After 3 months of parliamentary deadlock, a new Italian government was formed on 1st June. The coalition is made up of ministers from the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and League (Lega) parties. The two parties received 50% of the popular vote between them in the March 2018 elections, running on anti-immigrant platforms that included promises of increased public spending and a basic income for the poor.

The March election saw voters completely reject the establishment parties, with the Democratic Party making dramatic losses and former prime minister Berlusconi’s Forza Italia failing to make any gains. In the context of austerity, 11% unemployment and negligible economic growth, Italians turned away from the politicians who had created the crisis and instead looked for alternatives.

The formation of the new government presents a serious problem for the European ruling class. While neither  the Lega or M5S advocate leaving the European Union, both are eurosceptic and their populist nature leaves them vulnerable to pressure from below. The ruling class and their representatives understand that an Italian break with the EU would be a devastating blow to European capitalism and are keen to avoid it at all costs.In the weeks leading up to the formation of the government, the actions of the pro-EU President Mattarella are particularly illustrative. The President intervened to make a change to the proposed cabinet. He rejected Paolo Savona, a known eurosceptic candidate for the role of Finance Minister. The result was a public outrage at his interference in the appointment of an elected government and a strengthening of support for the populist parties, who capitalised by holding protests.

President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, during the political crisis made clear his view that the EU held no responsibility for the economic deprivation of Italy’s poorer southern regions, instead saying the Italians needed ‘more work’ and ‘less corruption’, despite the harsh, long-term austerity measures imposed on the country. Comments like that – and those of EU budget commissioner Gunther Oettinger, who said that “the collapsing markets in Italy will teach Italians the dangers of voting for populism” – are unlikely to do their image any favours with the Italian people.

For now, the formation of this government will have very real consequences in the country. Days after taking his post,  Interior Minister Matteo Salvini declared that “the honeymoon period is over for illegal immigrants”. Salvini’s remarks allude to the far-right Lega’s plans to repatriate up to 500,000 undocumented immigrants from the country, many of whom have been forced from their homes by war, poverty and oppression. This comes in the context of increasing violence against migrants in Italy. The families minister is a fundamentalist Catholic who has expressed homophobic and sexist views.

Without a clear and strong socialist alternative, the whipping up of anti-migrant sentiment by the right will continue to go unchallenged in any meaningful way. It is up to Italian socialists to build a credible party of the working class that’s capable of challenging the reactionary forces. Only a movement built on working class solidarity, anti-racism and internationalism is capable of taking on the establishment and delivering a victory for working-class people.

by Ryan McNally