Promise the sky during the campaign. Come back down to earth when it’s time to actually govern. That’s the timeless political strategy adopted by office-seekers across the globe.
Not this week in Italy.
The two populist parties seeking to form a government spent the months before the March election sanding down their rhetoric against the euro. But as they get ready to take charge, their Euroskeptic edges are starting to show once again.
Exhibit A: An early draft of a possible coalition agreement between the anti-establishment 5Star Movement and the far-right League leaked to the Italian edition of the Huffington Post. The document calls for the renegotiation of EU treaties, including the Stability and Growth Pact, the cancellation of €250 billion in Italian government debt by the European Central Bank, and a revision of Italy’s contribution to the EU budget.
The document was quickly dismissed by the leaders of the two parties as out of date and not necessarily indicative of the coalition’s final accord. But it reveals, according to party leaders, a hard-line approach to dictates from Brussels.
“This is the time to have courage. The courage to keep going and change things” — Luigi Di Maio
“We think that people come ahead of economic obligations and that it’s not possible to impoverish citizens in order to respect constraints decided by others,” Lorenzo Fontana, a top League official, said. “The people come before the economy. For too long these priorities have been backwards.”
Another leading League parliamentarian, Nicola Molteni, told the Il Messaggero daily a tougher stance on the EU is one of the “non-negotiable themes” that League leader Matteo Salvini had asked for during the coalition negotiations.
While the 5Stars have generally taken a less aggressive stance against the euro, they have begun to reemphasize their opposition to what they describe as EU-imposed austerity.
“We’ve always been critical of the excessive budgetary restrictions imposed by the European treaties,” said Alfonso Bonafede, a 5Stars parliamentarian whose name was floated in Italian media Wednesday as a potential prime minister. “They impede expansive polices in periods of recession or stagnation, damaging not just the Italian economy but putting at risk the financial and political fabric of the entire European Union.”
The League party leader Matteo Salvini | Riccardo Antimiani/EPA
The leaders of both parties have been quick to seize on statements from Brussels as occasions to demonstrate their intransigence. “We face continuous attacks from unelected Eurocrats,” 5Star leader Luigi Di Maio said in a video Tuesday in response to statements by European commissioners expressing hope that Italy will not drastically change its fiscal or migration policies.
“This is the time to have courage,” Di Maio then wrote on his party’s webpage. “The courage to keep going and change things.”
In a live video on Facebook Wednesday, Salvini said Italy is no longer going to take orders from the EU and boasted that if financial markets are worried, it’s “a good sign” because it means officials in foreign capitals realize change is happening.
‘Italexit is back’
The proposals in the leaked accord sent tremors through the markets Tuesday, driving up the Italian government’s costs of borrowing, weakening the euro against the dollar and shaving about 2 percent off the value of the Milan stock exchange.
Italy is the eurozone’s third-largest economy, and one of its most indebted, with a public debt of some €2.3 trillion, according to the Bank of Italy, equivalent to roughly 132 percent of the country’s GDP.
“Italexit is back,” Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist and director general at the Italian Treasury, wrote in an investment note Wednesday.
“This leak will be an eye-opening experience for those who had a very complacent attitude towards a 5Stars-League government. Although the two parties may eventually water down the proposals, the document reveals the true extent of their oddity, inexperience and off-track nature. The attitude of financial markets will not be the same from today onwards,” he said.
Italy has a public debt of some €2.3 trillion | Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images
Some stances have already started to shift. Claudio Borghi, a League MP responsible for the party’s economic policy, said Wednesday that the party doesn’t want the ECB to cancel Italy’s debt, but to change the way the debt it holds is used to calculate spending limits under the EU treaties.
Coalition talks continued Wednesday, with the two parties saying they expected to have an accord and government ready to present to Italian President Sergio Mattarella “before Monday.” The two parties have yet to agree on a prime minister, though the League has made it clear that holding the interior ministry will be a priority.
On Wednesday, Di Maio said he and Salvini were “ready to step aside” and not serve in the government if that was required to reach a deal.
“If we start off soft, we’ll end up like the past government” — Lorenzo Fontana, a top League official
The parties still face a steep climb as they need the blessing of both Mattarella and the members of their parties in order to form a government.
But one thing is unlikely to change: the two parties’ hard stance against Brussels.
“If we start off soft, we’ll end up like the past government,” Fontana said in an interview with the La Repubblica newspaper Wednesday. “We don’t want to be subjects, but equal partners with other countries.”
Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli contributed reporting.