Well, if you're an Italy-watcher, this past week and a half has certainly been entertaining.
And all of it has taken place in the context of Mr. Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. Now, as I've said before, I had mixed thoughts about that deal. On the one hand, the regime in Tehran is as nutty as the one in Riyadh, or the current occupant of the premiership in Tel Aviv. But on the other hand, I did have to give Mr. Obama one-half-a-cheer for resisting the pressures he was under to pull the trigger on Iran. While I didn't like the high cost of doing so nor the general terms under which he did so, and did not agree with his lack of any support for the Iranian uprisings against the regime some years ago, at least he resisted the pressure. One would like to think that Mr. Obama may have been motivated in part by some humanitarian feeling to the Iranian people, the vast majority of whom, I suspect, despise the nuts in Tehran running (or is that ruining?) their country. So, similarly, I have mixed and ambivalent thoughts about ending the deal. On the one hand, good riddance to a bad deal; on the other, it's a very bad idea to piss off, in one fell swoop, all the major European powers, and drive Iran further into the hands of China and the always-Byzantine-and-never-to-be-trusted-Russians-and-their-evil-super-genius-criminal-mastermind, Vladimir Putin, and to drive Germany in a similar direction, as Mad Madam Merkel was off to Sochi yet again for private talks with The Evil Criminal Genius Mastermind on what to do about Washington's sanctions regime.
(Hint: It's simple, Angela. Pull up your pants, re-arm, and tell Washington to take a hike. It's been done in the past, but those two times your country wasn't so chummy with Russia.)
Which brings us to Italy, which - thanks to the colossal bungling in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, and pretty much everywhere else in Europe except Budapest and Warsaw - is now sitting in the driver's seat. Well, if I may toot my own horn for a moment, I told you so years ago.
So what's going on in Italy? Well, those coalition negotiations have occurred, and a platform has been agreed upon, and it's a veritable minefield for a tiptoeing globaloneyist (these articles courtesy of Mr G.L.R. and Mr. A.F. who passed them along):
If one reads the eight points as summarized in the Zero Hedge article(actually, it's only seven point), one can easily keep a kind of score card of who won't like it, and who will:
- Five Star and the League expect the ECB to forgive 250 billion euros in Italian bonds bought via quantitative easing, in order to bring down Italy's debt
- The two parties want to re-open European Treaties and to "radically reform" the stability and growth pact. The coalition would also want to reconsider Italy's contribution to the EU budget.
- According to @HuffPostItalia, the 5 Star/League draft agreement would include an opt-out mechanism to leave the euro in an "agreed manner" were there to be a "clear popular will" to do so.
- The draft document says Italy should stay in Nato, but asks for an immediate withdrawal of sanctions vs Russia, so that Moscow can return to be a "strategic partner" in conflict zones
- According to @HuffPostItalia, the 5 Star/League draft document says there would be a "flat tax"... but with several tax rates and deductions
- Italy's pension reform would be dismantled: workers would be able to retire when the sum of their retirement age and years of contribution is at least 100.
- The draft coalition agreement of a 5 Star/Lega government leaked to @HuffPostItalia calls for a revision of the Dublin regulation on immigration and for compulsory relocation of asylum seekers across the EU
Now, as the Zero Hedge article puts it: "this cannot possibly fly." Now, before we get to the repeated suggestions that all this is "radicalism" - which it is - let's note what the first article states about the problems this poses for the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella:
The only line of defence against the constitutional recklessness of the two parties is President Sergio Mattarella, who left no doubt about his intention to uphold the constitution. But history has shown that this formal power matters little in practice when the radical parties have sufficient majorities - as is quite possibly the case here. While the president has the power to call new elections if the talks fail, he could inadvertently trigger an even more radical counter-reaction if the radical parties were to win more votes at the next elections. We would at this stage consider new elections riskier than allowing the two parties to form a government, especially since their majority in the Senate may not be sufficiently large for some of the more radical proposals.
The comment above, in bold, is precisely what I said days ago.
