By the Associated Press
Italy’s new populist leaders promised to get to work creating jobs and curbing illegal migration as they made their first outing at Saturday’s symbolically-rich anniversary commemorations for the founding of the Italian republic.
Premier Giuseppe Conte and his newly sworn-in Cabinet had places of honor to view the pomp-filled military parade and Italy’s aeronautic acrobatic squad. The planes flew low and loud over downtown Rome trailing smoke in the red, white and green of the Italian flag.
The national pride on display is a feature of every Republic Day, but it took on a particular significance this year after Italy on Friday ended three months of political and financial turmoil and swore in a government whose populist and euroskeptic leanings have alarmed Europe.
Conte, a law professor plucked from relative obscurity to head an unlikely governing alliance of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and right-wing League party, said the celebrations Saturday transcended all the tensions of recent days.
“It’s the celebration for all of us, of our republic,” he said.
Republic Day commemorates the day, June 2, 1946, when Italians voted in a referendum to abolish the monarchy in favor of a republic, Italy’s first.
The political upheaval that has created western Europe’s first populist government this week has been dubbed Italy’s Third Republic.
Conte’s Cabinet was sworn in Friday after a last-minute deal averted the threat of a new election that had sent stock markets around the world tumbling. The political stability brought financial relief, but Italy’s European neighbors continued to express concern about the euroskeptic bent and the heavy spending agenda of the new government.
“Italy is destroying itself — and dragging down Europe with it,” read the headline of Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, the cover of which featured a forkful of spaghetti with one dangling strand tied up as a noose.
Conte has left policy specifics to the drivers of his improbable rise, with 5-Star leader Luigi Di Maio reporting for work after the parade to the ministry of economic development, which would have otherwise been closed for the holiday.
“Starting today, we get to work to create work,” Di Maio said in a Facebook video giving Italians a tour of the empty ministry. Di Maio is also minister of labor, a combination he said made sense since the two ministries must work together.
League leader Matteo Salvini, meanwhile, had a series of rallies in northern Italy. He heads Sunday to Sicily, the destination for most of the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived in Italy in recent years after setting off on smugglers’ boats from lawless Libya.
“We have to improve deals with countries of origin,” Salvini said.
Offering the new government cautious support was Italy’s far-right, neo-fascist CasaPound party, which held its own Republic Day commemoration Saturday. Banners featured images of a crossed-out European Union flag and “#exIT” written underneath, a reference to calls for Italy to leave the 28-nation bloc.
The 5-Star-League agenda has no such plans, but Conte made clear he was irked by comments this week by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who said Italy had to stop blaming the EU for its problems and take responsibility itself to address the poverty in southern Italy.
“That means more work, less corruption. Seriousness,” Juncker said in comments his spokeswoman later said he regretted.
In an unscripted blast from the parade route, Conte insisted Italy wasn’t alone in facing cases of corruption and declared that “we all have to work for legality.”
Conte’s government faces mandatory confidence votes next week in parliament, where the two governing parties have a slim majority.