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Posts tagged ‘Land of the Roman Empire’

New Italian govt vows to create jobs, deport migrants

June 03, 2018

ROME (AP) — Italy’s new populist leaders commemorated the founding of the Italian republic by attending a pomp-filled military parade Saturday — and then promised to get to work creating jobs and expelling migrants.

“The free ride is over,” League leader Matteo Salvini, Italy’s new interior minister, warned migrants at a rally in northern Italy. “It’s time to pack your bags.” The pledge of mass deportations to come was a reminder that Italy has a staunchly anti-immigrant, right-wing party in its governing coalition — and that the European Union will face a whole new partner governing its fourth-largest economy.

Earlier, Salvini joined Premier Giuseppe Conte and the rest of the newly sworn-in Cabinet to view the Republic Day parade. Italy’s aeronautic acrobatic squad flew low and loud over downtown Rome trailing smoke in the red, white and green of the Italian flag.

The national pride on display is a feature of every Republic Day, but it took on a particular significance this year after Italy on Friday ended three months of political and financial turmoil and swore in a government whose populist and euroskeptic leanings have alarmed Europe.

Conte, a law professor plucked from relative obscurity to head an unlikely governing alliance of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and League, said the celebrations Saturday transcended all the tensions of recent days.

“It’s the celebration for all of us, of our republic,” he said. Conte’s Cabinet was sworn in after a last-minute deal averted the threat of a new election that could have turned into a referendum on whether Italy stayed with the shared European euro currency. The political stability relieved financial markets on Friday but Italy’s European neighbors continued to express concerns about the euroskeptic bent and the heavy spending agenda of Italy’s new government.

“Italy is destroying itself — and dragging down Europe with it,” read the headline of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, the cover of which featured a forkful of spaghetti with one dangling strand tied up as a noose.

While Spiegel is known for such provocations, another Spiegel article last week drew an official protest from Italy’s ambassador to Germany. On Saturday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel phoned Conte and invited him to visit soon. Merkel’s office said both leaders emphasized the importance of continued close bilateral cooperation.

Conte has so far left policy specifics to the drivers of his improbable rise, his two deputies: Salvini and 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio. Di Maio, the new economic development minister, reported for work after the parade to his ministry, which would have otherwise been closed for the holiday.

“Starting today, we get to work to create work,” Di Maio said in a Facebook video giving Italians a tour of the empty ministry. Di Maio is also the minister for labor, a combination he said made sense since the two ministries must work together.

Offering the new government cautious support was Italy’s small, far-right neo-fascist CasaPound party, which held its own Republic Day commemoration on Saturday. Banners featured images of a crossed-out EU flag and “#exIT” written underneath, a reference to calls for Italy to leave the 28-nation bloc.

The 5-Star-League agenda has no such plans, but Conte made clear he was irked by comments this week by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said Italy had to stop blaming the EU for its problems and must take responsibility to address the poverty in southern Italy.

“That means more work, less corruption. Seriousness,” Juncker said in comments his spokeswoman later said he regretted. In an unscripted blast from the parade route, Conte insisted Italy wasn’t alone in facing cases of corruption and declared that “we all have to work for legality.”

Conte’s government faces mandatory confidence votes next week in parliament, where the two governing parties have a slim majority. Republic Day commemorates the day, June 2, 1946, when Italians voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy in favor of a republic, Italy’s first.

The political upheaval that has created western Europe’s first populist government this week has been dubbed the start of Italy’s Third Republic.

Associated Press writers Frank Jordans and Karin Laub in Berlin contributed to this report.


Populists take power in Italy, with euro-skeptic agenda

June 02, 2018

ROME (AP) — Populists took power in Italy for the first time Friday with the swearing-in of a new government fusing in a coalition a political movement that delights in pillorying the establishment and a party whose anti-migrant, euro-skeptic politics have seen it soar in popularity.

