Donald Trump’s new tariffs on imported steel and aluminium did not receive a negative comment from all Europeans. “Eurosceptic” politicians welcomed it. Among them, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian far-right Northern League, who has openly embraced the U.S. president’s push for more tariffs.
Salvini, 44, took over the party in 2013 from its founder, Umberto Bossi. He has been an omnipresent media figure who has used the country’s growing economic discontent, and wariness about immigrants, as a vehicle to reach voters. The PM candidate is in favor of Italy’s exit from the euro which he has called a “Germany currency” that has damaged Italy’s economy.
With Italian elections on March 4, Salvini made a pledge: “If Italians will choose me as prime minister I will [impose tariffs] like Trump. I will defend Italian workers and entrepreneurs even if it means putting up tariffs to protect the ‘made in Italy’ brand.”
Salvini’s party has been gaining ground ahead of Sunday’s elections in Italy.
Austerity policies and unpopular reforms have empowered the populist parties in Italy as they have in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, the far-right Northern League and Brothers of Italy, another far-right eurosceptic party, have accumulated great power over the pro-European forces expressed by the ruling Democrats and Silvio’s Berlusconi Forza Italia party.
Italy’s weak economic growth which lags the rest of the euro area has given these populists ammunition. Currently, Italy has 1.5 percent GDP growth versus 2.4 percent for the rest of the eurozone. The eurosceptic Italians are accusing globalization for the economic weakening of Italy and this narrative has become popular with many in the electorate. They point to the fact that 20 percent of Italy’s manufacturing industry, which was the largest in Europe after Germany’s prior to the adoption of the euro in 2002, has been destroyed, and about 40,000 companies have disappeared.
Adopting political positions against globalization, similar to President Trump, they preach that the economic backwardness of Italy has its roots in the immensely degraded political culture of the country’s elite, which, in the last few decades, has negotiated and signed countless international agreements and treaties without ever considering the real economic interest of the country and without any meaningful planning of the nation’s future.
The far-right eurosceptic parties argue that previous governments never recognized that indiscriminate opening to Asia’s light industrial products would destroy Italy’s once leading industries in the same sectors. They also accuse previous governments for signing the euro treaties without taking into account the implications that handing monetary policy over to the ECB would have on Italy’s national sovereignty.