The latest moves by leader of The League, Matteo Salvini, confirm for me that he is the real deal.
By nominating another hard-ass Euroskeptic as Finance Minister, Giovanni Tria, Salvini proves he’s not some feckless (the word of the day apparently) swamp-dweller. Rather, he’s a smooth and dangerous political opponent for the powers-that-be in Brussels.
Over the past two days the headlines and the markets have tried to gaslight us into believing the coalition between the two populist parties in Italy — The League and Five Star Movement — was fracturing after President Sergio Mattarella’s rejection of their proposed government.
Stories of dissonance about when to hold new elections; withdrawing Paolo Savona’s nomination as Finance Minister (Mattarella’s nominal reason for rejecting the coalition); and even whispers that Salvini would ditch Five Star abounded.
And with it Italian bond yields plunged, the euro rallied and markets tried to stabilize.
There’s only one problem with all of that.
Not a word of it was true.
Salvini is looking at the situation smartly. By submitting a new cabinet he’s telling the Italian people that he and M5S leader Luigi Di Maio are working hard to form a government to serve their needs and address their major concerns.
This is smart politics. Put the ball back into Mattarella’s court. Show the people that he’s the problem. Turn them against him and Brussels even more than before. Make it easy for even the caretaker government to impeach him.
In other words, it’s smart to let the people guide your decisions by helping stoke their anger over not being heard.
He can take the lead on this because The League’s popularity is rising in the polls while M5S’s holds serve or falls back a bit, depending on which poll you look at. There’s no question at this point that The League is rapidly emerging as the driver of this tank bearing down on Brussels.
So it is imperative that Salvini not only look like a competent leader but also make the right moves to put Brussels on its back foot.
And it looks like Salvini’s got his main gun locked and loaded for war. Because, he knows, after watching Greece in 2015, that war is what is coming. Because these people will not give an inch regardless of how it looks.
Both sides are seeing this through the lens of an existential crisis, for Italy and the EU. A
I was worried about Salvini earlier in the process, feeling he could jump in any number of directions. I certainly wanted to believe he was the real deal, but you never know with any politician until things start getting tough.
It’s obvious with this move to nominate Tria that he’s not ready to give Mattarella an inch. He knows time is on his side. Because if Mattarella forces another election, which Salvini wants to put off until September, then he knows he’ll have another three months to become the senior partner in any coalition with M5S, possibly to become Prime Minister.
But, also, secondarily, it’ll give him more time to negotiate with U.S. president Donald Trump to game-plan how to put the screws even harder to Germany. As I talked about the other day, Trump wants the EU sanctions on Russia to stay in place, Italy could end them in July.
So, there’s the basis for a deal here between Salvini and Trump. If Mattarella folds, then Italy could vote with the sanctions in July in exchange for tariff exemptions/debt assistance from Trump.
The other side of this is what I laid out last week, that Merkel allow Italy to take the EU out of the U.S. sanctions regime and declare open war now that Trump has put punitive tariffs in place. That’s her deal.
And in the middle Salvini can get both to fight over Italy to get what he needs, a way out of the nightmare that is the euro-zone.
Salvini is setting Italy up for an incredible showdown with the EU. He knows he holds the right cards. He just has to firmly convince the people it’s time to play them all.