CasaPound’s recent campaigns: the European Union and immigration
As CPI engaged in the electoral arena in 2013, it also had to take a stance on themes with a high degree of prominence in national debates: the European Union and migration.
Prior to the outbreak of the sovereign debt crisis in Italy, CasaPound’s position on the EU was rather original. As discussed in Chapter 3, it appeared to be a sort of ‘soft Euroscepticism’ (Taggart and Szczerbiak 2008; Vasilopoulou 2017). It suggested that the Maastricht treaty was ‘the right thing done in the wrong way’ (CPI 2013c) and advocated for ‘a different idea of Europe’. Accordingly, CPI sought for unilateral cancellation of government debt and public ownership of the Bank of Italy. Furthermore, it demanded a modification of the rules of Maastricht, the establishment of a closed European trade area and the revision of the Schengen Agreements. In this framework, the people of Europe were described as ‘brothers’ equally oppressed by the European Central Bank (ECB) and global financial institutions.5 In short, while opposing ‘technocratic institutions’, CPI did not call for the break-up of the EU.
During Mario Monti’s technocratic government (2011—2013), however, CPI turned to ‘hard Euroscepticism’, namely a principled opposition to the EU as a polity, and consisting mainly of a critique of the unresponsiveness of technocratic government. CPI described austerity and the weakening of the welfare state as ‘ultra-liberal degenerations’6 of the EU and pointed to the responsibility of ‘financial stranglers’ and ‘governments of bankers’.' In the 2013 election manifesto, CPI calls for the first time for the unilateral exit of Italy from the EU and the cancellation of all European treaties:
The EU proved to be an enemy of our nation, and a weapon of supranational financial groups who wish to destroy our identity and economy. Outside the cage of the EU there is the rest of the world, with which we can trade and cooperate on our terms and interests.
Additional evidence of the progressive radicalization of CPI’s positions on the EU concerned monetary issues. Prior to the 2013 general elections, CPI campaigned for the introduction of a complementary currency, the ‘equo’, which would not replace the euro, but would circulate alongside it. This would allow Italy to regain its monetary sovereignty, without having to return to the lira.8 At that time, CPI considered the idea of going back to the old currency ‘ridiculous, self- defeating, and reactionary as the euro represents the first serious competitor of the dollar and the hegemony of Wall Street’.
The euro refers to some of the best aspects of the continent’s history: from Castel del Monte to Leonardo da Vinci, from Dante Alighieri to the German eagle, to futurist images. While the dollar is permeated by oligarchic and masonic symbolism, the euro is drawn from an utterly Ghilbelline, deep- rooted, proactive imagination.
(Ideodromo CasaPound 2013)
However, on the occasion of the 2018 election campaign, CPI demanded the abandonment of the euro in favour of a new sovereign currency that would support the Italian economy and national interest.
The Euro is a mechanism that serves the interests of private groups and hostile nations, which expropriate public goods in Italy by means of privatizations, and extort Italian citizens, extinguish their savings, multiply their debt and destroy their Welfare State.
A major turning point in the relationship between CPI and the EU was represented by the 2014 European Parliament elections. It is then that the anti-EU rhetoric of CPI grew in intensity. Prior to the elections, CPI took an active part in a series of protests against the Italian government, taxation and the EU (from November 2013 to early 2014). The protests (including rallies, demonstrations and blockades of highways and rail services) were labelled ‘pitchfork protests’ by journalists (II Fatto Quotidiano 2013) from the name of the anti-EU, autonomist and anti-tax ‘pitchfork’ movement. In this framework, CPI invited its sympathizers and activists to participate in the protests ‘without symbols’, using only a tricolour flag in support of the ‘Italian truck drivers, farmers, and other professional categories [...] brought to their knees by crazy taxes that only serve to pay the interests of fraudulent debt’ (CPI 2013d).