At an oath-taking ceremony in the presidential palace atop Quirinal Hill, the new premier, political novice Giuseppe Conte, and his 18 Cabinet ministers pledged their loyalty to the Italian republic and to the nation’s post-war constitution in front of President Sergio Mattarella.

Only five days earlier, the leader of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, was inciting followers to press for Mattarella’s impeachment. The president had invoked his constitutional powers to reject the populists’ initial choice for economy minister because he is an advocate of a backup plan to exit from euro-currency membership.

Mattarella’s act scuttled Conte’s first try to assemble a coalition uniting the forces of Di Maio’s 5-Stars and his populist rival Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League, which is based in the affluent north.

The president approved Conte and a rejiggered Cabinet list Thursday after Paolo Savona was moved from the economy slot to that of the ministry of European affairs. On Friday, a beaming Di Maio stood before Mattarella and recited the loyalty oath — he’ll serve as minister of labor and economic development.

The initial failure of Conte to form a government had alarmed financial markets, which feared a quick return to the polls that risked being tantamount to a plebiscite on Italy’s keeping the euro currency.

But the markets were reassured by the formation of a new government, which came three months after elections resulted in a political stalemate with no single party or alliance winning control of Parliament.

On Friday, the 5-Stars’ clinched their quest for national power, after five years in Parliament as the largest opposition party. Co-founded by comic Beppe Grillo, who rails against an entrenched political “caste,” the Movement bills itself as a web-based democratic force, not a traditional political party.

Grillo tweeted euphorically: “If you can dream it, you can do it.” Conte was a professor of law at the University of Florence, who had offered ahead of the March election to serve as a 5-Star minister. He became a compromise choice for premier when rivals Di Maio and Salvini refused to let the other hold the top post.

Emphasizing their “anti-establishment” claim, 5-Star ministers, who hold seven of the Cabinet posts, took a single taxi van to the Quirinal Palace. In a Facebook post, Di Maio gushed: “There are a lot of us, and we’re ready to launch a government of change to improve the quality of life for all Italians.”

Next week the government faces mandatory confidence votes in each chamber of Parliament, where the coalition members hold narrow, but viable majorities. Salvini said he would set straight to work on a campaign pledge to expel many of several hundred thousand asylum-seekers who were rescued at sea from human traffickers over the last few years but are ineligible for asylum.

Public resentment over what was perceived as fellow EU nations’ failure to help ease the financial and logistical burden on Italy in caring for the flood of migrants helped boost the League’s popularity.

“The immigration question is still burning,” Salvini said. The last-minute compromise appointment of Giovanni Tria as economy minister was aimed at calming EU leaders’ jitters. He is close to the center-right forces loyal to Silvio Berlusconi, the former premier and billionaire media mogul.

Another Cabinet pick seen as reassuring to those concerned the populists could set Italy drifting from its strong ties with the EU is Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi. A former minister, he teaches European Union law at LUISS, a Rome university championed by a powerful Italian industrialists lobby.

Conte himself acknowledged that the populists are a whole new breed that is leaving some wondering what they will be like. “We’re not Martians, and we’ll prove it,” said the premier, who in a play on his law professor profession promises to be the “defense lawyer” of the Italian people in an “Italians first” government.

Still, the “rest of Europe is looking at Italy with apprehension,” wrote Massimo Franco, a political commentator for the newspaper Corriere della Sera. “It fears that it is a laboratory for what can happen in other countries” and hopes that Italy’s populist “experiment doesn’t turn out to be a disaster.”

If the populists make reality of central campaign promises that could swell Italy’s already staggering high debt, the EU and financial markets might grow uneasy again. Salvini wants to undo or at least drastically revamp pension reform that raised retirement ages. Di Maio wants to give the jobless and low-income citizens a minimum monthly income of 780 euros (about $930), an electoral pledge that helped secure the Movement’s triumph in the unemployment-plagued south.

