Gentiloni issued to save banks MPS, Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca in the past.
As putting the two texts side by side shows, the only notable difference between the two decrees is the name of the recipient banks. The copy-paste effect is particularly evident since even the parameters listed in article 2, defining the characteristics of financial instruments to be employed, are detailed in the precise order they appeared in the Gentiloni decree. The same goes for the content of the following articles.
Political communication blogger Pietro Raffa dug up a tweet Di Maio wrote in May 2016 calling the Italian government "a slave for private banks".
"The Carige story is a real bloodbath for the Five Star movement", Raffa commented, "In these past years I have never seen so many negative comments against a leader, Di Maio, and his party in a single day".
Gentiloni himself jumped in on the conversation, writing “No, we didn’t save a bank” on Twitter over a picture of Magritte’s iconic painting The Treachery of Images, which shows a pipe over the sentence “This isn’t a pipe”.
The president of the Lazio region Nicola Zingaretti, who is running to lead the Democratic Party in the forthcoming party primaries, tweeted “We caught you, Di Maio and Salvini. Guys, just admit it and don’t get nervous: even on the topic of banks you’ve indulged in demagogy for months and told lies on lies on repeat #Carige”.