During these protests, CPI’s vice-president Simone Di Stefano was arrested for replacing the EU flag with an Italian one during a sit-in in front of the head office of the European Commission in Italy (II Fatto Quotidiano 2013). A first strongly critical statement against the EU accompanied the action by CPI: ‘The people of 9 December rebel against the suicide of a Nation [capital in the original] which surrendered without conditions to Brussels bureaucrats’ (CPI 2013e). Upon his release, Di Stefano reaffirmed CPI’s opposition to the EU: ‘The European flag is the flag of a technical-financial structure that is oppressing European peoples.’
Despite the choice to take part in the marches devoid of the group’s official symbol, the protests granted CPI considerable media attention. Activists could in fact be recognized by their tricolour painted marks, the nooses they wore around the necks, banners with slogans such as ‘Some Italians do not surrender’ and ‘Italy, Nation, Revolution!’ - as well as Mameli’s hymn and other elements aimed at emphasizing Italian national identity. As a result, the 2014 European Parliament election campaign gave CasaPound the opportunity to open a channel of collaboration with Italian far-right parties (Lega Nord) as well as with international far-right organizations. At that time, CPI hosted international guests like Jean-Yves Le Gallou, an intellectual close to the Nou- vellc Droite, former member of the European Parliament for the Front National, and theorist of national preference in the areas of welfare and labour (CPI 2013f). Similarly, CPI used EU issues to connect with Golden Dawn in Greece (CPI 2013g).
The discussion above suggests that, like other far-right parties in Europe (Pirro et al. 2018) and in line with what emerges from the analysis of the ideological themes of the group (see Chapter 3), CPI lacks a coherent position on the EU. However, the group tried to exploit the opportunities associated with EU-related themes during a time of economic hardship. By transforming its EU agenda, CPI managed to regain the visibility it had lost after its first — unsuccessful — electoral attempt. At the same time, it took advantage of common anti-EU stances to set up relationships with other political actors and movements in Italy and abroad. In so doing, CPI progressively moved beyond its original utilitarian critique of the EU, towards more ideological forms of Euroscepticism (which would be confirmed during the 2019 European Parliament election campaign).
Similar to EU affairs, also the issue of migration did not represent a cornerstone of CPI’s early mobilization, even though nativism is at the core of the group’s worldview (see Chapter 3). The analyses of CPI’s mobilization in the protest arena (illustrated earlier in Figure 6.1), have, in fact, shown that immigration originally played a marginal role in the group’s actions. From 2012 onwards, however, it suddenly turned into the second most important issue for the group. In line with what we observed for EU issues, the turning point for CPI’s migration agenda coincides with the group’s choice to engage in the electoral arena, which took place in a context of heated debates on immigration in Italy.
A straightforward interpretation of CPI’s sudden interest in migration affairs rests in contextual factors and opportunities. The group in fact tried to capitalize on growing popular concerns linked to the European migration policy crisis. Of the one million refugees who crossed the Mediterranean in 2015, in fact, 154,000 landed in Italy, resulting in a 31 percentage-point increase in annual asylum application rates (Castelli Gattinara 2017). While the trend would slow down over the following months, Eurobarometer data shows that over 40 per cent of Italians considered immigration to be the most important problem facing Italy in 2017 (Figure 6.5). Interestingly, while the Italian average has been consistently below the European one throughout the 2000s, since the beginning of the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ Italy has been steadily above the EU average. As we shall discuss, CPI saw these trends as a potential window of opportunity to mobilize on migration.
In fact, the figure displays remarkable similarities with the trends in CPI’s mobilization illustrated in Figure 6.1, where we showed that the group shifted its attention towards issues connected to migration. This suggests that, in entering the electoral arena, CasaPound tried to intercept the growing popular discontent with migration in Italy. On the one hand, CPI certainly adapted its political agenda to the constraints of the party system agenda (Green-Pedersen and Mortensen 2010). On the other, it did so by politicizing the issue mostly through grassroots protests.
In the electoral arena, immigration stands out as one of the most salient issues in CPI’s electoral programmes in both 2013 and 2018 (although it loses salience
FIGURE 6.5 Share of people who consider immigration the most important problem in Italy (2005-2017).
