EUROPE ON A PRECIPICE; on Sunday, Vital Polls in Italy and Austria Could Spark a New Economic Crisis and See the EU's First Far Right Head of State. and That May Just Be the Beginning ...RAGE OF THE ITALIANS

Daily Mail (London), December 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

EUROPE ON A PRECIPICE; on Sunday, Vital Polls in Italy and Austria Could Spark a New Economic Crisis and See the EU's First Far Right Head of State. and That May Just Be the Beginning ...RAGE OF THE ITALIANS


Byline: Tobias Jones

THIS Sunday, Italy votes in a referendum on constitutional reform. It may sound boring, but it is in fact spectacularly the opposite -- for the result could end up sending seismic shocks across Europe which reshape several nations almost beyond recognition.

And here's why: Matteo Renzi -- who has been compared with Tony Blair -- has set out plans to strengthen the government but they will almost certainly be rejected. In the most recent polls he is several points behind. He has promised to resign if he loses, meaning that Italy is likely to see a political earthquake comparable to Brexit and the election in America of Donald Trump.

Indeed, the only alternatives to Renzi, a 41-year-old Centre-Leftist, are populist mavericks who come from far outside the political establishment. Experts are now fearful that uncertainty provoked by a political crisis in Italy could spark panic across the eurozone, and Italy may even end up leaving the euro and returning to the lira.

How did we get here? Principally because Italy is a dangerously angry country. Already disillusioned by numerous changes of government over the years, Italians voters are increasingly furious about the way their nation has been brought to its knees by a reckless banking system, appallingly high unemployment and a migrant crisis as tens of thousands arrive by boat from north Africa.

The sun-dappled idyll of La Dolce Vita is no more than a grim joke for many in Italy who struggle to make ends meet from week to week.

The economic outlook is desperately bleak: the IMF has suggested that the country's economic growth won't return to the levels seen before the 2008 financial crisis until 2025.

Forty per cent of the EU's 'nonperforming loans' (money doled out by banks that has not been, and may never be, repaid) come from Italy, meaning its banking system is vulnerable. Ordinary Italians invest heavily in bank bonds -- so millions in savings are at risk.

It is a deep irony, of course, that a defeat for Renzi makes a banking collapse more likely as a rudderless nation spins out of control. And yet perhaps voters are willing to risk the appalling human cost of such an outcome if it is the price they must pay to vent their anger at the establishment.

Polls indicate leads of between five and ten per cent for the 'No' camp, despite most business leaders urging a 'Yes' vote. As was the case with Brexit, there is a feeling of us versus them -- of wealthy experts telling voters what to think without really understanding the despair that stalks families who feel enough is enough.

LIKE many Greeks, Italians feel they are sheltering far more than their fair share of refugees and immigrants, many of whom land on its shores having crossed the Med.

The country's youth employment stands at an eye-watering 39 per cent, meaning hundreds of thousands of bright young Italians have moved abroad. Those who remain are increasingly embittered. To say the country is pessimistic is putting it lightly.

With that mood prevailing, Italians watched events in America -- and saw a non-politician wrest power from a cynical establishment figure. Now, they regard Sunday's referendum -- on reducing the size and power of the upper house, or Senate -- as their chance to give established politicians a bloody nose. That is something at which Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, excels.

A caustic, diminutive comedian with grey, curly hair, Grillo organises rallies under the title 'Vaffa', or 'F*** Off'. Although thought to be a rabble-rouser from the Left, Grillo has also begun to appeal to the Right by echoing Italians' concerns about immigration and Islam. With his ferocious language, many have wondered if Grillo isn't, like Benito Mussolini before him, moving from far-Left to far-Right.

It's certainly a tactic which is working. The Five Star Movement is polling at roughly 30 per cent which is, by the standards of Italy's splintered politics, sensational. …

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EUROPE ON A PRECIPICE; on Sunday, Vital Polls in Italy and Austria Could Spark a New Economic Crisis and See the EU's First Far Right Head of State. and That May Just Be the Beginning ...RAGE OF THE ITALIANS
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