Political change is in the air after new prime ministers were sworn into office in Italy and Spain. In Italy, the new prime minister is Giuseppe Conte, a jurist with relatively little political experience. This came after the two most popular parties, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right Lega, came to an agreement over a coalition government. Italian politics had been in a state of paralysis since elections on March 4 returned no party to power, and numerous disagreements hindering negotiations over a coalition government. The selection of Conte was an important breakthrough to this, acting essentially as a figurehead and a relatively neutral compromise, with the leaders of M5S and Lega serving as deputy prime ministers.
Spain, on the other hand, saw political change after a vote of no-confidence deposed Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of the People’s Party (PP). The no-confidence motion came after Rajoy and the PP were implicated in a massive corruption scandal known as the Gürtel case, where individuals close to the party paid bribes to party officials in return for contracts over public works between 1999 to 2006. Replacing Rajoy as PM is Pedro Sánchez of the centre-left Socialist Party, who filed the no-confidence motion in parliament.
Why is this important?
These developments add to a broader trend of political uncertainty around Europe and further undermine any notion of European unity. The M5S-Lega coalition is the first anti-establishment government in Europe, reflecting widespread discontent in a country still plagued with deep economic issues, and hamstrung by Eurozone policies. However, the coalition is also a fragile one, with the two parties known to be diametrically opposed on many issues. Spain has seen better economic fortunes, but Rajoy came under fire for his crackdown on the Catalan independence movement last year. His successor, meanwhile, stands on weak political footing without an electoral mandate and will face strong challenges from the regional parties in Spain’s pluralist political system.