“Italians want change and they want change now”
Steve Bannon has been in Italy witnessing the elections. Before his first public speech in Europe, in Zürich Switzerland, the former White House security advisor, analyzes the first results of the elections. He talks to Weltwoche foreign editor, Urs Gehriger.
Italians have voted, it’s the day after. What is the biggest take away from these elections for you?
Certain people in Italy think that these were just provincial elections, that their politics doesn’t mean anything on a global basis. They couldn’t be farther from the truth. This was an earthquake yesterday, this was even more stunning than I thought it was going to be, and that’s the reason I came over here, to really learn more. You could argue that the entire establishment, the populist vote or even people that tended toward populism is over 60/70 %. In particularly if you look where these parties came from, if you look at the size that the Five Star Movement was a couple of years ago, if you look at the size that Lega was a few years ago and look at how they’ve grown so rapidly. This is just a populist victory and should send a massive signal to the permanent political class in Rome and more importantly to the permanent political class in Brussels that people want change.
The populist movements who won, from the Fratelli d’Italia to the Five Star Movement, lie very far apart. What do they have in common?
What they have in common is the opposition against the entire establishment. They want the sovereignty of Italy, they want the sovereignty of the Italian people, the common thread. And what is so important is that the Lega campaigned in the south, right and across. Five Stars campaigned all over, more importantly what the Lega did in certain areas. They got 20% of the votes in Tuscany which is traditionally a turf of the left, or the central left: This is equivalent to Wisconsin going to Trump. So, you just see across the country a rejection of the way things are. I said this before the election, there are definitely policy differences between the Five Star Movement and the Lega and also some of the other populist movements on the right, but I think what is much more powerful: There is a strong signal to the permanent political class in Europe that people, and particularly people in Italy, want change and they want change now.
What’s the signal for Europe?
The signal for Europe is that the commentators and the Financial Times of London and the Wall Street Journal and what I call the party of Davos, the globalist elite, have been dismissing ever since the French elections. There’s really a populist national revolt, it’s building steam. This is a global phenomenon. Italy is the third or fourth biggest economy in Europe, an incredibly important country, it’s one of the founders of the European project, nobody has been more engaged in the European project than the political leads in Italy. Yesterday, what you had was a total rejection by the Italian voters, and I think that was the earthquake, the tremor is going to continue, this shift of tectonic plates is going to continue over the next couple of weeks or months as they put together a government.
You have been in Italy for the elections, what’s your most striking observation?
I went around, I had meetings with many of the people in the political process. I was having the chance just to go around and engage with basic citizens and I’ve got to tell you, people want change, they just don’t think the current system is working. They want change and they want change now. They don’t want to have any more political happy talk. They really want change and in Italy to me what’s so important is that they want the sovereignty of the country back. Italian citizens want Italians making decisions for what they think is in the best interest of Italy. So I think yesterdays it was a bigger earthquake than even people were prepared for and I think if you aggregate up the votes, as we said when you and I talked in New York, about two thirds of the people have kind of voted for an entire establishment populist amending.
If you look at the results on the right-hand side: The Lega was much stronger even than expected and much stronger than Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Is Berlusconi over?
Well, look, Berlusconi was Trump before Trump. So, never count Berlusconi out. Anybody who says Berlusconi is ever over, is making a big miscalculation. But actions have consequences: the Lega’s victory over Forza Italia means Salvini replaces Berlusconi as de facto leader of the right. Certainly, yesterday was a vote of confidence in Matteo Salvini who really took the party over when it was about 3 percent. And look at the results he was able to deliver! It is obvious, though, that it is getting more difficult for Berlusconi to play kingmaker. Because, as this plays out – and we don’t have final results – it looks like Five Star is going to have the mandate to at least try to form a government.
There is an option that Five Star Movement could form a government with Forza. What is your thought about this?
All these possibilities will come up. But the key thing that I believe is going to happen: Part of Five Star’s foundational legends is that they would never form a coalition government. But we'll have to see! I think that now that they have got the ability. Particularly, because they did so well: over 30 percent, the largest party: this is very impressive! They are going to have a mandate to form a government and they will try to put together a coalition.
You have spoken out in favor of a coalition between Lega and Five Stars. Do they have a common ground to govern? Are they too far apart?
The two populist upstarts that essentially didn't register a few short years ago – Five Star and the Lega – effectively replaced the PD and Forza Italia centrist system. Five Star toned down some of the euro-sceptic rhetoric. But I think there is a communality among the voters of both that they are euro-sceptics. They really question what is going on in Brussels. They are both populist in nature. Some of their policies are far apart. One is a little more on the centrist or center-left, the other is more to the right. Definitely, the Lega is more aggressive about the migrant issue. I think, what binds them together is more than what separates them. And what is important: If they were to come together or you see them coming together with other populist parties, it really gives you a bigger mandate to govern. Step 1 was the winning: Put something together that can actually win. The second part is how you govern. Italy still has massive problems. They have massive problems about their economy, they have massive problems on debt, they have massive problems on foreign illegal migrants. The problems facing Italy are pretty daunting. In that regard, you definitely need a governing coalition that can really have a mandate. If you see these populist numbers - like I said, over 60 percent voted for the rejection of the establishment - that’s the communality and it’s more powerful than what separates them.