The Italian Government, a three-headed chimera

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By Mauro Casarotto |

Contrary to what could be recognized at a first glance, the functioning of the Italian government chaired by Giuseppe Conte, which was born after the general elections of March 4th 2018, cannot be merely explained thanks to the bilateral relations between its two constituent elements: the Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega, along with their political leaders Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini, both nominated as Vice-premiers of the current government.

It’s impossible, in fact, to understand the Conte Government without realizing that two heavy ministers inside it, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Enzo Moavero Milanesi and the Minister of Economy Giovanni Tria, have politically nothing to share with Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega.

Enzo Moavero Milanesi, born 1954, was a professor of European Union Law at the ”La Sapienza” University and LUISS in Rome between 1993 and 1996, then became the European Court of Justice judge in Luxembourg and General Director of the Bureau of European Policy Advisors, collaborating with the European Union. After these offices, he became Foreign Affairs Minister in the Monti Government (that was a coalition cabinet of experts, supported by all the forces of the Italian Parliament with the exception of Lega and the Movimento 5 Stelle, who were still not present in the Parliament at that moment, back in 2011) and again under the Letta Government (center-left government that included Berlusconi’s Forza Italia at the very beginning as well). Not exactly the curriculum of a true populist!

Giovanni Tria, born 1948, was a professor too, at the La Sapienza and Tor Vergata universitites in Rome, advisor for different ministers, the World Bank and other international bodies, he collaborates with the ‘Fondazione Magna Charta’, an Italian conservative/liberal think tank. Giovanni Tria is the ‘reassuring face’ of the Italian government, especially when negotiations are to be made with international institutions and when the themes are the markets and economy.

These two ministers have been inserted in the Italian Government under the initiative of the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who was elected thanks to the votes of the previous center-left parliamentary majority, later defeated in the 2018 elections. When a government needs to be formed, the Italian Constitution grants relevant powers to the President of the Republic, who has to consult all the political forces and directly appoint the premier. Note that the Constitution says that the premier has the right to propose the ministers, but the ministers themselves are appointed by the President of the Republic.

After the elections of March 2018, all the political formations – center-left, center-right and Movimento 5 Stelle – were unable to form a government, so the President of the Republic explored different options, including the possibility of an alliance between Movimento 5 Stelle and the center-left coalition. At that moment, the possibility to form a majority and consequently a government between the Lega – that decided to come out of the center-right formation – and Movimento 5 Stelle, initially discarded, suddenly re-appeared on the table. Nevertheless, the seal of President Sergio Mattarella was still lacking during the reserved conversations, so the President’s role became more and more important, as it became clear to all when he succeeded in imposing a different role for Euro-sceptic economist Paolo Savona, who was supported by the Lega to take the office of the Economy Minister and was at the end moved to a minor ministery.

That was the moment in which ministers Moavero Milanesi and Tria were introduced in the cabinet, being immediately recognized as President Mattarella men, diluting the ”populist effect” of the newly born Lega / Movimento 5 Stelle alliance.

That’s why it is more realistic to refer to the Italian government as a three-headed creature, like the legendary chimera: the first head is Movimento 5 Stelle, then Salvini’s Lega and the ‘moderate head’ implemented on the chimera’s body by President Mattarella.

Last but not least, we have to analyse the role of the Premier, Giuseppe Conte. As a new character on the Italian political scene, the lawyer and university law professor Giuseppe Conte, born 1964, was indicated, in the role of an expert, and only a few days before the elections of March 2018, by the Movimento 5 Stelle as the future Public Administration Minister, in case of victory of the elections.

Nevertheless, Conte’s profile quickly evolved during the first months of the new government considering that, if he started his office as a mere compromise element that had to keep together two populist polical forces with different sensibilities and electorates and sometimes antithetical programmes, he finally succeeded in becoming a real stability element in the Italian politics, both on the international and national scene. Conte is now acquiring a more discernible and outlined role, that can balance the lack of reliablity of the populist government, perceived by many external observers. This can be very useful in terms of his political future, considering that compared to Di Maio and Salvini, he is not a party man.

That’s why Premier Conte too, should be considered part, at least in this phase, of that little but very influent band of ‘independent’ ministers along with Tria and Moavero Milanesi. Together they form a ‘party of the professors’ inside this populists government. A group that can help President Mattarella in his objective to mantain acceptable relations between Italy and its international partners, especially the European ones.


Mauro Casarotto

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