Op-Ed: Italian vote will threaten national security

Gaia Racca
Posted: 12/07/2016


This week saw the fall of the 63rd Italian government in 70 years.

The country’s population was asked to amend the constitution, to abolish symmetric bicameralism and to eliminate the provinces. The answer was a loud and clear ‘No’.  

The reasons behind the choice of 60 percent of the electorate are complicated and inherently contradictory. While the same anti-establishment sentiment experienced with the Brexit referedum and the US presidential elections was apparent, the consequences of this decision will only strengthen the same system ‘No’ campaigners swore to fight. This obvious paradox is just the tip of the iceberg of a much wider trend in Italian politics:  the anti-manifesto.  

In recent years a new political actor has emerged – the leading proponent of this ‘anti’ trend. Il Movimento 5 Stelle (the 5 Stars Movement) or M5S was created by former comedian Beppe Grillo to challenge the corrupt and inefficient political caste, and to denounce ‘everything that is wrong’ in Italian politics. Although these motives could be considered noble, there is a fundamental limitation behind their thinking. Worse, their ends could be disastrous. 

The manifesto is, naturally, based on the idea of rallying against the privileges of politicians, against the power of big banks, against Brussels, and against those issues that have for decades prevented the country from realising its full potential. They were the people who, in Parliament, fact-checked every claim. They were omnipresent on social media, denouncing every wrong-doing and decrying every hint of scandal. They led protests through the streets and through the system. They were the perfect opposition party. But last Sunday, everything changed. 

With a ‘No’ victory, the immediate resignation of the prime minister, and a new electoral law on the approach that gives the majority of seats to the winning party, the (once unlikely) possibility of an M5S government just became a very plausible scenario. But what happens when an opposition movement becomes the one to oppose? The core of its manifesto disappears and with it the purpose of the movement itself.


The unsuitability of this party to govern is not mere speculation. After almost six months in power, Virginia Raggi, the M5S mayor of Rome, still has not been able to form her cabinet. The confused and erratic approach to the many issues affecting the capital is symptomatic of the wider chaos bubbling within the movement. 

This chaos will transcend national borders should Grillo’s movement win the national elections next year. Italy’s complex security framework cannot be managed by an inexpert party without a clear international agenda. 2016 highlighted the fragile security situation within Europe and the necessity to cooperate in order to tackle the most pressing challenges that the continent is facing: nationalism, migration and terrorism. 

However, it is not clear where the M5S stand on cooperation.  

‘We have to inform the other States that Italy intends to withdraw its consensus from the strategic concept of NATO,’ declared a June 2016 party statement, ‘[and that we] invite to promote the progressive disengagement of military contingents present in various NATO missions.’ 

This position regarding NATO, in addition to its general anti-Western sentiment, does not conform to any future agenda, as the movement itself is split around the matter. There is the concrete risk that Italy will become unable to contribute effectively in any future discussion and will be relegated to a corner while other members decide its fate. 

Even more dangerous would be if Italy was to leave NATO all together. Not only could this set a dangerous precedent but withdrawal would exponentially weaken its position in the international arena.  

The gradual fading of Italy’s influence across international coalitions and the consequent risks this presents to its security may be exacerbated even further by the lack of clear sentiment M5S has shown as a European teammate. 

‘The M5S is in Europe and has no intention of leaving it,’ Grillo stated this past summer. 

Meanwhile, ‘#outoftheeuro: how to exit from euro’ was the campaign title on a recent blog post for his website. 

If the incompatibility of these two statements is not enough to raise eyebrows, M5S is part of the so-called EFDD (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy Group) which holds among its members UKIP and Swedish party Sverigedemokraterna, both considered nationalist and anti-EU in their stances. 

The issue in this case is that even a mixed feeling towards the EU can have drastic consequences for Italy’s security, particularly when it comes to the immediate migrant crisis. Italy has demonstrated that it cannot cope alone with the thousands of people arriving everyday from North Africa and the Middle East, the only way to solve this crisis before it becomes unmanageable in its proportions is to ask for help from neighbouring countries. 

To obtain support from EU members, both in economic and political terms, Italy simply has to show its commitment to cooperate. You cannot request millions in funding while at the same time call for a referendum to exit the very currency union from which those millions arrive. If the M5S continues walking this blurred line of intentions, there is the strong possibility that Italy will have to both manage the influx of migrants in the south while at the same time dealing with the closure of borders in the north. Italy, like all European nations, has not the resources to deal with this crisis alone. Without trusted allies, the situation will further deteriorate. 

Italy’s security is at risk. Clear strategy is critical. In such an interdependent world, Italy cannot afford to remain on the sidelines. Its sentiment toward the main institutions cannot be half-hearted. Its government cannot be formed by a movement formed by inexpert politicians, comedians or otherwise. 

There is an arrogance in a country to think it is able to survive alone, a stubbornness to reject a reform that in line with popular ideals just because it was presented by an opposing party, and an ignorance in not being able recognise that democracy in a country of 63 million people requires better education and governance. Italy’s future may be ‘written in the stars’ but when the sun rises, we will still wake to the same problems.

Gaia Racca
Posted: 12/07/2016

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