Source: Standard Eurobarometer 2005-2017.
over time). Both manifestos enumerate several restrictive policy measures against migrants. Specifically, CPI approaches immigration as an economic issue (i.e. immigrants steal natives’ jobs), as a security problem (i.e. immigrants are a physical menace) and as a cultural threat (i.e. immigrants challenge the habits of hosting societies). CPI proposes a halt to all forms of regular and irregular migration, as well as the expulsion of all irregular migrants (CPI 2013c: 4-5; CPI 2018e: 5). Furthermore, they propose stripping of their citizenship second- generation migrants who committed crimes, and introducing a reference to the ins sanguinis law in the Italian Constitution (CPI 201 Be). As mentioned in Chapter 3 and discussed in greater detail later, CPI’s manifestos also target NGOs, calling for a halt to state and private funding for those accused of trafficking illegal migrants for their own interests (CPI 2013c: 3).
In the protest arena, instead, migration becomes a primary concern of CPI from 2014 onwards. In concomitance with the European asylum policy crisis, in fact, the group organized a series of demonstrations to protest against the opening of shelters for migrants in Rome and the presence of Roma camps (II Corriere della Sera 2014a, 2014b). In parallel it also promoted direct interventions to ensure security at the neighbourhood level, and various street blockades to prevent the settlement of migrants and Roma people (II Corriere della Sera 2015, 2016).
CPI’s mobilization further intensified in the following years, as the Italian government led by Matteo Renzi (Democratic Party) promoted two major laws related to migration issues. First, the so-called ius soli bill (which ultimately failed to pass) proposed a reform of Italy’s citizenship law, facilitating citizenship for children of foreign parents who were born and schooled in the country. Second, the ‘Minniti-Orlando’ decree (approved via a vote of confidence vote) set out to simplify asylum procedures and curtail illegal immigration by means of bilateral agreements and an expanded network of administrative detention. While many pundits criticized the law for severely limiting the right to asylum and the protection of fundamental rights, and for reifying the idea that migration is a matter of emergency and criminality requiring state repression (Castelli Gattinara 2017), CPI judged it insufficient and useless (II Primalo Nazionale 2017a). To stop illegal migration, CPI proposed shutting down all Italian ports to foreign NGOs and ‘rainbow smugglers’ (scafisli arcobaleno). In the months preceding and following the approval of the Minniti decree, CPI took part - alongside several small far-right groups — in vocal public campaigns insinuating that NGOs involved in rescue operations in the Mediterranean acted in cooperation with human smugglers (II Primato Nazionale 2017b). Whether or not in response to these campaigns, the Italian government eventually turned its attention to NGOs, threatening to shut the ports to the organizations who failed to sign up to a controversial code of conduct implying, among other things, that the Italian army will be allowed to accompany their rescue missions. Since then, CPI has openly endorsed Matteo Salvini’s campaign ttchiudiamoiporti (shut the harbours!).
FIGURE 6.6 Posters of CasaPound Italia’s campaigns on immigration.
On the left, a poster for CasaPound’s march against the introduction of ins soli in Italy’s citizenship law, with the slogan ‘Stop NGOs, cooperatives, speculators and slave drivers’ (June 2017). In the middle and on the right, posters of CasaPound’s protest vigils against reception centres in Calabria (2017), with the slogan ‘Stop immigration, Italians first’.
In sum, as public debates on immigration grew in importance in the public sphere, CPI turned its attention to this issue. As shown earlier in this chapter, this seems to be a rewarding strategy, at least in terms of media visibility. One of the probable reasons why CasaPound leadership did not opt to address migration any sooner is related to the risks of handling similar issues publicly without being associated with racism. In this sense, it appears that CPI felt legitimate in dealing with migration only once it had begun its engagement in electoral politics where mainstream parties pay increasing attention to migration issues. At the same time, however, this strategy did not pay electorally: on the one hand, because CPI had to compete with stronger far-right parties in elections; on the other, because mainstream politics in Italy seems to have turned increasingly anti-immigration in recent years.