The Italian ‘no’ and France’s Fillon to reshape Europe; Paris moves closer to Berlin

Questions and answers during the national briefing by Matteo Remzi, Prime Minister of Italy, following the European Council on 21 October 2016 in Brussels. European Council-Council of the European Union, Audiovisual Services, snapshot from a video. Location: Brussels, Belgium.

Questions and answers during the national briefing by Matteo Remzi, Prime Minister of Italy, following the European Council on 21 October 2016 in Brussels. European Council-Council of the European Union, Audiovisual Services, snapshot from a video. Location: Brussels, Belgium.

Yesterday, the Italians chose to rebuff Prime Minister Matteo Renzi by voting ‘no’ in the referendum he proclaimed, supposed to introduce certain amendments to the country’s constitution. Officially, the question is whether to institute a more responsive and effective legislative system in the customarily politically unstable Italy. The three opposition parties strongly supported the ‘no’ option. In reality, the vote turned out at least partly, to be an in-out the EU contest, because all the three parties are also strong advocates of a possible Italexit from the EU club.

With the anti-establishment and rebellious state of mind of voters all over the western world, the Italians couldn’t say ‘yes’, even to the modernization of their peculiar legislative system, made up by two equally dominant chambers, the Senate (315 members) and the Deputies (630 members). In reality no matter what the question was, the Italians would have turned out a ‘no’ result. However, there were also some convincing arguments for the ‘no’ camp.

What Renzi wanted

The changes Renzi wanted to bring about would have offered the government the opportunity to pass laws much more easily than under the present checks and controls of the two equally empowered legislative bodies. On top of that, under Renzi’s constitutional change, the regional authorities would have lost a large part of their powers. In total, the new system would have empowered the majority in the lower house to bring about far fetching changes in governance and the political system. The ‘no’ advocates pointed out that exactly for this reason the passing of laws must be time consuming, needing a wider consent.

Speaking of Italexit, no political formation in the country is currently a strong proponent of Italy’s position in the European Union. Even Matteo Renzi and his Democratic Party have lately adopted a defiant strategy towards Brussels. He has gone as far as threatening to block the 2017 EU Budget, if Italy is not allowed to go beyond the budgetary spending limit of 3% of GDP. The devastating earthquakes that shook central Italy during the past few months and the government investments needed to repair the extensive damages is a solid argument for excess public spending.

The diverging French option

While Italy, both before and after the referendum is in a state of agitation against fiscal austerity and the tough economic rules of the EU, last week neighboring France has chosen quite the opposite direction. The French are now set to elect a Thatcherite politician in next spring’s Presidential election. Ex Prime Minister Francois Fillon, is the conservative winner of the primary election of Sunday 27 November for the leadership of the French center-right party, The Republicans (Les Républicains). Having secured his party’s confirmation, he will contest and very probably win the election for the Presidency of France, planned to take place next spring. The first round will be held on 23 April and if no candidate wins an outright majority the second round will be held on 7 May with the first two candidates.

Despite his well known admiration for Margaret Thatcher’s guiding principles, Fillion is expected, for very good reasons, to win the 2017 election and become the next President of France. His adversary in the second round will very probably be Marine Le Pen, head of the xenophobic, anti-immigration and Eurosceptic National Front. Fillion has swiftly managed to rally France’s entire center-right camp behind him, while, according to polls, whoever leads the Socialist Party ticket is bound to emerge as a far away third after Fillion and Marin Le Pen.

Undoubtedly then, in the second round, both conservative and socialist voters plus the minor left parties will for sure support Fillion to block Le Pen’s way. This has happened again in the past, when conservative Jacques Chirac confronted Marine’s father, the semi-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round of the Presidential election of 2002. Chirac won 82,21 % of the vote.

So, Thatcherite Fillion will very probably win the spring election, despite the prevailing climate in Italy and elsewhere in the EU, favoring more public spending and increased government budget deficits. Fillion, a social conservative free-marketeer, promises the opposite. He emphasizes that he will cut down public expenses by €100 billion and will reduce public sector employment by 500,000 in his five year term. He also says that the weekly work schedule for public employees will return to the old 39 hours instead of 35 now. Overall though, Fillion appears to be the less controversial and a more systemic choice that voters have made in a western country so far this year.

In conclusion, France under Fillion is to follow an economic strategy favoring austerity, the opposite than during the five years under the incumbent President Francois Hollande. This prospect will surely estrange France from Italy and strengthen the German camp in the EU, favoring austere public finance and tougher social and labor rules.

 

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