LA CIVETTA April 2019 - Page 11


Initial European positivity

In the aftermath of World War II Italy turned to Europe with great success during the “economic miracle”. It had a vital role in the Common Market and was one of the founding members of the European Economic Community (EEC).

The numbers speak for themselves: in the early 60’s exports increased by 14.4% per annum and industrial output grew by over 8% (second only to Japan). Italy moved from having amongst the lowest paid workers in 1950’s, to seeing an “economic miracle” in the 1960s. Between 1952 and 1970 per capita income shot up by 134%. During the same period in the UK per capita income only rose 32%.

The Prime Minister De Gasperi not only saw Europe as a way to help reshape Italy’s economy (free movement of labour helped rebalance an economy that was shifting from a primarily agricultural existence to a manufacturing powerhouse), but also as a safeguard. Europe seemed to be a guarantee of peace and political stability for Italy.

Wrecked relations with Europe and at home

Fast forward to the early 90’s and you might have thought that in the face of recession after a second economic boom in the 80’s, Italy might turn to Europe for salvation. However, with a huge budget deficit and the failure of several Italian governments to maintain EU

policy, Italian business was at a huge disadvantage in the single market.

The First Republic failed shortly afterwards in 1994.

Italy underwent political regeneration after most of its politicians were either in gaol or under investigation for fraud and mafia connections. And these allegations were

far from a joke. In 1992, Giovanni Falcone, the leading anti-mafia judge, was killed along with his wife and body guards by a bomb.

The Lega Nord & Alleanza Nazionale

The regeneration brought about three key new political players in 1994.

First was the Lega Nord (Northern League), founded by the charismatic senator Umberto Bossi. It saw the South of Italy as parasitic to the North and Bossi talked of creating a northern republic called Padania.

Supporters were strongly against central government, immigration and wanted Italy to be turned into a federation. This regional pride can be seen in the two regionalist parties, the Lombard League and the Venetian League. They, initially, were the key components of the party. It is now led by the incumbent Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini, who is widely considered the most powerful man in Italy.

Second, the popularity of the neo-fascist party, Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), grew massively in the poorest regions of Italy, above all in the South. At first it seemed to be an insignificant fringe group. But the leadership of the young and charismatic Gianfranco Fini led the party on to win 13.4% of the vote in the 1994 elections. In addition, it won well over 20% of the vote in the South.

However, its success did not last. It was dissolved in 2009 and no longer exists as a political organisation.

Forza Italia and Berlusconi

Thirdly, there was Forza Italia (Forward Italy or “Let’s go Italy”) which was created just two months before the elections of 1994. It creator remains its President today: Silvio Berlusconi, media tycoon and owner of AC Milan football club. With the tricolor of the Italian flag as its logo, patriotism was the heart and soul of the party.

Berlusconi also regularly used the language and imagery of football in campaigns which was a tangible source of great national pride at the time. He also promised a “second economic miracle” that never materialised.

Nor was Berlusconi’s image as a “fresh” politician, unscathed by corruption, true. He in fact had done many dodgy deals with Craxi in the 80’s, who was at the time being investigated on charges of corruption. Some argue that Berlusconi wanted to be Prime Minister merely to secure immunity from such investigations.

Nevertheless, Forza Italia claimed 21% of the vote in 1994 and in 2018 they earned 17% of the vote, the fourth largest party behind the Lega Nord (20%) and the Democratic Party (18%).

From this we can see that the two of these right-wing groups are just as important today as they were at the start of the Second Republic.

And with them they carried anti-European politics.