Some promises have already been broken. Di Maio had vowed never to join in a governing coalition, a form of “establishment” politics that the 5-Star Movement abhors. And Salvini and Di Maio have railed for years about the recent succession of premiers who didn’t run for election in Parliament. Their pick for premier, Conte, is now the latest.

The new government delighted leaders of an increasingly bolder far-right in European politics. French leader Marine Le Pen hailed the new government as “a victory of democracy over intimidation and threats from the European Union.” Nigel Farage, a British force behind the successful Brexit movement, advised Italy’s populists to “stay strong or the bully boys will be after you.” He was referring to EU officials who recently evoked dire scenarios for Italians if the populists gained power.

Salvini has branded as “racist” advice from European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker for Italians to work harder and be less corrupt instead of blaming their woes on the EU. For decades, the League’s forerunner, the Northern League, had branded Italian southerners as lazy, uncouth citizens draining too much development aid from the central government, whose coffers depended on taxpayers in the productive north.

Associated Press writer Nicole Winfield contributed to this report.

Financial turmoil engulfs Italy amid political uncertainty

May 29, 2018

MILAN (AP) — The specter of a financial crisis came back to haunt Italy on Tuesday, as its markets plunged on fears that it is heading toward another election that could shape up to be a referendum on whether to stay in the common currency.

Carlo Cottarelli, a former IMF official, was tapped as premier of a non-political government of technocrats after an attempt by two populist parties to form a government foundered. The president, who in Italy appoints the premier and ministers, had opposed the populists’ choice of a euroskeptic economics minister.

Cottarelli was expected to submit his list of ministers to President Sergio Mattarella on Tuesday, but left the president’s office without comment after about an hour, unexpectedly delaying the formation of a government. A spokesman for Mattarella said the two would meet again Wednesday morning, and that Cottarelli needed more time to work on the Cabinet.

The Cottarelli government, which would see Italy through a period of uncertainty, seems doomed even before it’s created. The populist parties, which got the most votes in the inconclusive March election, have promised to vote against it in a confidence vote. That would force Italy to new elections in the late summer or early fall.

The anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and the anti-euro League have been emboldened by the president’s dismissal of their government in favor of an unelected group of technocrats. They say it shows the establishment ignores the popular vote.

That could raise the stakes for the next election by making it more clearly about whether Italy should reconsider its membership in the euro. “Italy will be wrapped in a long drawn-out period of wrangling that will feature intense anti-establishment and euroskeptic tones,” said political analyst Wolfango Piccoli. He said that while he doubted either populist party would embrace a clear euro-exit platform, they would be more combative toward Brussels.

The Milan stock index closed down more than 2.7 percent, burning 17 billion euros in capitalization, and Italian bonds suffered a plunge reminiscent of the worst days of the financial crisis of 2011. The government’s borrowing rate for two-year money more than doubled, to 2 percent, indicating a surge in investor concern. The 10-year yield rose to near 3 percent, according to FactSet.

“We should now call this a crisis,” said Kit Juckes, an analyst at Societe Generale. Ratings agency Moody’s warned that it would cut Italy’s rating — now just two notches above junk level — if the next government doesn’t present a budget that puts Italy on a trajectory to reduce its debt, now at 132 percent of GDP, the second highest rate in the eurozone after Greece.

If Cottarelli does not pass a vote of confidence, as is nearly certain, his government would not get a chance to set out such a budget. In an annual speech on the state of the Italian economy, Bank of Italy governor Ignazio Visco tried to sound a warning against the tide of populism, saying that “Italy’s destiny is that of Europe.”

“We are part of a very large and deeply integrated economic area, whose development determines that of Italy and at the same time depends on it,” he said. “It is important Italy has an authoritative voice in forums where the future of the European Union is decided,” Visco said, referring to upcoming EU decisions regarding the governance of the bloc, multi-year budgets and the revision of financial rules.

Visco warned that investors would flee the system if they see their wealth eroded because of an economic crisis, noting that “foreign investors will follow suit even more quickly. The financial crisis that would ensue would put us back significantly. It would taint Italy’s reputation forever.”

