• Adrian Waters

The Conte administration in Italy: a national populist ‘government of change’ or business as usual?

From left to right: Luigi Di Maio, Giuseppe Conte, Matteo Salvini (Source: https://www.tpi.it/2019/01/18/governo-decreto-quota-100-reddito-di-cittadinanza/)

In early June 2018 Italy found itself with a new government comprising the catch-all populist Five Star Movement and the far-right League (formerly known as the Northern League). Both these parties made significant gains in the general election held in March and had enough seats in the Italian parliament to form a majority.[1] This administration is headed by the Law professor Giuseppe Conte who acts as prime minister, while the Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio and the League’s secretary Matteo Salvini work as deputy prime ministers and as Labour and Interior ministers respectively. Their cabinet has been labelled the ‘government of change’ as it intends to implement policies that are supposed to improve the living standards of ordinary Italians. For instance Salvini promised a huge crackdown on undocumented migrants and Di Maio vowed to introduce a form of basic income for poor families and job seekers.[2] Sometimes this executive has been referred to as the yellow-green government because of the colours of the Five Star Movement and the League. [3] A poll conducted shortly after the formation of this administration revealed that 69 percent of respondents viewed the birth of the Conte cabinet positively and that 58 percent said that they had faith in it.[4]

The new premier has exposed his populist credentials by describing himself as the ‘the people’s lawyer’.[5] He even defended his leadership from accusations of populism and sovranismo (the Italian word for souverainism/sovereigntism) during a speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2018 by declaring that sovereignty and the people are enshrined in the first article of the Italian constitution [6], which clearly states: “Italy is a democratic Republic founded on labour. Sovereignty belongs to the people and is exercised by the people in the forms and within the limits of the Constitution”. [7] Ever since then Italy has indeed seen some changes, especially when it comes to domestic and foreign policy. The question we should ask ourselves though is: to what extent is this national populist government different from its predecessors and has it delivered on its promises to solve Italy’s long-standing social and economic problems so far?