It took less than a year for Giuseppe Conte to change his mind. The so-called “lawyer of the Italian people” and widely known as being proudly “populist” now takes it back. He is no longer taking aim at the European Union and is no longer head of a sceptical government when it comes to Brussels’ regulations. The arsonist (in theory, if not in public) is now the firefighter. And now Italy, who initially had in Conte a Prime Minister from a majority made up of the Italian Lega and Five Star Movement parties finds itself with the leader of a potential centre-left government (known as the rossogiallo); nothing at all like the previous one. No challenging the Franco-German European Union, no major lines of credit with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, no attack on Brussels’ finance regulations; only confirmation of the (personal) axis with Donald Trump and then a new great friendship with Europe’s chancelleries, from Brussels to Berlin, via a renewed axis with Paris. With this in mind, it will be much easier for Emmanuel Macron to engage in dialogue with Italy now his number one nemesis, Matteo Salvini’s League, is now out of the picture; and the Movement that formed an alliance with the yellow vests has essentially become moderate.
A significant and curiously seamless change of pace for Italy. Giuseppe Conte, the leader of the most “eurosceptic” government in Europe, perhaps only second to the United Kingdom of Brexit in its hostility towards certain ideas, now finds himself able to lead an entirely different kind of government. Out go the sovereigns, in come the anti-sovereigns and it’s all change except for the leader who, chameleon-like, has managed to establish himself as the new guarantor of both the Constitution and of Rome’s membership in the European forum.
A lesson in politics, certainly, but above all else it is a lesson about relationships between Europe and its member countries; namely that the European Union knows how to flatter, press and push governments to avoid implementing policies that are contrary to being members of the great European “family”. There is no denying it: those who do what Europe is saying and those who show loyalty to the Franco-German axis are unlikely to make mistakes if they want to remain firmly at the helm of a country and be a friend of the establishment. A glaringly obvious system, which has manifested itself not only in Italy, but throughout Europe, and there are many examples of this.
Alexis Tsipras was the first to understand what it means to be faithful to Brussels. We all remember his attacks on Europe: the threat of leaving the euro and the referendum against the Troika. Then came a summons to Brussels and a dressing-down by Angela Merkel (who is de facto leader in Greece) to make him change his mind. Thus, after the public recantation on the exit of the euro and the inclusion of China in Athens, Tsipras began to be the symbol of a radical left that rediscovered itself as European, then replaced by Mitsotakis in the last election. There was, however, no revolution in Athens and Europe has ensured safe conduct. But Viktor Orban’s politics should not be underestimated either; it is true that he continues to be a thorn in the side of the European People’s Party and the EU, but in fact he never really distances himself from either, confirming instead that his strategic partnership with Germany is stronger than ever.
It is this very same safe conduct that has now been granted to Conte’s Italy. Europe’s leaders, magically, have all begun to acknowledge the (no longer) exiting Italian Premier. The Heads of State and government of the Old Continent have given ample credit to the chief executive of the former yellow-greens, now red-yellows. The spread has dropped significantly since it was announced that Conte 2.0’s Democratic Party has entered the rooms of power. The higher echelons of the European Union have blessed the new alliance as “almost Ursula”. Everyone is satisfied that Conte has transformed the Five Stars and that now the Democratic Party is able to reinforce Italian domestic policy guidelines, casting a light on Berlin, Brussels and Paris and, of course, simultaneously renouncing the sovereign nuances that had worried everyone.
The European endorsement towards Conte began some time ago. And all the symptoms of this change were there, with moral suasion emerging in the Belgium capital’s corridors and EU chancelleries. It was mainly the vote in favor of Ursula von der Leyen that lifted the veil, as the leader of the yellow-green government had already decided to change the executive branch’s colour. Everything changes but yellow and Conte is still there, which guarantees full continuity and links with Europe. Europe, in turn, has done everything to have both continuity and breakdown, by convincing Italy to choose another path. Some call it responsible, others call it cowardly but the one sure thing is that Italy has actually been taken over by two powers, reflecting badly on Matteo Salvini. Europe can manage the country better without, in a sense, coming under fire. While the United States is assured by Conte, who has established an excellent relationship with Trump, guarantees by the yellow-green government were clearly no longer enough.