In Brief

Italy’s Five Star Movement may form government with League

Eurosceptic anti-immigration parties willing to negotiate, say insiders

Senior members of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement have said the party “should try to form a government” with the conservative Northern League.

The general election on 4 March ended in a hung parliament, with Five Star - also known as M5S - gaining the highest vote share, but no party obtaining a majority. 

Prior to the vote, M5S bosses insisted they were unwilling to form a coalition or negotiate with any other party. The most likely coalition therefore appeared to be an alliance between the centre-right and centre-left parties, with fears of further elections ahead if negotiations broke down.

However, M5S now appears to be contemplating a dramatic U-turn, proclaiming that it is willing to talk to all parties in parliament to try to form a government.

Although no specific party has been named for the potential coalition, party insiders have reportedly said that Matteo Salvini’s Northern League - commonly referred to as the League - is the only feasible match.

“Salvini is doing everything right and there are plenty of policies we can agree on,” one prominent M5S senator, who was not named, told Reuters. “What our voters want most is that we should be in government.”

“Salvini has changed the League’s identity, and he was elected in a southern seat himself,” another lawmaker from the party told the news website. “In any case, we are strongest in the South and we would guarantee the right policies for the South.”

On Monday, League leader Matteo Salvini officially announced that he is also willing to talk to M5S about the two parties forming a government.

Such an alliance would “leave Italy in the hands of a Eurosceptic, anti-establishment and anti-immigrant coalition”, according to Business Insider

Investors have been betting that establishment parties including Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia could “soften populist agendas of M5S and the League, amid concerns that spending policies and challenges to European Union budget rules could weigh on the feeble recovery and undermine the euro area”, Bloomberg reports.

M5S has long denounced Berlusconi - who is banned from holding public office until next year because of a 2013 tax-fraud conviction - as a “symbol of a corrupt ruling class”, scuppered the chances of any coalition with his party, the website adds.

The League’s social conservatism and anti-immigration rhetoric has led many commentators to label the party as a fringe or “far-right” group. But in reality, its ideology is complex, and many mainstream voters - especially in the party’s northern homelands - see the League as a viable alternative to the political elite, without the unpolished, bullhorn approach of the Five Star Movement.

Lega originated as a niche party seeking greater autonomy for a cluster of northern regions collectively known as Padania. However, Padanian separatism has taken a back seat in recent years, in order to increase the party’s scope of appeal across the country.

“The party was able to expand its base by preying on the resentment of some northern Italians who believed their tax money was being wasted on the South, and by entering into several high-profile alliances with ex-PM Berlusconi,” says German newspaper Deutsche Welle

The League’s most notable policies are centred on immigration. The party strongly opposes immigration, particularly from Muslim-majority countries, and has pledged to effectively “close Italy’s borders”, Business Insider reports. 

Salvini has outlined plans to send an average of 100,000 immigrants back to their countries of origin every year, using economic incentives to persuade foreign governments to take back their nationals. His party would also halt all rescue programmes to help migrants at risk in the Mediterranean Sea. 

In another controversial move, Salvini criticised Pope Francis when the Catholic leader promoted dialogue with Muslims, says Politico.

Yet despite this stance on immigration and Islam - and frequent allegations of racism and xenophobia - the League has overseen a number of firsts that some claim have liberalised Italian politics. 

In 2009, party member Sandy Cane became the first non-white mayor in the country’s history, in the small town of Viggiu.

And just this week, Nigerian-born League council member Toni Iwobi became Italy’s first ever black senator.

Furthermore, although the League espouses socially conservative policies on issues including abortion and same-sex marriage (opposing both), its libertarian-tinged ideology means it also has some surprisingly progressive goals, such as the re-legalisation of brothels, according to think tank The Democratic Society.

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