Addressing populists who have raised fears that outside forces are calling the shots in Italy, he said, “we are not constrained by European rules, but by economic logic.”

Newcomer struggles to give Italy 1st populist government

May 25, 2018

ROME (AP) — The law professor tapped to try to form Italy’s first populist government spent a second day in talks Friday, a possible indication the political novice was finding tough going in assembling a Cabinet that could keep rival forces together in a coalition.

Giuseppe Conte returned on Friday evening to the presidential palace, some 48 hours after President Sergio Mattarella gave him the mandate in hopes of breaking a political impasse that resulted from inconclusive elections on March 4.

Neither Conte, who left by a palace back door, nor the presidential office immediately issued a statement. But Italian media quoted palace sources as saying Conte came to confer with Mattarella in “informal talks.”

A virtual stranger to politics, Conte was the compromise choice of the two populist rivals who, unable to form a government without the help of the other, joined forces to forge a coalition that could get to work giving Italians tax relief and guaranteed income to poor citizens, even if those measures could balloon Italy’s debt to unsustainable levels.

Those rivals are Matteo Salvini, who leads the right-wing, northern-based League, and Luigi Di Maio, head of the 5-Star Movement, whose pledge to guarantee a basic income to the unemployed helped it triumph in the economically lagging south in the elections for parliament.

Salvini, Di Maio and Conte huddled earlier in the day in Rome. “We’re working to give a government of change to this country,” Conte tweeted, but otherwise was tight-lipped about how his efforts were going.

Nervousness about what could be a government hostile to European Union insistence on fiscally sound measures has rattled the bond markets. On Friday, the benchmark spread of points between 10-year Italian bonds and German bonds climbed past 200 points.

One thorny question has been the choice of economy minister. Salvini has been pushing for a former minister, Paolo Savona, who has likened Italy’s being a member of the common euro currency to being enclosed in a “German cage,” a reference to Berlin’s stress on austerity measures for debt-ridden countries like Italy.

Mattarella, whose role as head of state includes approving a new government’s Cabinet picks, is staunchly pro-euro. Di Maio glossed over any difficulties in agreeing on a Cabinet team, telling reporters that the three were perfectly in synch.

Outgoing Premier Paolo Gentiloni assembled staff Friday to thank them, as his hours in power as the head of a Democratic Party-led government neared their end. The Democrats were trashed in the March elections.

Before wishing all “good luck,” Gentiloni had some words of caution to a nation on the brink of a populist-led government. Referring to the Democrats’ five years in power, when the Italian economy began growing again but apparently too slowly to convince voters, Gentiloni said that “alas, to go off track, only a few months, or even just a few weeks” is all it takes to reverse recovery.

Shortly before Conte went to confer with the president, Salvini flew to Milan, apparently for family reasons, but another sign that no new government was about to be born. Salvini, thwarted in his aim to become premier, is keen on becoming interior minister to push his League’s hard line against migrants.

Earlier on Friday, Conte met with Italy’s central bank chief. On Thursday, Conte had met with some of the individual investors who lost their savings after several small banks failed. While the outgoing government has covered a very small part of the losses, Conte says he intends to make awarding damages a priority.

Europe looks for deeds, not words from Italy’s new populists

May 24, 2018

ROME (AP) — Italy’s premier-designate Giuseppe Conte spent his first day on the job Thursday finalizing his proposed cabinet list as European officials vowed to judge deeds, not words from a decidedly euroskeptic and populist Italy in their ranks.

Conte, a law professor and political unknown, received a mandate from President Sergio Mattarella on Wednesday to try to form a government after the 5-Star Movement and anti-immigrant League pitched him as their candidate for premier after two months of political deadlock.

Speculation swirled Thursday over his proposed cabinet list, which he must present to Mattarella before the government can be sworn in and put to confidence votes in parliament. League leader Matteo Salvini doubled down in insisting on his pick for economy minister, Paolo Savona, saying Italians should cheer that someone will finally represent their interests in Brussels.

