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24th Mar 2019

Italy's Five Star Movement presents 'sovereignist' agenda

  • The anti-establishment party founded by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo less than eight years ago is closer than it has ever been to power. (Photo: Claudio Bisegni)

If Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) were to win national power, it could pull the country out of Nato and would boycott free-trade deals like TTIP and Ceta, challenge European Union austerity rules, drop sanctions against Russia, recognise Palestinian statehood and insist on the removal of all US nuclear weapons from its territory.

The anti-establishment party founded by ex-comedian Beppe Grillo less than eight years ago is closer than it has ever been to Rome’s Palazzo Chigi, the 16th century prime ministerial office, as it is building up a solid polling lead ahead of general elections due early 2018.

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On Tuesday (18 April), M5S unveiled its foreign policy priorities, packaged in a 10-point, 10-page programme.

“I would call it a serious and responsible programme,” Manlio Di Stefano, a M5S MP from Sicily who is tipped as foreign minister if the party came to power, said in a press conference in parliament.

A 35-year-old graduate in computer engineering and former aid volunteer in Latin America, Di Stefano believes that Italy should stay in Nato only “if it can really change,” otherwise “we will have to consider whether to be a part of it or not.”

The M5S has characterised the Western military alliance as a Cold War relic with a failed legacy in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The party was particularly incensed by Nato’s 2011 bombing campaign that helped topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, but then left Libya in chaos and turned it into the main supplier of Europe-bound boat migrants.

Other highlights of the M5S’ foreign policy agenda included a “rigorous application” of the United Nations’ Charter, a call for the recognition of Palestinian statehood within the borders of 1967, and closer alliances with emerging powers such as the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

The party also calls for the dismantling of the so-called troika - formed by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund - that oversees austerity policies in Greece.

As an "alternative", it wants an "alliance of Southern Europe countries in a dialogue with the so-called 'enlarged Mediterranean'", to overcome austerity and reform the EU.

The propositions were submitted to an online poll involving about 23,500 party activists. Direct democracy is one of the M5S’ main tenets, but activists’ feedback was limited to them being able to rank proposed policies in order of preference.

Blocking TTIP and Ceta, a cause popular also among Europe’s left-wing and Green constituencies, was the M5S rank and file’s favoured policy. More Kremlin-friendly stances, such as withdrawing Russia sanctions and taming Nato’s war-mongering, came only seventh and eight, respectively, in the ranking.

Alessandro Di Battista, another leading M5S parliamentarian, said the party was pushing a “sovereignist” line and was "neither pro-[Russian president Vladimir] Putin nor pro-[US president Donald] Trump," dismissing suggestions that his party was unduly influenced by Moscow.

'Italy cannot afford autarchy'

“What they call ‘sovereignist’ is what our parents and grandparents would have simply called, back in their day, ‘fascist,’” political analyst Francesco Galietti told EUobserver.

Galietti, founder of the Policy Sonar think tank in Rome and a former advisor of centre-right governments, pointed out M5S’ emphasis on political and economic self-sufficiency, which he saw as influenced by Trump's campaign promises which are fading as the reality of Washington government kicks in.

“Italy cannot afford autarchy, even the Duce realised this the hard way,” he quipped, referring to the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Another key M5S policy is a referendum on leaving the eurozone, amid warnings from mainstream commentators that such a move may have disastrous consequences.

“The single currency is precisely the main culprit for surge in absolute and relative poverty in our country,” the M5S’ official blog claimed on Monday.

It remains to be seen if the M5S’ vision has a chance of being put into practice.

The ruling centre-left Democratic Party – distracted by a leadership battle expected to end later this month with the return of former premier Matteo Renzi as the party’s boss – have been overtaken by the M5S in opinion surveys. But even if that is confirmed on election day, it may not translate into enough seats for Grillo's party to form a government.

Pragmatists

Most analysts see three possible post-election scenarios: a hung parliament leading to yet another vote; a grand coalition between Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia, to shut the M5S out of power; or a M5S-led administration supported by other protest parties like the hard-right Northern League.

Professor Piero Ignazi, a political scientist from the University of Bologna, told EUobserver he did not believe that the M5S would betray its stand-alone policy and jump into an ideologically awkward deal with the Northern League, one of France’s National Front staunchest allies in Europe.

But in the unlikely event Grillo’s people were going to conquer Palazzo Chigi, Ignazi expected a M5S administration to be less extreme than most people imagine.

“They may not have clear views on many issues … but their advantage is that they are not ideological, they are pragmatists,” the professor said.

Italy votes to become more eurosceptic

A hung parliament is expected, as preliminary results show a good outcome for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the anti-immigrant Northern League.

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