Did Salvini betray his electorate by joining the Draghi government?

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Why on earth did Matteo Salvini decide to join the Draghi government when all opinion polls show the right-wing bloc winning in the event of an election?

The first reason, the one given by people from the League, is that to have new parliamentary elections, President Sergio Mattarella would need to call them. Mattarella is from the left — he comes from the Democratic Party (PD) — and the last thing he wants to see in Italy is an absolute majority of the three right-wing parties with Salvini as prime minister.

New elections were Salvini’s preferred solution, but his ally Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the center-right pro-EU party Forza Italia, loudly proclaimed his willingness to participate in the government whose formation Mattarella had entrusted to “Super Mario”. Besides, together with the Italia Viva party of former prime minister Matteo Renzi, who brought down the second Conte government but supported the formation of a Draghi government, the left alone still had an absolute majority in the Italian parliament.

Salvini’s choice was therefore not between a coalition with Draghi and elections, but between a left-wing government, probably with the participation of Forza Italia, and a slightly more balanced government with the participation of the League.

Max Ferrari, a journalist and adviser for international issues within the League, has been a member of the right-wing party since 1989. As such, he could see from the inside its evolution since the arrival at the end of 2013 of Salvini at the head of the Northern League, which has now become just the League under the impulse of its new leader who has transformed the regional party into a national party enjoying a level of popular support it never previously experienced. The League is an all-Italian party with a liberal-conservative stance (liberal on economics, conservative on social issues), a sovereignist party without necessarily being against membership of the European Union but against its federalist evolution, a party critical of the euro even though Salvini now says that it is not a subject, and a party hostile to mass immigration.

In the first Conte government (2018-19), Salvini made a name for himself in Europe through his policy of closing ports to illegal immigrants and his close ties with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Remix News asked Max Ferrari what he thought of Salvini’s choice to enter such a left-dominated coalition government and especially of his recent comments on the need for European policies against illegal immigration and the need for Italy to follow the example of Germany, France, and Spain in this area. Those comments made on Feb. 10 in an interview with L’Avvenire have raised alarm among European advocates of the Hungarian method against illegal immigration. Max Ferrari did not want to comment on Salvini’s latest assertions on immigration, which he sees simply as a way to put himself in a position where he will be able to act from within the Italian government without antagonizing left-wing parties too much, waiting for the next elections in two years’ time to fully revert to his previous policies. He does not believe that Salvini has really changed his mind in this area.

This is what he told us:

“I have been in the League since its foundation. In over 30 years, we have gone through many phases, but the core of our thinking has never changed. We are and remain patriots tied to the Christian tradition and absolutely hostile to uncontrolled immigration that increasingly assumes the appearance of an invasion and replacement of native European peoples and cultures. Our presence in the government is important to keep our guard up and act on this point, as well as on security. It is no coincidence that Prime Minister Draghi has clearly said that without security there is no development. This was an absolutely unwelcome phrase on the left.

Furthermore, we are the first Italian party, an expression of the productive classes that would have absolutely not understood our refusal to govern. We are in a post-war-like situation and the League cannot just stand by and observe. Opinion polls confirm our choice has been well received.

Having said that, it is clear that the ultimate goal of the League is to have new elections and a center-right government [with Forza Italia and Fratelli d’Italia]. On the positioning in Europe, Salvini was clear: the League willingly talks with the EPP, but there is no plan to change its position in the European Parliament.”

For Salvini, his party’s entry into the government, therefore, allows Italy to avoid a left-wing government at a crucial time when the use of funds from the European recovery plan must be properly managed. In the new government, the League has obtained the ministry of tourism, a sector that has now been devastated and which accounted for 13 percent of Italy’s GDP and even 15 percent in terms of employment before the pandemic, the ministry of economic development and the ministry for people with disabilities. Luigi di Maio, the de facto leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S), has retained his portfolio of foreign affairs minister, and Luciana Lamorgese, a left-leaning independent who has conducted an open-port policy, remains at the head of the interior ministry. Roberto Speranza, originally from the PD and now the leader of a small left-wing party, retains the ministry of health, and it was he who originated the first tensions within the Draghi government.

Speranza decided on Sunday evening, Feb. 14, to reverse the decision to open the ski slopes from Monday morning. The two right-wing partners (League and Forza Italia) of the Draghi government were furious because they see it as a continuation of the method of the Conte government. One may also wonder if this first decision of the new Draghi government, which had been sworn in the day before, was not already a way for the left to sabotage the action of the League’s ministers.

Entering the government together with the left is a risky gamble, as the League could be overtaken on its right flank by Fratelli d’Italia, which is today the only opposition party and will therefore be the only one to benefit from the possible failures of the Draghi government. It is also a difficult bet, as it will not be easy for the League to make its mark on Draghi’s policies with only three ministers (in addition to the secretaries of state in the various ministries, including one under Interior Minister Luciana Lamorgese). In addition to those three League ministers, there are in Draghi’s hybrid government three ministers from Forza Italia (for public administration, regional affairs, and territorial cohesion), left-wing ministers at the head of the ministries of defense, health, labor and social policy, culture, youth, equal opportunities and families, agriculture, and forestry policy, and there are independent ministers for the economy and finance, justice, education, environment, and, as mentioned before, the interior, in addition to the prime minister who is himself an economist and not a politician.

The daily newspaper Il Giornale, although traditionally considered a newspaper close to Silvio Berlusconi’s party, has for the last years been writing in a tone favorable to Matteo Salvini’s League. On Feb. 14, Il Giornale explained the latter’s change in rhetoric as follows:

“The government promotion of Giancarlo Giorgetti and Massimo Garavaglia, the two ‘economic’ League members far from the Eurosceptic sovereignty on which Salvini thrived in the past, is both an opportunity and a challenge for him. On the one hand, he can consolidate his stature as leader of a government party, able to manage a key field such as Economic Development, capable of convincing a more moderate electorate and reassure the European capitals in view of his plan to become prime minister. On the other hand, it is clear that it will be easier for Meloni, left out of the pro-Draghi coalition, to hammer on the issues dearest to the sovereignist electorate and preside over that space.”

Only time will tell whether Matteo Salvini is betting on the right horse.

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