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IN THE KEY OF THREE: A POPULISM UPDATE FROM ITALY

IN THE KEY OF THREE: A POPULISM UPDATE FROM ITALY

Speaking of populism, here are three recent stories from Italy, a country at the center of various European controversies. One centers on domestic policy, the second on squabbles with the populists next door, and the third on a coming showdown with the European Union.


Story 1: Three migrants from Senegal and Nigeria have been arrested following the alleged rape and murder of an Italian girl inside a drug den in Rome. Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Italy’s lead anti-immigrant populist and a figure of growing notoriety across Europe, appeared twice at the crime scene in a single day to maximize attention on the event. He was greeted there by both supporters and hecklers.

These three migrants may be guilty of this heinous crime. Or they may be innocent. Or they may have participated in the crime alongside Italians. From a political standpoint, it won’t matter. Salvini’s supporters will accept his accusations against the migrants at face value. His critics will search for alternative explanations.

This is the current political climate in Italy—and in other countries, as well.

Story 2: The region of South Tyrol, part of the Austrian Hapsburg empire until the close of World War I, still includes many people who speak German. Austria’s far-right Freedom Party has floated a plan to give these people, and those who speak a local language known as Ladin, Austrian citizenship.

Trouble is… South Tyrol has been part of Italy for 99 years, and many Italians, including Salvini, say Austria has no right to grant Italians dual citizenship. Complicating matters further, the Austrian offer only applies to residents of South Tyrol who speak German (60 percent) or Ladin (4 percent). Italian speakers need not apply.

The irony is that nationalists in Italy and Austria will shake fists at one another over this controversy, but both groups benefit from it with supporters at home. It’s a win-win political fight—unless and until it’s resolved, and someone must publicly accept defeat.

Story 3: Finally, there is the story that will impact the largest number of people. The European Commission took the unprecedented step this week of rejecting a proposed member-state budget, this one from Italy. The two parties currently in power in Italy were delighted with the news.

The Five-Star Movement, the largest vote-getter at the last election, wants to offer struggling Italian families, particularly in Italy’s poorer south, with universal basic income. Its junior coalition partner, Lega, wants tax cuts for the more prosperous northern provinces. Together, they submitted a budget which the Commission says will blow up Italy’s already high debt and threaten Europe’s economic stability.

Why are Five-Star and Lega so happy? EU rejection of this budget allows them to blame European bureaucrats for economic hardship in Europe and to present themselves to Italian voters and taxpayers as fearless protectors of Italian independence against the bullies from Brussels.

The informal response from Five-Star and Lega officials has been a closed fist waving the Italian flag. Their formal response will come in the next two weeks. The bad news for Italy: Financial markets may decide in the meantime that Italy is no longer a good bet, dramatically raising borrowing costs for the government and political trouble for all concerned.

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Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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