A week is a long time in politics, particularly when the fate of a country hangs on the ambitions of a single individual in the way that Italy’s fate now hangs on those of Lega leader (and now Interior Minister) Matteo Salvini. The week started with the collapse of a governing coalition between two populist parties, Lega and the Five Star Movement (M5S), and ended with essentially that same government swearing the oath of office. There were many bit players in the drama, but Salvini was the protagonist. The takeaway is simple: this government will last only so long as Salvini has his way.
The drama began on Sunday, May 27, when Salvini pulled the plug on a coalition government between Lega and M5S. Salvini was insulted by the unwillingness of Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, to appoint the Euroskeptic economist Paolo Savona as minister of economy and finance. With his strength in the polls rising, Salvini declared himself ready to face new elections. Rather than allow anyone else to take the economics and finance portfolio, Salvini would rather campaign for a larger presence in parliament.
Mattarella had good reasons to reject Savona, which he explained at length to the Italian people. Although a well-known economist with solid experience in politics and government, Savona is not a member of either Lega or M5S. Since the economy and finance minister will have to decide how to balance the government’s resources, he should have his own political power base or else he will lack autonomy. Moreover, Savona has taken positions on Italy’s membership in the euro—he has called the currency a “German cage” and suggested making contingency plans for exiting it—that are likely to scare international investors. Mattarella argued that he had a responsibility not to unnecessarily put the wealth and savings of ordinary Italians at risk—Savona was too much of a gamble. When Mattarella rejected him, Salvini pulled the plug on the
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