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In March, Italian voters stunned the European Union when the hard right Northern League and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement were swept into power at the expense of the governing Democratic Party which was itself a descendant of Italy’s Communist Party. The Democratic Party, led by Matteo Renzi, was the biggest loser. Renzi is the international Left’s poster boy often referred to as the “Italian Obama.”
As is common in Italy, it took two months to form a ruling government after the March elections which swept into power Italian populists. The EU commissioner, sitting in his plush office in Brussels, declared the election “a worst case scenario for Europe.” On June 1st, a compromise was reached when Guiseppe Conte was installed as prime minister. Like his reaction to the Italian election results, billionaire and open borders advocate who is as involved in European politics as he is in American politics George Soros was apoplectic.
Soros declared that he was “very worried” that Russia was exercising negative influence in Europe. Let’s leave that accusation aside for the moment and look at the influence being exercised by Soros himself. He is a supporter of the +Europe Party in Italy whose leader Emma Bonino is a top ranking member of Soros’ Open Society Foundation. Bonino is popular among the Italian elites, but could not garner enough signatures to be eligible to be placed on the ballot- a stinging rebuke to the Soros agenda. As the +Europe Party was sinking in the polls, Soros turned his attention to the Five Star Party by trying to influence and soften their stance on immigration. It should be noted that in the past five years, the ruling center-left parties in Italy have imported over 600,000 Northern African Muslims.
Regarding Matteo Salvini of the Northern League, Soros said: “I don’t know if Putin is actually financially supporting him and his party. This is a question I think the Italian public has a right to ask, and ask him to tell you whether he’s actually in the pay of Putin.” Considering that the Italian press has described Italy’s election result as their “Trump election,” these accusations on the part of Soros sound eerily familiar to charges here in the United States coming from some quarters.
These accusations come as a huge surprise to most Italians. This was an election campaign that showed absolutely no signs of Russian interference. There was no fake news on social media sites and no fake demonstrations by either party spurred on by Russian bots. No mysterious dossiers have emerged suggesting salacious sexual acts in Russian hotels. Renzi has not embarked on a “What Happened?” tour of Italy.
The League responded to the accusations by stating they received no financial support from Russia or any Russian cut-outs. But, as Salvini has noted and the Italian press has highlighted, he and Soros have long been bitter foes. Perhaps the best analysis of the Soros allegations have come from League party deputy Claudio Borghi Aquilini who said:
Soros worried by the Italian government? So it means we are going in the right direction. We understand that those who have been speculating for years off of the skin of immigrants, financing NGOs and smugglers to invade Italy, are now aware that the good times are over and they will take any pretext to attack.
Italians have taken note of recent conservative and populist victories in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Austria. All these victorious parties oppose the open borders policy espoused by Soros and the EU, and they oppose closer ties with a government based in Brussels and run by elitists. Soros himself has stated that the EU feels threatened by Trump’s America.
As in the United States with the Mueller investigation, Soros has produced zero evidence to back up his accusations of Russian influence. Instead, there are parallels of a deeper nature than Russia between the election of Trump and the governmental rise of right wing parties in Italy. In both instances, there was the perception that the ruling parties were run by elites (the swamp) who had little in common with the electorate. Both elections illustrate an attempt to sweep away the cozy arrangements between opposing parties.
The establishment media in Italy has noted that the voters recognized that the centrist parties left and right had no workable policy or agenda for dealing with Italy’s immigration problem. They accused these parties of economic stagnation. They favored centralization and globalization while the winning parties shunned the EU. Does all this sound familiar?
To be sure, the new Italian government faces major problems. Salvini’s Party’s headquarters for years had the words “End the Euro” painted on the building. After their victory, it was whitewashed. Italian politics is normally a mess under the best of circumstances and it remains to be seen how long the coalition between the Five Star Movement, which has support in the poorer south, and the Northern League based in northern Milan, can last. There are serious differences between the two parties and their goals. The one thing that does unite them is their disdain of the elites. Both parties in the past have expressed a desire to leave the EU, but have now walked back those sentiments. They have pledged to spend billions on social benefits which would ignore the EU’s Stability Pact with restrictions on deficit spending.
What has the EU worried and what prompted their leaders to consider the Italian election a “worst case scenario” is the possibility that the EU’s third largest economy can break free of the dictates from Brussels. Salvini has indicated that he will take measures that will drive up Italy’s sovereign debt. The Central Bank would then no longer be able to buy Italian sovereign bonds as interest rates soared on those bonds forcing Italy into bankruptcy. Given their size, an EU bail out is out of the question.
At this point, Italy is a closely watched distraction as the EU prepares to create a united front against a threatened trade war with the United States. They cannot focus on such a fight with the United States while a staunch NATO ally, a founding member of the EU, and the EU’s third largest economy teeters. As an afterthought, the EU must also contend with Brexit. If Italy truly teeters, it will shake the foundation of the European Union.
More than any Russian influence suggested by Soros and company, the fault lies with the EU itself who did very little to make the necessary reforms after barely keeping Greece in the eurozone. The window of opportunity is closing rapidly, if it isn’t already shut. European leaders, especially Germany’s Angela Merkel, have failed to enact the necessary reforms and the fault lies not in Moscow, but in Berlin, Paris and Brussels.
The Italian election results illustrate a convergence of two challenges facing the EU: the economic threat and an erosion of shared values and norms. Italy’s government has more in common with those in Budapest, Prague and Vienna. It is not just economic, but the so-called asylum pact for refugees will be a source of contention between Rome and Brussels. It will be interesting to see where Italy lands when it comes to business with Iran, or the Paris Climate Accords, their approach to China, threatened tariffs proposed by Trump, and continued sanctions against Russia.
Whatever happens, the blame can be placed on the leaders not in Rome, but in the other power centers of Europe. While they- especially Merkel- adopted the agenda of George Soros with regards to trade and immigration, it is pitiful that now Soros turns to his biggest bogeyman- Russia and Putin- to plead his case.