2) European neo-populism at the crossroads – DOMENICO FISICHELLAby Giuseppe Terranova - 2012.06.29
Professor of State Doctrine and Political Sciences with a permanenet position at the Universities of Florence and Rome “La Sapienza”, lecturer at Luiss University of Rome, editorialist of important national newspapers, ideologist and expert on Italian right-wing party, former Minister and Vice-president of the Senate. Domenico Fisichella is known as one of the most important Italian politologists. With this interview we are carrying on the reportage of our newspaper on European neopopulism.
1) Why do anti-immigration parties originate in the wealthiest areas, where the foreign workforce demand is high and not in the poorest ones? In fact the expression used is “alpine populism” with reference to Central European countries that are notoriously the most developed ones.
At least with regard to Italy, initially, the movement of Lega Nord has mainly been fostered by protests against the bureaucratic inefficiency, the fiscal overload, the legislative ‘elephantiasis’, the infrastructural deficiencies, all “flaws” attributed to the so called state centralism, referring to Rome. In this framework, the invention of Padania, fictitious dimension, was useful in the early stage, to distinguish from the rest of the Italians and not, obviously from foreigners. When later on, a certain identity usefulness of such invention was detected, it was also used for a migration policy that can be defined as “purity of Padania”. With the passing of time a synergy among protest, federalism, secessionist threats, and ethnic-religious identification originates and became very emotional on certain issues worsened by the economic crisis. Without forgetting, as many facts are pointing out, that the territorial areas where Lega Nord is rooted, are characterized by widespread phenomenon of tax evasion and avoidance, in the various forms in which this can occurs.
2) Immigration, like all phenomena of modernization, produces tensions and fears in society. Especially the weakest sectors of the population feel threatened by the newcomers. How would you explain the fact that the European Left, which is by nature pro-immigrants, is losing contact with these sectors of the population that for many years have represented a very influential part of its electorate?
One of the main reasons for the success of Lega Nord derives from the political and cultural crisis of the Left. What does the left wing party consist of nowadays in Italy and for many aspects in Europe? For a long time, this political side was characterized by an indiscriminate, acritical egalitarian universalism, result of an ideological view of social progress. In fact, it is quite obvious that certain migration processes that were out of control, and not only were accepted but also encouraged, would have clashed with the pragmatic interests and with the vital spaces of the worse off sectors of society.
Foreign workforce is more useful for rich citizens than for the poor ones. This does not mean, needless to say, to raise inviolable barriers towards those immigrants who arrive in Italy and Europe in search for a job. The left-wing party, however, should have taken charge of the selective migration policies according to territorial needs, production areas and so on.
This political vacuum lies at the origin of the electoral shift of those social sectors that were previously faithful to the left-wing party. Having said that, it must be also added that many voters belonging to the centre party, especially to the demochristian party – characterized more by the small and medium enterprises rather than by workers and labourers – vote for Lega Nord.
3) Let us take stock of the history of the past ten years of those political parties that are simply defined as populist. They have experienced different lives and political routes: some of them were meteors and others instead managed to go through a process of “parliamentarization”. What are the reasons for these differences? And in this framework don’t you believe that Lega Nord represents an example of successful “parliamentarization”?
Those parties that went through a process of “parliamentarization”, like for example in the case of Lega Nord, are populist parties that managed to integrate in a system of political and governmental alliances. With regard to Lega Nord this happens thanks to a lessening of its first aim (federalism for disaggregation), but in reality two are the main reasons.
The first one was the essentiality of its role to maintain a bipolar structure in the party system, otherwise incapable to ensure whatever governability.
The second reason is that – once the allies accept this ‘essentiality’ – the weakness of the latter allows for the populist party to introduce itself as an engine the key of which is the governability.
But it is not quite like that. Parliamentarization is the means, the aim is federalism. Lega was often explicit, always addressed to its allies of the government. In short, federalism is pursued with subsequent approximations, but if the alliances of Lega Nord should deem such route as impassable, the threat of succession would be definitely at stake. Ça va sans dire, with all the risks of the case for Lega Nord too.