Heiner Flassbeck – Italy: A Choice in Emilia Romagna – or How the EU is Constantly Dismantling Itself

Salvini will carry on, enormously strengthened, and sooner or later he will reach his goal.

Heiner Flassbeck is an economist, as well as publisher and editor of  “flassbeck economics international

Originally posted in German at flassbeck economics international

Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE

File:Salvini Centinaio Giorgetti.jpg

“Matteo Salvini has lost, his plan to overthrow the government has not worked.” This, or something similar, is the usual chorus of headlines in German papers after the regional election in Emilia Romagna. The malicious joy of the “good Europeans” creeps out of every line. The German-hater Salvini – the man who is challenging the whole of Europe -has been considerably chastened. But that is not the truth or even half of it. It is true that Salvini’s Lega has not achieved its goal of overthrowing the incumbent regional president and taking power in Bologna itself with a coalition of right-wing parties.

But only when you understand how tremendously ambitious this goal was can you judge whether the result of the election was a defeat or a victory, with almost 44 percent of the votes (for the right-wing coalition called Centrodestra, 51 percent for the coalition led by the Partito Demokratico (PD) called Centrosinistra). First of all, it must be remembered that Emilia Romagna has been a red stronghold like no other region in Italy since time immemorial. The “red region”, as it is often called, has never in 70 years been governed other than by governments that tend to be left-wing. For decades it was a stronghold of Italian communism.

In this region, Sunday’s winner, Stefano Bonaccini, won the last election in 2014 with 49 percent (his party PD with 44 percent) against 29 percent of a right-wing coalition of similar composition. The Five Star movement came in at 13 percent. The Lega, then still called Lega Nord, achieved 19 percent. The PD reached only 34 percent this time, but the Lega trailed with 32 percent. The Five Star movement has been pulverized with three percent. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia is part of the right-wing coalition, but remained below three percent. Remarkably, voter turnout increased from 37 percent to 67 percent.

Has a party like the Lega, which can increase from 19 to 32 percent with almost twice as much voter turnout, in any way suffered a setback? Sure, it has not achieved its extremely ambitious goal, but in substance, in terms of the importance for Italian politics, it has won big-time. One need hardly mention that deep in the south, in Calabria, Centrodestra (with about the same turnout as in 2014 of 44 percent) celebrated a magnificent election victory with 55 percent of the vote, with the Lega, which did not compete there in 2014, pulling 12 percent from nowhere and becoming the third strongest party. In 2014, the Centrosinistra Calabria had still won with 61 percent, with the PD at that time coming in with 23 percent. This time the PD reached a mere 15 percent.

Europe sleeps on

It is exactly the same as it has almost always been in recent years: if the great catastrophe does not happen, Europe slumbers on. In Berlin and Brussels the result will have been forgotten by tomorrow, because it is firmly expected that the pro-European Italian government of PD and the Five Star movement will continue and that the nightmare of Salvini will have passed for the time being. So everything is fine.

No it is not. Salvini will carry on, enormously strengthened, and sooner or later he will reach his goal. At the speed his party is growing, he will probably not need any other parties except his faithful little ally Centrodestra in the next national election to gain a majority. Five Star are gone and the PD is so weak that even its own victorious candidate in Emilia Romagna has distanced himself from it.

In addition, the persistent weakness of the European economy is playing right into Salvini’s hands. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen talks a lot, but nothing has been heard from her to address this weakness. Everybody is acting as if the European economy, unlike the German economy, has had a long upswing, which is now being interrupted by a temporary weakness that cannot be changed much. That is fundamentally wrong. Italian industrial production has not even reached its last peak, which was in 2011, in this “upswing”. Since the beginning of 2018 it has also been weakening again at this low level. In Germany, after all, the 2011 level was exceeded by seven percent by the end of 2017. Even now, after a sharp decline, it is roughly at the level of 2011. Consequently, unemployment in Italy is still very high.

A Europe that takes itself seriously and has an interest in its further development cannot simply ignore a country as important as Italy with its specific problems. It is precisely this country that must be given the opportunity to prevent any further weakening and to reduce its unemployment by means of government stimulus. Yes, it is only possible with government stimulus – and that is completely independent of the current level of government debt. But how is this to be understood by a Brussels bureaucracy which, under von der Leyen, can of course emancipate itself even less from Berlin than under Juncker? And how is this to be understood by an Italian Commissioner who is responsible for precisely these issues but has no idea what is going on? To make matters worse, he has made Marco Buti, the former Italian Director-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, his head of cabinet – he who was responsible for all the countless wrong decisions during the entire period of the acute euro crisis.

In this way, Europe is permanently dismantling itself. At the same time, the media and politicians are jointly puzzling over how it can be that nationalist forces are increasingly gaining the upper hand. One asks historians what the parallels are with the dark times when nationalists gained supremacy, especially in Germany and Italy. But the historians are helpless. How can they conclude that it is always the same old stupidity that robs people of the chance to avoid their fate through their own efforts?

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