For Matteo Salvini’s most ardent fans, a world is collapsing these days. Hundreds of thousands of people busy on social media the recent turn of their idol. Quite a few cheer him in their old loyalty – but very many are simply “speechless and shocked,” as they write.
“You have just done the biggest shit of your life,” one of them grumbles, “dear Matteo, I’ve always believed in you, unfortunately you are a great disappointment,” another. “What a triple somersault, what a shame,” writes a woman named Tiziana Schiumarini on Facebook: “Why do you say the exact opposite of everything you’ve always said?”
Good question. It has arisen since Lega boss Salvini left a meeting with Italy’s future prime minister on Saturday and promised “a return of the smile”.
Now even Salvini wants to rule with “Super Mario”
Mario Draghi, former President of the European Central Bank, is currently assembling a new technocratic government after the old coalition has failed. At first it was unclear who would support him. But then more and more parties sided with Draghi, from the five-star movement to Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
“We are in Europe with hands, feet, hearts and minds.”
And now even Salvini wants to rule together with “Super Mario”, the man who first protected the euro and is now supposed to save Italy. “We are in Europe with hands, feet, hearts and minds,” the right-wing populist whistled, saying he was “pragmatic and concrete.” “Professor Draghi” does not have to expect any veto from the Lega. This is also new about his rhetoric: Salvini normally makes tough demands and ultimatums – now, he says, “love, commitment and courage” are required in Italy.
Former ECB President Draghi (before placing an order to form a government): “
The euro holds us together”
Photo: FRANCESCO AMMENDOLA / REUTERS
Not only in the League, many are amazed at the sudden change of course of the »Capitano«. Party strategists across the political spectrum are looking for an explanation. Is his “conversion,” as it is now called everywhere, really meant seriously? Did Salvini suddenly discover his European heart? Or is it all just a nifty political maneuver? “Draghi’s appointment is already having an effect,” blaspheme Social Democrats, “Salvini became a European in 24 hours.”
Salvini clashed with Draghi several times
For years Salvini had mobilized his supporters with anti-European slogans. On his party headquarters in Milan, the huge lettering “Basta Euro” was emblazoned. In the 2018 election campaign, the party leader promised with regard to the common currency: »We don’t need a referendum. When the Lega joins the government, we’ll be out. ”
The fears of the EU partners from Paris to Brussels and Berlin were correspondingly great. DER SPIEGEL wrote of a “horror scenario” when Salvini entered Western Europe’s first populist government in the summer of 2018. From the point of view of the ECB in Frankfurt, headed by Draghi at the time, there was a risk of galloping debts in Italy that could lead to national bankruptcy and trigger an existential euro crisis.
Right-wing populist Salvini (archive image): “Basta Euro”
Photo: Mondadori Portfolio / Getty Images
Salvini did little to reassure the Europeans he hated. Several times he directly messed with Draghi. For example, when he praised the monetary union years ago (“the euro holds us together”): “What a shame,” Salvini said of Draghi, “that an Italian becomes an accomplice to those who massacre our economy.“
The euro is ”a ugly experiment «.
Many pages could be filled with his outbursts of hatred against the EU. Even after he was thrown out of the government, Salvini continued his campaigns. Until recently, Europe was “a cage in which they strangle you” and the EU was just “disgusting”.
All that seems to be forgotten now, there has been no talk of strangles and massacre accomplices since Saturday. “Our vision is in many ways the same,” said Salvini after meeting Draghi.
The Lega would not impose any conditions on their entry into government because, he added, “the national interest prevails over the concerns of persons or parties”.
In love with Europe, driven solely by state responsibility and humble admiration for “Professor Draghi” – not everyone in Italy accepts this change of heart for Salvini.
The previous head of the opposition wants to become prime minister himself in the medium term
Three factors can explain his latest move:
The opposition leader wants to become prime minister himself in the medium term. “Salvini Premier” is still clearly visible in his party’s logo. But permanent attacks against the EU make him ineligible for the bourgeois center of Italy and a non-person in European partner states. If the 47-year-old now supports Draghi, 73, it should act like a detox. Like a detox program to get rid of unpleasant odors. Salvini has therefore quickly adapted even his xenophobic discourse. “When it comes to migration, we propose adopting European rules,” says the man who for years incited against “migrants, violence, crime”, promised Italy to the Italians and mocked “la Merkel”. “For us it is okay if migration is treated like in Germany in Italy,” he now says, “we have to include Europe.”
His own clientele is campaigning for a trend reversal. In Lombardy, Veneto and other economically strong Lega strongholds in northern Italy, Salvini’s populist rhetoric was more a means to an end anyway. Now Lega politicians and entrepreneurs are openly pushing for a collaboration with Draghi to get the economy going. Last spring, Salvini blamed Europe for “hunger, hardship and sacrifice”. Now he wants to have a say in the government about how Italy invests the EU’s 209 billion euros in aid.
After all, his maneuver is also motivated by party politics.
The Social Democrats and the Five Star Movement had hoped for a smaller Draghi government that caused a sensation in Italy under the name “Bündnis Ursula”. What was meant was a collaboration between the previous center-left coalition and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia – it was precisely this alliance that had elected Ursula von der Leyen as Commission President in the EU Parliament.
Salvini cleverly disturbed this peace. Berlusconi, who is more moderate compared to him, is easier to convey in the center-left camp. Now the party leaders of the Social Democrats and the Five Stars will probably have to justify months before their angry base that they are governing with the hated Salvini.
Play the podcast again
Disappointed Lega fans go over to the post-fascists
However, the turnaround is not without risks. Since Salvini discovered his love for Europe, his previous opposition partner Giorgia Meloni has sensed new opportunities.
The 44-year-old leader of the post-fascist party Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) is the only one who does not want to join Draghi’s government of national unity.
Opposition politician Meloni:
The head of the post-fascist »Fratelli d’Italia« is becoming increasingly popular
Photo: Pool Antonio Masiello / Insidefoto / imago images / Insidefoto
“I don’t rule with Social Democrats and the five stars,” says Meloni. She had promised that earlier, and Draghi didn’t change that. Everything else is “political suicide.” If the mega-coalition is established in the coming days, Meloni will, as it currently looks like, end up alone in the opposition.
With her strictly right-wing course, the FdI boss has been gaining popularity for months, while Salvini’s popularity is falling. Many of his disappointed followers are now overflowing with her. “Salvini, you are a weather vane like everyone else,” writes an ex-fan on Facebook, “you no longer get my vote. I’ll choose Meloni for the rest of my life. ”