Verhofstadt’s big fat Italian blunder

Guy Verhofstadt made a gift to the Italian eurosceptic forces by offending their country’s leader. The president of the European Liberals (ALDE) crossed the tiny red line that divides the right of critic from insult by accusing the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, to be “a puppet” of the leaders of the two ruling parties. The public statement was made during the plenary session of the European Parliament, where Conte took his turn in the debate on the future of Europe.

It never happened that a head of government was attacked in such a way, with such harsh allegations. In the light of the next European election and electoral campaign already ongoing, Verhofstadt exacerbated a political confrontation which is now doomed to have used for electoral purposes.

Is Conte really leading Italy?

Giuseppe Conte is not member of none of the two ruling political parties, and he doesn’t sit in none of the two branches of the Italian Parliament. He is independent, but at the same time he is also an outsider. He was chosen because of his ‘external nature’, with the aim of having a neutral figure who could allow both The League and the Five Stars Movement (M5S) to find the right necessary compromise to form the government. 

Of course this peculiarity raised questions. The question about Conte’s role has been asked among the European insiders. There is a general doubt over the powers of the current prime minister. There are those who believe that the real decision makers in the Italian Peninsula are others, namely Luigi di Maio and Matteo Salvini, the leaders of the M5S and the League. Despite that, nobody took the liberty of speaking out as Verhofstadt did.

On the one hand, the ALDE leader did nothing but expressing what is a general feeling. The point is he crossed the line. A prime minister is always a prime minister, no matters if you can consider it a good or bad politician. A prime minister represents a country, and Conte was right in stressing that personal attacks such as Verhofstatd’s hurt citizens, people and, consequently, voters.

Sovereignty belongs to the people, states the article 1 of the Italian Constitution. And in respect of this sovereignty people decide who to vote for. No doubts, a frontal attack against the Italian prime minister is a lack of respect, only partly justified – if justified – by the logic of the electoral campaign (Verhofstadt is running, too).

At the same time, it has to be said that Italians gave their preferences not to Conte himself (he wasn’t in any electoral list) but to the parties whose leaders chose him. But representative democracy is often like this.

Insulting a nation is not a smart move

In politics it is always possible to agree, disagree, to criticise and even complain. But there are rules to be respected. As every game, the democratic competition has its own dynamics. The outcome of Verhofstadt’s remarks is the call to vote against a Europe who insults Italy and Italians. That’s exactly what Salvini was waiting for, and in fact he immediately replied at Verhofstadt’s speech.

“That certain European bureaucrats, partners in crime for the disaster of these years, allow themselves to insult the president of the council of ministers, the government and the Italian people is truly shame”, the leader of The League tweeted. “Prepare the boxes, on 26 May the citizens will send you home”.

The Movement reacted, too. The head of the M5S delegation to the European Parliament, Laura Agea, recalled the fact that a prime minister is always the expression of free and democratic elections.

‘Boomerang effect’ for pro-Europeans

“We won’t stop”, Agea commented. “We’ll bring our battles to Europe, too”.

In the end the effect produced by Verhofstadt’s remarks is what it can called an ‘own-goal’, or the more classical ‘boomerang effect’. The majority of the Italian voters, who are supporting the two ruling countries, have now one more reason to go to vote. Theirs will be a vote of protest against the ‘enemies’ of the independent and sovereign Republic of Italy.

Mara Bizzotto, the head of The League delegation to Brussels, said it clearly: “The League-5 Stars government will last for a long time because we all have a great mission to accomplish: to defend the freedom and sovereignty of the Italian people from the nomenclature and the boyars of Brussels”.

Definitely, Verhofstadt didn’t help the pro-European side.  His verbal attack will feed the anti-European sentiment of Italians, and after the European elections the price paid will become obvious.

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