And Loughborough University lecturer Nicola Chelotte has said Italian interior minister Mr Salvini is emerging as the winner from an internal power struggle which has seen him get the upper hand over coalition partner Luigi Di Maio’s Five Star Movement (5SM) and “irrelevant” Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Mr Salvini has been vocal in his criticism of the EU ever since coming into Government last year. The coalition incurred the wrath of Brussels after confirming plans to run an annual budget deficit of 2.4 percent, which is likely to cost €20billion over three years, prompting concerns it would add to Italy’s already-sizeable national debt of €2.5trillion.
In his latest withering assessment, Mr Salvini said: “Italians won’t take lessons from Juncker.
“Europe has certainly not helped Italy in recent years, on the contrary it has damaged Italy.
“In the European election of 26 May we are changing everyone in Brussels and Strasburg.”
Mr Chelotti said: “It is true that the far-right populist parties will do better in the EP elections in May – and they will gain a record share of votes/seats.”
However, he was sceptical about whether the populist surge would be enough to sweep away the old guard completely.
He explained: “They will not have the majority to dictate the agenda of the EP.
“Equally important, these parties are united in their opposition of the EU, but they are rather heterogeneous when it comes to policy positions.
“One example: right-wing populist parties have different views on the economy. What Salvini (and 5SM, for what matters) wants is more leeway to spend more (in deficit), that is to run larger deficits.
“This is not the position of Nordic far-right parties or of the Chancellor Kurz in Austria.
“So, arguing that the new elections will allow him/the Italian government to go and change the eurozone rule (so that he can slash taxes and at the same time spend more) is clearly (almost) impossible. It is not going to happen.”
Meanwhile, Mr Chelotti highlighted “cracks” in the partnership between Lega and 5SM.
He said: “The main reason for me is that in all the polls Lega is doing much better than the 5SM – so that Di Maio and the others have started to differentiate themselves from Salvini hoping to get some more votes.
“Salvini is having the upper hand, electorally and rhetorically.
“However, 5SM managed to obtain the so called basic income.”
The basic income, known as reddito di cittadinanza, was more popular in the south of the country, where 5SM is more popular, than the north, which is Lega’s heartland, he said.
As for Mr Conte, who has recently confirmed he will not be seeking another term as Italian Prime Minister, Mr Chelotti was dismissive.
He said: “Conte is still not a very relevant actor.
“He has been unable to carve out an independent space; he is also not a big personality.”