By STEPHEN POLLARD
LD: This highly relevant article was published two days ago in the Daily Express. Since then there have been dramatic developments in Europe which signal the possible disintegration of the European Union (EU) and support for the Alt.Right movement as witnessed in Brexit and the Trump phenomenon.
Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, predicts that the fall of the European Union could spark World War Three. This came all the closer on Sunday with the referendum in Italy. Here a majority of Italians voted for right wing policies and a rejection of the mass immigration agenda promoted by Angela Merkel in Germany and by Mr Juncker in Brussels. Italy’s “revolt of the masses” last Sunday kickstarts the momentum toward an Italian Brexit. [LD]
THE Brexit vote in June was an earth-shattering political event. So it’s entirely right that the consequences of that vote have dominated the news ever since.
Not a day now goes by without punditry and speculation over just how – and when – we will leave the EU. But never has Harold Wilson’s phrase that a week is a long time in politics been more apposite. It’ll be months before we even trigger Article 50, let alone negotiate the specifics of our departure – and let alone when we actually leave.
Before any of that happens, however, there may not even be an EU from which to Brexit. Other votes in Europe have the potential to derail the entire EU project, making our own convulsions over leaving seem irrelevant. On Sunday Italians go to the polls in their own referendum.
In theory their vote has nothing to do with the EU: it’s over a series of constitutional reforms. But such is the state of politics and voter unrest in the EU and such is the setup of Italian politics that a No vote may have a direct impact on that country’s membership and so hasten the demise of the EU itself.
Italy has long been a byword for political chaos: since the end of the Second World War it has had 63 governments. We have had 15. The changes proposed by Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi would cut the senate from 315 to 100 and limit its power, as well as abolishing elections to the senate, with members drawn from local government.
In essence governments would find it easier to legislate and be less likely to fall.
But the referendum has widened from a vote on constitutional matters because Mr Renzi has pledged that if he loses the vote he will resign. And the expectation is that he will lose. If he goes, his most likely successor is Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star Movement, the largest party in the Italian parliament.
LD: Mr Renzi lost the referendum on Sunday and will now have to resign. The Italians are sick to death, above all, over the never-ending swarm of illegal immigrants from Africa pouring across the Mediterranean and settling in their country against their wills. They want this stopped.
Italians are angry: angry about endemic corruption, about a political class that seems interested only in itself, about the tens of thousands of migrants that pour in by the day and about unemployment of 11.4 per cent. No wonder there is a revolt. The Five Star Movement was founded seven years ago as a product of that anger: a populist revolt against Italian politics.
It also opposes not just the euro but the EU itself. Mr Grillo first entered Italian consciousness as a comedian. His rallies are titled “vaffa”: an Italian version of “f*** off”. The Five Star Movement is very popular. It won the mayoral elections in Rome and Turin this year and in the latest polls is scoring about 30 per cent – a huge figure in Italy’s traditionally split political landscape.
“His rallies are titled vaffa — an Italian version of “F*** off!”
Mr Grillo’s appointment as leader of Italy would send shockwaves throughout Europe. Italy has always been one of the EU’s stalwarts. It would send Brussels into a tailspin were it to be led by a man who would rather his country was outside the EU. That tailspin could begin as early as Sunday night.
Mr Renzi’s resignation and the likely appointment of Mr Grillo will almost certainly spark another eurozone crisis. Mr Grillo has said he wants to pull Italy out of the euro and return to the lira. Sensible as that may be as a policy – the euro was crazy at its inception and is even more so today – it will send the foreign exchange markets into something close to meltdown.
The Italian stock market is already down by 20 per cent this year, more than any other European index. The banking sector alone has fallen by 50 per cent and is teetering on the brink after a series of bad debts have been exposed. A wider plunge in shares could cause a widespread banking collapse.
But Italians are not the only people whose vote on Sunday could shatter the EU.
As they cast their vote so too will the Austrians in a re-run of the contest for the country’s presidency after the last vote was declared invalid. Both Austrian candidates are extremists. But while one is a Green, the other, Norbert Hofer, is from the far-Right Freedom Party.
Most observers think Mr Hofer will win. Like Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France, the Freedom Party has undergone a makeover designed to dump its pro-Nazi origins. In reality the Freedom Party is no different to a made-over version of our BNP or National Front.
LD: “Most observers think Mr Hofer will win.” Most observers were wrong. The Austrians decided to play it safe and voted for the status quo and “moderation.” The Alt.Right has had a temporary setback in Austria.
By Monday Austria could have a fascist president (again, one is tempted to write, after its experience with Kurt Waldheim) and Italy a government which rejects almost everything that has been the Italian mainstream in recent decades. In Germany a poll this week found that 42 per cent of voters want a referendum on EU membership and two thirds think the EU “is heading in the wrong direction”.
And of course in France Marine Le Pen seems certain to be in the final run-off for the presidency next year – and may well win. So three of the core nations on which the EU has been built – Germany, France and Italy – could all soon have radically different stances. The political establishment here has carried on the battle against Brexit by maintaining that the referendum vote was some sort of irrational aberration.
It was nothing of the sort: it was a vote by ordinary voters who were fed up with being told they had no choice but to go along with the EU elite. Now across Europe millions of voters are saying they’ve had enough.