Has Italy's far right really changed its tune?

 League party leader Matteo Salvini arrives for a meeting with Italian President Sergio Mattarella at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, Italy January 29, 2021.

Italian politician Matteo Salvini has long been one of Italy's most outspoken critics of the EU — just a year ago he called the Union a "den of snakes and jackals." But the plain-spoken firebrand has abruptly changed his tune in recent weeks, joining the national unity government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi. As far European politicians go, Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank, is about as pro-EU as you can get. So what might have prompted Salvini's surprising about-face? And what does it mean for the future of far-right populism in the EU's third-largest country?


At a basic level, the chance to have a say in how Italy spends the €209 billion of EU grants and low-interest loans Italy is slated to receive from the EU's coronavirus recovery effort was probably too tempting to pass up. In joining the government, Salvini's Lega party has secured two cabinet portfolios — tourism and economic development — that will play an important role in supporting the recovery.

Yet strategic considerations probably informed the decision too. The coronavirus pandemic has diminished Italians' appetite for the kind of nationalist, anti-establishment rhetoric that has helped to make Lega the country's most popular party. As the health crisis took center-stage, the public has looked instead to predictable, established leadership for reassurance. Perceptions of science and expert opinion have improved.

As a result, joining the national unity government will further the goal of Lega's moderate faction of building a reputation as responsible stakeholders in the eyes of the business community and foreign counterparts. With the erstwhile center-right powerhouse Forza Italia expected to fall apart when 85-year-old party boss Silvio Berlusconi retires from active politics, Lega could be in a position to pick up the pieces by tacking slightly more to the center.

That said, shifts like Lega's are hardly uncommon in Italian politics. In fact, two other major parties have made similar flip-flops of their own: the center-left Democratic Party had vowed never to participate in a government with Lega, and the left-wing populist Five Star had traditionally opposed governments led by technocrats such as Draghi. Now, both are in government again.

In this context, Lega could very well reverse course again if the political winds change direction, as they likely will. If the European debt crisis of the early 2010s is any indication, the political backlash came during the long, grueling process of recovery. Though the EU's decision to ease strict fiscal rules and embrace aggressive stimulus spending have helped soften the blow and might allow for a swifter recovery this time, economic pain is still likely to be intense and long-lasting, creating the conditions for a resurgence of Lega's more openly nationalistic, anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Moreover, the small print of EU's coronavirus recovery funds says that they are conditioned on a series of reforms to Italy's sclerotic economy. Any inkling that these funds, which the public has come to expect, could be delayed or withdrawn for noncompliance would feed a political backlash that Lega will be certain to exploit. And further down the road, the EU's strict debt and deficit rules — a favorite target of Salvini's — will eventually come back into effect in some form, probably with the 2023 budget.

These dynamics will bear close watching in the months ahead, especially given questions about how long this peculiar national unity government will last. New elections must be held by 2023 but could come sooner, for example, if rumors prove correct that Draghi will move to occupy the presidency himself when President Sergio Matarella's term ends in February 2022. Current polling suggests that Lega is well-placed to win the next elections.

If those elections do take place, the EU could soon be facing against an emboldened Lega-led government in Italy. If that happens, would Salvini's party change its stripes again?


Federico Santi is Senior Analyst, Europe at Eurasia Group.

Each month, Microsoft receives about 6,500 complaints from people who've been victims of tech support scams. But it's not just Microsoft's brand that the scammers leverage; fraudsters have pretended to be from a number of other reputable tech companies and service providers. These scams will remain an industry-wide challenge until sufficient people are educated about how they work and how to avoid them.

To measure the scope of this problem globally, Microsoft commissioned YouGov for a new 2021 survey across 16 countries. Results from the 2021 survey reveal that, globally, fewer consumers have been exposed to tech support scams as compared to the 2018 survey. However, those people who continued with the interaction were more likely to have lost money to the scammers than we saw in our previous survey. To read the highlights of the survey, visit Microsoft on the Issues.

Next week, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner who is ideologically and personally close to Iran's 82 year-old supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will be inaugurated as Iran's president. This power transition comes as the country experiences a fresh wave of protests that started in Iran's southwest over water shortages earlier this month and has since spilled over into dozens of provinces.

Some close observers of Iranian society and politics say that popular discontent there is now more widespread than it has been in years, making the Iranian regime more vulnerable than ever.

More Show less

Was the world so focused on climate change that warning signs about the COVID-19 pandemic were missed? Historian and author Niall Ferguson argues that, while the climate crisis poses a long-term threat to humanity, other potential catastrophes are much more dangerous in the near future. "We took our eye off that ball," Ferguson says about COVID, "despite numerous warnings, because global climate change has become the issue that Greta Thunberg said, would bring the end of the world. But the point I'm making in DOOM [his new book] is that we can end the world and a lot of other ways, much faster." Ferguson spoke with Ian Bremmer in an interview for GZERO World.

Watch the episode: Predictable disaster and the surprising history of shocks

Tunisia, the only country that emerged a democracy from the Arab Spring, is now in the middle of its worst political crisis since it got rid of former autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali over a decade ago.

On Sunday, the 64th anniversary of the country's independence from France, President Kais Saied responded to widespread protests over the ailing economy and COVID by firing embattled Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and suspending parliament for 30 days. Troops have surrounded the legislature, where rival crowds faced off on Monday, with one side chanting in support of the move and the other denouncing it as a coup.

How did we get here, do we even know who's really in charge, and what might come next?

More Show less

Ian Bremmer shares his perspective on global politics this week:

As COVID-19 cases rise, are vaccine mandates coming?

Oh, you just want to get me in more trouble. Yeah, some mandates are coming, but they're not national mandates in the United States. In some cases, you're looking at federal and state employees, in some cases you're looking at lots of individual corporations, universities, and such. I mean I've already been to a number of events where vaccines have been mandated in New York. You've got this Excelsior Pass if you want to go to the Brooklyn Nets games, as I certainly do. You show it off and that gets you in with your vaccine. So I think it's really going to be a decentralized process. But clearly, given Delta variant and the number of people that are getting sick and dying because they're not vaccinated, you're going to see moves towards more mandates, as a consequence.

More Show less

Castillo takes over in Peru: After almost two months of protests, baseless allegations of fraud from his rival in the runoff election, and even rumblings of a coup, Pedro Castillo will be sworn in as president of Peru on Wednesday. A former rural school-teacher famous for riding on horseback, wearing a cowboy hat and waving a giant pencil to show how much he cares about education, Castillo has big plans to achieve big change. But he won by just a razor-thin margin in a deeply divided country, and Peru's dysfunctional political system will likely hobble his attempts to get major legislation passed. Moreover, despite having moderated his positions, half of the country still sees him as a communist who might turn Peru into another Venezuela. Castillo's most immediate task is dealing with the twin crises of a deadly pandemic and a COVID-fueled economic crisis that has hit poor Peruvians — his base — the hardest.

More Show less

13: The two Koreas have restored their communication hotline almost 13 months after Pyongyang abruptly cut it in response to Seoul not doing enough to prevent North Korean defectors from sending propaganda leaflets across the shared border. The hotline was established in 2018 following a historic meeting between North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

More Show less

Now that the Tokyo Olympics are finally underway, your Signal crew will be bringing you some intriguing, uplifting, and quirky facts about the Games that have many people on edge.

Today — what's the smallest country (by population) to win a gold medal in a summer Olympics?

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal