The Malta Independent 21 September 2019, Saturday

Our two pillars are now in trouble

Noel Grima Sunday, 25 August 2019, 08:32 Last update: about 27 days ago

Our existence as a nation depends, for largely historical reasons, on the United Kingdom and Italy.

OK, we are an independent nation state, but what happens in the two countries deeply affects us.

The UK is fully engrossed in Brexit, on which we have had very little public discussion, and perhaps no one has any idea what might happen. Nor do we have any idea what impact a no-deal Brexit will have on Malta, on the Maltese in the UK and on trade between the two countries.

Whatever happens, especially in a no-deal situation, there will be repercussions which will hurt us.

Now our second pillar, our neighbour to the north, Italy, which is also the country we used to be part of, is in deep trouble. (There is also our neighbour to the south, Libya, with which we used to have the best of relationships, but which is now a failed state.)

Maybe many of us do not have a clear idea what is happening. To begin with, the governing coalition is between two political parties or movements with a completely different programme, commitments and ideas. To be sure, the wonder is how they have stuck together for so long.

One, Salvini’s League, is right-wing, while Di Maio’s 5S is rather left-wing. The two leaders have been bickering for months now. On his part, Di Maio and his ministers tried very hard to temper Salvini’s intransigent approach to the boat-loads of migrants crossing over from Libya. Salvini, on his part, is keen to remind his detractors that irregular migration in down by 80% compared to last year. Sometimes, Salvini’s intransigence, such as when he kept women and children on board a small ship for weeks, can appear to many as repellent and crude.

Salvini also rails against the 5S’s opposition to a high-speed train through the Alps for which there is EU funding and an agreement with France. Similar 5S opposition has blocked similar funding which the frail Italian economy really needs.

There is a similar divergence with regard to their basic economic plan – whether it is to be a cut in taxes or a straight government hand-out to the lower classes.

So when the May EP elections showed that Salvini’s League had shot up in the polls and 5S had plummeted, Salvini, unilaterally decided to provoke an election in autumn. He stopped going to parliament and instead embarked on an election campaign on the beaches of Italy. Then he tabled a vote of no confidence in his prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, but did not get his ministers to resign.

When the Senate met on Tuesday, Conte, with Salvini sitting beside him, embarked on a direct confrontational attack on his interior minister, with the latter punctuating his replies with grimaces, smiles of derision and, in one instance, taking out his Rosary beads and kissing the crucifix. Conte then resigned.

The parties are now having consultations. 5S are toying with the idea of joining the left-wing Democrats who are in opposition and setting up a government alliance between them, since what bothers them most is an early election which they could lose.

They have the numbers to form a governing majority but the proposed coalition looks frail – the Dems are split between followers of Renzi and the new party leader. And not all 5S are in agreement with joining the Dems.

Salvini does not have the numbers in today’s parliament to set up a governing majority.

Thus stands the situation, at least until this afternoon. Meanwhile, the Italian economy is the worst in the EU, countless young Italians are either out of a job or have had to go abroad. And if the economy deteriorates further, the Italians will have to raise their VAT rates.

Again, this situation may impact Malta. It may also affect local politics. Salvini has struck a chord with many Maltese, not just PN, but also PL, who have come to look at him as a role model. If there is to be any development, this may be more on ideas and stances than anything else. People have been heard saying they yearn for a Maltese Salvini.

 

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