I concede that there are issues over which I would welcome the Italian President’s use of constitutional powers that (in my humble opinion) he should not have.(*) One such issue is the outrageous policy of the Lega and the promise of its leader, Mr Salvini, to expel five hundred thousand migrants from Italy. Had President Mattarella refused Mr Salvini the post of Interior Minister, on the basis that he rejects such a monstrous project, I would be compelled to support him. But, no, Mr Mattarella had no such qualms. Not even for a moment did he consider vetoing the formation of a 5S-Lega government on the basis that there is no place in a European country for scenes involving security forces rounding up hundreds of thousands of people, caging them, and forcing them into trains, buses and ferries before expelling them goodness knows where.
No, Mr Mattarella vetoed the formation of a government backed by an absolute majority of lawmakers for another reason: His disapproval of the Finance Minister designate. And what was this disapproval based on? The fact that the said gentleman, while fully qualified for the job, and despite his declaration that he would abide by the EU’s eurozone rules, has in the past expressed doubts about the eurozone’s architecture and has favoured a plan of euro exit just in case it is needed. It was as if President Mattarella were to declare that reasonableness in a prospective Finance Minister constitutes grounds for his or her exclusion from the post!
Let’s face it: There is no thinking economist anywhere in the world who does not share a concern about the eurozone’s faulty architecture. And there is no prudent finance minister who does not have a plan for euro exit; indeed, I have itr on good authority that the German finance ministry, the ECB, every major bank and corporation have plans in place for the possible exit from the eurozone of Italy, even of Germany. Is Mr Mattarella telling us that only the Italian Finance Minister is not allowed to imagine having such a plan?
Beyond his moral drift (as he condones Mr Salvini’s industrial-scale misanthropy while vetoing a legitimate concern about the eurozone’s capacity to let Italy breathe in its midst), President Mattarella has made a major tactical blunder.
In short, he fell right into Mr Salvini’s trap. The formation of another ‘technical’ government, under a former IMF apparatchik, is a fantastic gift to Mr Salvini.
Mr Salvini is secretly salivating at the thought of another election – one that he will fight not as the misanthropic, divisive populist that he is but as the defender of democracy against the Deep Establishment. Already last night hescaled the high moral with the stirring words: “Italy is not a colony, we are not slaves of the Germans, the French, the spread or finance.”
If Mr Mattarella takes solace from the fact that previous Italian Presidents managed to put in place technical governments that did the establishment’s job (so ‘successfully’ that the country’s political centre was destroyed), he is very badly mistaken. This time around he, unlike his predecessors, has no parliamentary majority to pass a budget or indeed to give his government a vote of confidence. Thus, he is forced to go into elections that, courtesy of his moral drift and tactical incompetence, will return an even stronger majority for 5S-Lega, possibly in alliance with the enfeebled Forza Italia of Silvio Berlusconi.
And then what Mr Mattarella?
(*) It is my view that indirectly elected Presidents (i.e. Presidents not elected by the people) cannot legitimately deny a parliamentary majority the right to choose the cabinet. This is the fundamental difference between a presidential and a parliamentary democracy. For a democracy to be run as presidential, the President must have a direct mandate from the people. The Italian President, in this sense, should not have the powers vested in him by the Constitution. And, even if he has, he has no moral or political legitimacy to use it in order to dictate economic policy.