GIS Dossier: The Italian case
Politically and financially, Italy has come to be regarded as a weak link in the European Union. Its shaky banks and enormous public debt almost blew apart the euro area during the debt crisis of 2010-2012, and could still do so. Its government, a marriage of populists on the left and right, claims to be the precursor of a protest wave that will sweep this year’s European Parliament elections. But as usual, it is hard to tell whether Italy is headed for disaster or more of the same.
A year of change for the European Union?
The European Union, which still lacks a post-Brexit vision of itself, will be changing the leadership of almost all its leading institutions over the next few months. Candidates are already jostling for position to take over at the European Commission and the European Central Bank, and surprises could be in store. With non-mainstream parties likely to gain seats in the May European Parliament elections, the EU-27 seems headed for even less harmony and more dissension.
Opinion: Populism as Reformation
Though it is popular to contrast “populism” with “democracy,” the two are more alike than different. Like the Reformation 500 years ago, today’s populist movements aim to wrest power from the elites and give it back to the people. Instead of petering out, variations on the democratic populist system are likely to multiply, and traditional democratic models may undergo a radical renewal.
The Italian challenge
Italy’s public finance troubles are making waves again, but the new government’s budget proposal does not spell disaster, nor should debt servicing create a big problem, considering today’s low interest rates. But Italy’s leaders have decided to transform their conflict with the European Union into a casus belli. Will the conflict end in an Italian crisis or a new EU architecture?
Opinion: No winners in Swedish elections
While the Sweden Democrats did not win as much support as they had hoped during Sweden’s recent elections, their success at the polls was enough to ensure a major seat at the table in coalition talks. Rather than a sign of right-wing fervor, the growing support for the party shows that many Swedes are simply concerned about the future of their country. Sweden has serious social, structural and fiscal problems that cannot be waved away by blaming populism.
Opinion: Italy at risk
Italy’s new left-right government is a political experiment that could turn out in one of two ways: either a disguised version of business as usual, or a complete disaster. Many observers assumed that Lega leader Matteo Salvini would manufacture the disaster on purpose to take Italy out of the euro. Now, it appears more likely that the financial crisis – if and when it comes – will occur by accident rather than design.
Opinion: The decline of social democracy
After a wretched result in last year’s general elections, Germany’s Social Democrats are now voting on whether to enter another grand coalition with the CDU/CSU. Whatever they decide, it may already be too late for the party to pull out of its tailspin. The SPD’s sad decline is part of a much broader eclipse of social democracy in Europe.
The specter haunting Europe
The populist wave spreading across Europe is rooted in deep-seated grievances – globalization, falling real incomes, unemployment, torn safety nets – that have been channeled into anger against migrants. Instead of engaging with these real problems, establishment politicians have preferred to insult voters. This is not a winning strategy.
2018 European perspectives
Today’s ruling elites of Europe have renounced its new political movements as “nationalist” and “populist,” and accuse some member states of no longer following democratic principles. In reality, though, it is Brussels’ overreaching ambitions that bring up the specter of autocratic rule in Europe.
Central Europe is not less European or less democratic
Parties unfairly labeled “euroskeptic” and “populist” have won elections in Austria and the Czech Republic. But they only want to preserve sovereignty and regional diversity. Western Europe likes to look down on Central Europe as nationalist and backward, but the real political problems in Europe stem from established parties’ headlong push toward harmonization and their refusal to accept new ideas.