Italy's President Sergio Mattarella addresses journalists VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images

Mattarella’s Line in the Sand

The vital task confronting Europe is to reconcile citizens’ right to make radical choices with the need to ensure that decisions leading to constitutional change are subject to sufficient public deliberation. The EU and the euro must not be constitutional cages; but nor should they be subject to ill-considered decisions.

PARIS – A deep political crisis has erupted in Italy since President Sergio Mattarella’s refusal to appoint Paolo Savona, a declared Euroskeptic, as minister of economy and finance in the coalition government proposed by the leaders of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the League, the two anti-system parties that emerged as winners of the March general election. Savona had openly advocated preparing a “plan B” for an exit from the single currency, and Mattarella argued that his appointment could have led to precisely that outcome.

Mattarella’s decision immediately provoked a furor. M5S leader Luigi Di Maio called for the president to be impeached, but later withdrew this request. The League’s Matteo Salvini called for new elections, which he said would be a referendum on the freedom or slavery of Italy. And in France, Marine Le Pen, the far-right leader who campaigned for the French presidency last year on a promise to leave the euro, denounced what she called a “coup d’état.”

This is not the first time that continued euro membership has become a major political issue. In Greece in 2015, it was, at least implicitly, part of the debate over the acceptance of the conditions for financial assistance. In France in 2017, Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron explicitly debated it during the presidential campaign. But this is the first time that the euro has been the direct source of a legal dispute over the appointment of a government.

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