“It seems that in the past he had some doubts about the use or effectiveness of the euro,” Salvini said in a Facebook Live post. But Salvini said he would be proud to work alongside someone with Savona’s experience: The 81-year-old was industry minister in the 1990s and has held a series of positions in government, industry and banking.

Conte, meanwhile, spent Thursday in scheduled consultations with a steady stream of political leaders, with both left and right expressing concern about the 5-Star-League government program he has vowed to implement.

Beatrice Lorenzin, former health minister and head of a small leftist party, urged the incoming health minister to make decisions based on science and evidence — a reference to the 5-Star pledge to undo the expanded obligatory vaccination program that was a hallmark of Lorenzin’s tenure and passed during a deadly measles outbreak.

In Brussels, meanwhile, finance ministers gathering for a Eurogroup meeting expressed relief at Conte’s pledge to respect Italy’s European commitments. “We all took positive note of the first declarations of the president of the Italian council (of ministers) who committed to respect the European rules,” said French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire. “It is a positive signal and we want to work constructively with Italy and we will judge it on its actions.”

As recently as last week, Le Maire had warned that the eurozone’s financial stability could be threatened if a populist government blows Italy’s deficit commitments. The 5-Star-League government program calls for a host of budget-busting measures, with little detail on financing, including a basic income for needy Italians and a two-tier flat tax that is expected to add to Italy’s debt load, already Europe’s heaviest after Greece.

Emerging from Mattarella’s office Wednesday, Conte vowed to implement the program, saying Italians were waiting for a “government of change” and that he couldn’t wait to get to work to deliver it. But he also sought to reassure allies and markets that Italy would respect its European and international obligations, particularly as the EU begins budget negotiations.

“Deeds count more than words,” responded Margaritis Schinas, spokesman of the European Commission, when asked at the daily briefing about Conte’s assurances.

Court rules Italy’s Berlusconi can run for office again

May 12, 2018

ROME (AP) — A court in Italy has ruled that former three-time Premier Silvio Berlusconi is eligible to seek public office again, nearly five years after a tax fraud conviction sidelined him as a candidate and amid political gridlock that could result in a second national election this year.

Milan daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Saturday that Milan’s Surveillance Tribunal made the decision after reviewing a request from lawyers for the 81-year-old Berlusconi, a media mogul who founded a center-right political party a quarter-century ago.

Berlusconi gave “effective and constant proof of good conduct” after carrying out his punishment, Italian news agency ANSA quoted the tribunal judges as concluding. The development means Berlusconi could seek a political rebound by pursuing a fourth term as premier when the nation next returns to the ballot box, which could happen in a matter of months.

Italy’s president has warned that if squabbling political leaders fail to form a viable coalition government following an inconclusive parliamentary election in March, he would install a caretaker head of government and seek another vote.

The ban on his seeking or holding public office was due to expire in 2019. But Corriere della Sera said the tribunal ruled Friday that Berlusconi already had been “rehabilitated.” “Silvio Berlusconi can finally return to the playing field,” Mara Carfagna, a leader of the ex-premier’s Forza Italia party. “The ‘rehabilitation’ by the Milan Surveillance Court puts an end to a judicial persecution and a cavalry that didn’t chip away at the strength of great leadership, that, in a profoundly changed political scenario, is today still fundamental and central.”

Milan Prosecutor General Roberto Alfonso said prosecutors have 15 days to decide if they will appeal the tribunal’s decision. In October 2012, Berlusconi was found guilty of committing tax fraud as part of his vast business dealings. Italy’s highest criminal court upheld his conviction the next year.

Because a 2012 law stipulated that anyone sentenced to more than two years in prison is ineligible to hold or run for public office for six years, Berlusconi had to relinquish his Senate seat. He had been sentenced to four years, but three were shaved off under an amnesty aimed at reducing crowding in Italy’s prisons. The clock on the ban started running with the appeals court decision in 2013.