Mattarella can call for new elections, but he cannot control the outcome.
I strongly suspect that if Mattarella were to force new elections, the results would be even more radical.
Pragmatically speaking, the best approach for Mattarella is to hope this situation dies down.
As we saw in Greece, countless times, the "exiteers" eventually throw in the towel.
Then again, Italy is not Greece. Whereas Greece could not realistically blow the entire Eurozone to smithereens, Italy easily can.(Bold and italicized emphasis here is added)
And that, I suspect, is exactly what is going on here: it's less radicalism, than it is political brinksmanship to drive negotiations. Consider those eight points, and who they piss off, and who are made happy:
Who it Pisses off Who is Happy Who is Quietly Happy, but too Smart to Say So
Point 1: Pretty much every mandarin of the Eurozone, lots of bankers, Tehran Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping Shinzo Abe, Bibi Netanyahu
Paint 2: Angela Merkel, the Juncker guy, Emanuel what's-his-name As above As above
Point 3: As Above As above, plus Nigel Farage/UKIP As above
Point 4: As above, plus Bibi, the Washington swamp, &c Vladimir Putin Did I mention Shinzo Abe?
Point 5: Everybody ...........................................................................................except............ Vladimir Putin Lots of "common people"
Point 6: Everybody running banks and watching the pension crisis Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping Shinzo's not happy about this one, but isn't saying
Point 7: Anti-populists, you know, people who hate national and western culture As above Shinzo's really happy about this one, but isn't
saying anything, because Japan's immigration
policy is some of the strictest on the planet.
Now, my humorous review has a serious side, for it's this implied list that I think indicates what is going on, and what's going on - if I may be somewhat bold and brazen about it - is a revival of full scale Italian Realpolitik the likes of which we haven't seen since, oh, say, the heyday of the Italian city-state republics. In particular, think The Most Serene Republic of Venice here. This is not, in my opinion, about some corny and half-baked western progressivist-press notion of 1930s Italian fascism or revivals of the Mussolini cult.
In other words, I'm going way out on the end of the twig of high octane speculation here. Forget about the hysteria about Italy you might be hearing from the BBC, CNN, Deutschewelle, Agence France or whatever, because this this is not about the hysteria of looming Fascism. Certainly there are Fascist-socialist elements here But so what? There are Fascist-socialist elements in every European country, and in Canada and the USSA. It's rather that list of pissed off, versus pleased, people and interests that tells the real political story: Italy is playing the old Venetian game, and playing it very well (they have a history and culture after all, that is at stake, and that is operating here). The game is that peculiar blend of domestic and financial politics and geopolitics that Venice, Florence, Genoa, Milan, and yes, the Papal States, knew and played very well, sustaining their power and influence in the face of much larger forces, for a very long time.
To put my end-of-the-twig speculation in "country simple" terms: this list is not the random act of the "radicalization of Italian domestic politics" or some such other nonsense on hears from television talking heads or progressivist quackademics.
In my opinion, it's very carefully thought out, because it contains that implicit threat of blowing up the EU. "And that's ok, if we have to do so, because we can always turn to Mr. Putin, and Mr. Xi, and they'd be only too happy to accomodate. It's up to you if we do. (In Joan Rivers voice): Can we talk? (In Don Corleone voice): We have an offer you can't refuse."
You're watching Venice at work, folks. Sit back, and enjoy your popcorn, because this is going to be fun because we haven't seen this sort display of diplomatic brinksmanship and prowess since the War of the League of Cambrai, and the people in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, and yes, Washington and London, are probably going to be lapped several times.
After all, they already have been.
A final geopolitical note, as we turn back to consider the rest of Europe: in the ongoing decline from a unipolar world, the power of the European powers grows commensurately, and almost by default. Thus, if the European union is to survive, some mechanism for the expression of those genuine and real national and cultural interests will have to be devised. Thus, if the EU survives, it will not simply be Berlin and Brussels running the show in the future. And that, too, is what the last Italian elections, and this platform, is all about.
See you on the flip side.