|With the war in Ukraine now into its sixth month, Russia putting the squeeze on gas supplies and Europe’s biggest economy on the brink of recession, you’d be forgiven for thinking a government collapse in Italy is no big deal. After all, Italy has had 67 governments in almost as many years.
But the abrupt end of Mario Draghi’s government last Thursday is alarming for Europe in several ways.
Draghi’s premature downfall doesn’t just create uncertainty on the financial markets, it opens the prospect of the far right taking power in September. The name to watch is Giorgia Meloni, founder of the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party, one of three allied far-right groups manoeuvring. Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia are the other pair. The Guardian’s Rome correspondent Angela Giuffrida says Meloni’s party, which has not been in the Draghi unity government, could barely muster 4% of the vote in 2018. Now, thanks in part to the weakness of the Italian left, Meloni is topping polls and could fulfil her ambition of becoming Italy’s first female premier.
Ukraine is a fault line in Italian politics: and a far-right coalition that includes Putin-fan Salvini could derail the EU’s consensus on the war, particularly in an energy squeeze. Observers think Meloni, although a hardliner, may not be as keen to cosy up to Putin (she admires the American right), but together they could align with Hungarian leader Viktor Orbán in opposing immigration, abortion and LGBT rights.
Any such disarray within the EU, coming soon after Marine Le Pen’s parliamentary breakthrough in France, will be music to Putin’s ears. The Kremlin’s game of chicken with gas supplies is already causing splits. On Tuesday, energy ministers agreed on a winter rationing plan including a 15% cut in consumption, but it had to be heavily diluted. Southern member states resent having to make sacrifices to cover Germany’s strategic selfishness in relying for too long on cheap Russian gas. As Philip Oltermann noted, this is an interesting reversal of the dynamic during the Eurozone crisis when Germany constantly berated southern European countries for living beyond their means. Listen to our Today in Focus podcast for a good sense of what will happen if the gas really does run out.
And scroll down for more highlights of the last week from around Europe. As the battle for Russian-occupied Kherson intensifies and doubt remains over the fate of Ukrainian grain stuck in the port of Odesa, keep up to date on the Ukraine situation with our live blog here.
Until next time,
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