Berlusconi then had the option to serve out the remaining time doing public service. He did so, helping residents at a facility for Alzheimer’s patients. Berlusconi bitterly complained he was treated unfairly, since the 2012 law took effect after the tax fraud. The European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule this year on his appeal of the law’s application to him.

Thus sidelined, Berlusconi was forced to sit out this year’s parliamentary election. The March 4 election resulted in a legislature sharply divided into three factions, one of them a center-right alliance made up of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the anti-migrant League party.

But with Berlusconi ineligible to seek a fourth stint as premier, right-leaning voters made the League the center-right’s biggest vote getter. For days now, League leader Matteo Salvini has been trying to hash out a deal with a rival populist, Luigi Di Maio, whose 5-Star Movement emerged as Parliament’s largest party.

Di Maio, arriving in Milan for his latest bargaining session with Salvini, told reporters who asked if Berlusconi’s “rehabilitation” would affect the dealing to form a government, “absolutely no.” During the campaign, Berlusconi disparaged the euroskeptic 5-Stars as “more dangerous than communists,” and he has refused to back a government coalition with them.

Forza Italia votes would give a Salvini-Di Maio coalition an edge in the required confidence votes in Parliament for any new government. Salvini hailed Berlusconi’s regaining his right to run as “good news for him — I’m really happy about it — and above all, good for democracy.”

President Sergio Mattarella said Monday that if Italy’s bickering political leaders can’t form a government soon, he would appoint a non-political premier to govern until the end of the year at the latest. That scenario would bring another election years ahead of the 2023 due date.

Anti-migrant League party wins big in Italian regional vote

April 30, 2018

ROME (AP) — Italy’s right-wing League party has a new regional election win, fueling its determination Monday to govern the entire country. Final results on Monday showed the anti-migrant League’s candidate for governor, Massimiliano Federiga, capturing 57 percent of the votes cast Sunday for the center-right campaign alliance which backed him in the balloting in the northeast Friuli Venezia Giulia region. The victory expands the League’s solid dominance in Italy’s affluent north.

League senator Roberto Calderoli said the latest triumph should make Italy’s president “reflect” on his next move in trying to nudge the country’s squabbling parties into forming a national coalition government following an election in March.

The populist 5-Star Movement trailed badly in Sunday’s ballot, with 11.7 percent. But in the March 4 vote, the 5-Stars triumphed in the economically lagging south, where their support has been soaring, and became Parliament’s largest party.

The League, led by Matteo Salvini, was part of a center-right bloc in the March vote that controls the largest number of seats in Parliament. But neither the League nor the 5-Stars have enough lawmakers in Parliament to govern alone. Italy’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella, has been sounding out leaders across the political spectrum to see whose forces could unite in a government with a solid parliamentary majority.

While 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio has insisted he be the Italy’s premier, Salvini is eager for the same post. Neither party has ever had a leader in the premier’s office. After center-right leaders, including former Premier Silvio Berlusconi, failed to work out a bargain with the 5-Stars, Mattarella asked the 5-Stars to sound out the Democrat Party, which has governed Italy since 2013 but which did badly in the recent national elections.

Democrats, squabbling among themselves for years now, are also divided about whether to explore the prospect of governing with Di Maio’s populists. Top Democrat leaders will try to decide their next move at a meeting on Thursday. Matteo Renzi, the former premier and ex-chief of the Democrats, on Sunday night ruled out the possibility that he and his faction in the party would join a 5-Star government.

With the League notching another electoral victory in the north, and the Democrats divided over any future alliance with the 5-Stars, Di Maio on Monday tossed out a new idea. “At this point, there is no other solution. We need to go back to vote as soon as possible,” Di Maio said on Facebook.

Mattarella is considered to be reluctant to give up now on Italy’s getting a government on the basis of the March vote. It’s up to the president to dissolve Parliament, paving the way for a new election.

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