European Affairs

In the most important Italian political development since the departure of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, opposition leader Umberto Bossi, head of Italy’s Northern League party, was forced to resign from his position in a scandal involving illicit handling of party funds.

It was good news for Prime Minister Mario Monti’s reform agenda: the main opposing force to his austerity measures had been Bossi’s Northern League. Since the party’s founding in 1991, with a radical platform of northern autonomy verging on separatism, the League was a major partner of three successive Berlusconi governments since 2001. . Euro-skeptic and opposed to seeing Italy’s manufacturing powerhouse in the north pay for “sins” of the country’s allegedly corrupt and profligate mezzogiorno, the League has spearheaded organized opposition to the reform agenda of the technocratic government led by Monti.

Now, “not only Monti’s government, but the three big parties associated with it, stand to benefit from the League’s discomfort.” The scandal may have lasting effects within the League. Bossi’s autocratic leadership style had been mildly criticized but not resisted – perhaps because he had taken the party into a power-sharing arrangement based on a 10 percent share of the national vote. Although no wrong-going has been alleged against Bossi or his family members, the crisis has split the League into factions for the moment and may hamper its re-emergence as an opposition force to the current moment of apparent national unity.

It will be a welcome breathing space for the Monti government as it tackles the potentially lethal “third-rail issue” of Italian politics: reform of labor laws to make it easier for employers to fire workers (and theoretically easier for them to hire new workers) to cut Italy’s youth unemployment and balance its retirement accounts. . Monti’s government was installed in November in Italy’s bid to restore its credibility with creditors, other EU member states and international community.

European Affairs