Geopolitics on the rocks

Giancarlo Giorgetti and embedded sovereignism


Any thinking sovereignist knows that, in order to play a role, sovereignism needs to be embedded


And who the hell is Giancarlo Giorgetti?

He is a seemingly second-rank politician from the League, Matteo Salvini’s deputy secretary and a crucial player in the rise of so-called “sovereignist” forces in Italy’s recent general elections.

The Five Star Movement rose from 25.55% in the Chamber of Deputies in 2013 to 32.78% in 2018 (from 23.79% to 32.22% in the Senate). While the League rose from 4.1% in the Chamber of Deputies in 2013 to 17.4% in 2018 (and from 4.3% to 17.6% in the Senate).

Thanks mainly to his strong views on migration and security, Salvini was able to beat Berlusconi and dominate the north. He also obtained votes for the League (formerly a party focused on the North’s independence and prone to bashing southerners) in the southern part of the country, where the Five Star Movement is not far below 50%.

Therefore, following a successful agreement for the top posts in the two Houses, the two political forces are expected to play a crucial role not only in discussions concerning the next government, but also in Italy’s immediate future.

The Five Star Movement and the League are often called “sovereignist” by pro-EU figures and the media, and the word is considered an insult. The inclusion of the Five Star in the sovereignist camp is debatable; after all, “sovereignism” is a complex concept.

In France, for instance, souverainisme could be identified with Marine Le Pen, but also with figures such as Jean-Pierre Chevènement and the late Philippe Séguin, strong believers in republican and constitutional values and who openly opposed a number of European treaties.

In Italy, the rhetoric of “Italy first” and “Italians first” has been advanced by several political forces; the Five Star Movement, the League, Brothers of Italy and also the Democratic Party, which, with Marco Minniti, spoke of “Italy, first of all”. 

What does this mean, apart from the enduring relevance of the migration issue in Italian politics? Giancarlo Giorgetti’s agenda could help us achieve a more reality-based understanding of sovereignism, which we call “embedded sovereignism.”

On March 21st, the U.S. Embassy in Italy tweeted: “Ambassador Eisenberg welcomed meeting with Matteo Salvini and Giancarlo Giorgetti. They agreed on the importance of keeping the ties of our two countries strong.”

Nine years ago, Giorgetti was at the top of a U.S. list of Umberto Bossi’s political successors. This was a list that also included Salvini. Now, Giorgetti is Salvini’s deputy, but also a candidate for a number of posts in any future government, including two key positions (prime minister, economy and finance minister) as well as that of the prestigious but less relevant one of foreign minister.

He has openly stated, “I want to govern with Salvini.”

Giorgetti is no “barbarian at the gates”. He is the exact opposite. He is one of Italy’s most experienced politicians, particularly on economic affairs, while Salvini is an unstoppable social media sensation and has a Facebook page with more than 2.1 million likes. Giorgetti has no social media presence.

He credits this attitude to his father’s example, “He was a fisherman, like my grandfather and many generations before them. It is a lonely job in which you spend many hours thinking and not talking.”  

Giorgetti has been thinking in parliament since 1996. He has served as president of the Lower House’s Budget Committee for two full terms, 2001-2006 and 2008-2013. In today’s Italy, most real legislative initiatives and veto powers reside in the ministries and in the ministerial bureaucracy, but Giorgetti’s committee is the parliamentary seat of power due to its key role in the annual budget.

This is why Giorgetti could be the first pure politician this century to take the helm of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, which would be an impressive accomplishment.

As a senior lawmaker, Giorgetti also discussed NPLs and Basel rules with Mario Draghi in 2010, due to concerns (well-grounded, as proved) expressed by SMEs in northern Italy. For the League, he was reportedly in charge of appointments at state-owned companies. In March 2013, he was part of a 10-member committee appointed by President Napolitano to overcome the political stalemate.

Thanks to all these contacts, he is considered The League representative closest to the establishment. He says: “I know everybody (…). But we need capable politicians, accountable to the people’s power and not to finance or technocrats.” 

Sovereignism is based on the primacy of national sovereignty, but no sovereignty can exist in a vacuum or in abstract terms. There could be greater attention paid to national sovereignty, but there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty, let alone in countries like Italy. Any thinking sovereignist knows this. Therefore, in order to play a role, sovereignism needs to be “embedded”.

“Embedded liberalism” defined the Bretton Woods system, a set of rules and constraints established mostly by the U.S. after World War II. “Embedded sovereignism” could identify the Salvini-Giorgetti diarchy; the primacy of sovereignty, a record of local and national government, strong anti-EU rhetoric softened only when needed, a tough stance on migration and security, an ability to attract the working class while talking to the establishment and direct appeals to the people mixed with clever parliamentary tactics.

“Embedded sovereignism” has to address the difficult balance between the economic demands of the Salvini-Giorgetti constituency and Italy’s constraints.

These constraints are not just economic, such as public debt. They are also geopolitical. Think of northern Italy’s economic ties to Germany. In a 2012 interview (now on the League’s official website), Giorgetti praised Merkel and even spoke of a “United States of Europe” based on regions. This was before the League’s “national” turn.

In a scenario in which the League acquires most of the Berlusconi votes (and, maybe, a degree of political responsibility for Berlusconi’s assets vis-à-vis Bolloré), closer ties with the CDU, CSU and the German establishment are likely. Moreover, even when following core economic demands in opposing sanctions against Russia, the United States – with or without Trump – will remain a reference point for Giorgetti’s “embedded sovereignism”.

Yes, one could think of “Italy first”, but what if Italy were obliged to make geopolitical choices, like choosing between the U.S. and Germany? Lucio Caracciolo’s answer seems the right one: “We would probably not choose at all, because we like to be chosen.”

Spoofing sovereignism is not helpful when correctly analysing Italy. For the moment, Giorgetti’s case is nearly unique. However, a new wave of “embedded sovereignists” could arise on Italy’s uncertain path.