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The Formation Of Italy's New Government Is Causing A Crisis With Global Implications


Now to Italy and a political crisis with global implications. At issue is the formation of a new government. The struggle is between politicians who want to remain in the European Union and anti-establishment populists. They're the ones who won the most seats in the last election back in March. This battle is rattling financial markets. It is unnerving Italy's neighbors. And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is with us to explain all.

I should say you're with us in person in Washington. Welcome.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Thank you. I'm happy to be here.

KELLY: Benvenuto, I should say. So explain all. What is going on in Italy?

POGGIOLI: Total chaos.


POGGIOLI: The two rival populist parties, 5-Star Movement and the League, came close to forming a government. But the Italian president, Sergio Mattarella, used his veto power against the man the parties proposed for the key economy post because he's a vocal critic of Italy's membership in the eurozone. 5-Star Movement then called for the president's impeachment, and the League called for a march on Rome. That has an echo of dictator Benito Mussolini's power grab in 1920.

And all this roiled the global markets and raised fears that Italy, with its huge mountain of debt, could exit the EU and wipe out investors holding much of that debt. The populace now seem to have gone back on their threats and may be ready to find a compromise candidate for the economy post.

KELLY: OK, so total chaos, as you're laying out there - however, total political chaos being nothing new to Italy - and this is a country that has had - we've looked it up - 65 governments in the last 73 years.

POGGIOLI: Yeah. But this time, I think the instability is due to a very, very high level of anger. It's very intense, very widespread. And it's over the stagnant economy, the high jobless rate and - especially among the young - and of course over the huge migrant influx over the last several years. And much of that anger is justifiably aimed at the European Union, which imposed severe austerity measures on Italy and showed absolutely no solidarity or assistance in the migrant crisis.

Now, the populists fueled a lot of that anger, but they didn't offer very realistic proposals. The League promises much lower taxes and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of migrants. 5-Star Movement promises big hikes in spending.

KELLY: OK, so that's what's going on at the political level. What about just ordinary Italians? How riled up are they about what's going on here?

POGGIOLI: I think there's a lot of confusion, but if you also - if you look at social media, it's pretty scary. Many 5-Star Movement followers are calling for Mattarella to be killed like his brother was 30 years ago by the Mafia. And meanwhile, someone very familiar to Americans, Steve Bannon, until last year President Trump's chief strategist - he's been stirring things up there. He's spending a lot of time in Italy, giving interviews.

KELLY: Keeps getting photographed by the Trevi Fountain in Rome, right?

POGGIOLI: Exactly - giving interviews, holding public events and urging Italians to disrupt the constitutional order. But some analysts think the crisis might help convince some voters to rethink their choices. The populists have not shown themselves to be very skilled in the art of compromise, which is the essence of politics.

KELLY: And briefly, when you say maybe rethinking their choices, there was talk of having another election. Where's that going?

POGGIOLI: Oh, that's very possible. If a viable political solution can't be found, there'll probably be a stopgap government of technocrats who will probably run the country for a few months before another round of elections is held. There was talk it could be early as July, but summers are sacred in Italy. Getting people to vote on a Sunday in July would be pretty hard, so it'll...

KELLY: Not going to happen.

POGGIOLI: Probably September or October.

KELLY: All right, thank you, Sylvia.

POGGIOLI: Thank you.

KELLY: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.