Global Agenda: Revolting Italians
The majority of Italians chose to demonstrate just how wide the gulf is between the peoples of Europe and the European leadership elite.
Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi Photo: Reuters
Anyone who had swallowed the line that the European crisis is under control and
the situation is gradually improving had their illusions destroyed by the
Italian elections on Sunday and Monday. The Italian people succeeded in
highlighting the fundamental issues that threaten not just the EMU (European
Monetary Union; i.e., the euro), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the other
monetary apparatus, but the entire European Union (EU) and the European project
that underlies it.
It is essential to differentiate between these two
levels of the crisis, although they are of course closely intertwined.
the immediate level, the issues are financial and economic, and the responses
are measured in the financial markets. The election result, which apparently
surprised the pundits, was that the parties in favor of maintaining the policies
of austerity and reform demanded by the EU leadership in Brussels, the ECB in
Frankfurt and the German government in Berlin, failed to win a majority in both
houses of the Italian parliament.
Indeed, no functioning coalition seems
to be possible, given the distribution of the seats (which is not at all the
same as the distribution of the votes, because the Italian system awards a
massive bonus in the lower house to the party with the most votes). This has
caused the markets understandable unhappiness, with Italian share prices
dropping sharply and the yield on Italian government bonds
However, this market reaction – which initially encompassed the
whole of Europe and affected the entire world – has been tempered by the calming
words and deeds of the European establishment. The auctions of new Italian
government bonds this week went smoothly, although much higher yields were
needed to sell these bonds compared to the previous such auctions a few weeks
It seems that two big Italian banks hovered up most of the
longer-term offerings – which is the kind of manipulative intervention that is
now standard behavior in government bond markets around the world.
other words, the markets can be kept under control by the governments and
central banks. The problem is not the markets, but the people. The Italian
elections were a fair and free democratic exercise, in which the various parties
and what they stood for were well understood.
One major bloc of parties
was led by Silvio Berlusconi, about whom no one can pretend to be unaware,
whether it is of his orgies and other personal behavior, or of his ownership of
major media outlets and the use and/or abuse of them to promote his own
political career, or of the criminal charges hanging over him,
Nevertheless, large numbers of Italians voted for him, for the third
or fourth time.
Worse still, from the point of view of the European
establishment that had effectively deposed Berlusconi in late 2011 and replaced
him with its own hand-picked technocrat, Mario Monti, was the sweeping success
of Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement, which was a pure protest
It opposed not just the mainstream Italian political parties
and their corrupt practices, but also the EU-inspired policies of government-led
austerity, sociopolitical reforms and the huge changes to Italian lifestyles
that would result from the implementation of these reforms.
words, the fundamental issue at stake is not Berlusconi the person or Grillo the
symbol. The issue is the clear-eyed and decisive rejection, by the majority of
the Italian people, of the dictates of the EU-ECB-German (and IMFUS) axis. What
happened on Sunday was a direct clash between democracy, in the sense of the
exercise of free choice by an electorate, and the European ideal of shared
responsibility, as enshrined in practice by the European
The Italian people were supposed to vote for what is
considered to be good for them by the European establishment.
they would not do so from altruistic identification with the European ideal,
they should have done so out of self-interest because their European partners
will not save them from their own follies if they do not accept the demands of
their would-be saviors. Instead, the majority of Italians chose to demonstrate
just how wide the gulf is between the peoples of Europe and the European
In normal political terminology, this behavior is
called a revolt – but because it was conducted via the ballot box, it has
impeccable democratic credentials, even if they are called “Berlusconi” or
That is the essence of the European crisis, and, far from
getting better and fading away, this week it got a whole lot