Italy’s government is fast-approaching a crisis. The coalition government of the e-voting oriented, populist, anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League party have fractured at the seams, with League leader and Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, Matteo Salvini, looking to grab power by forcing a snap election. With polls showing that he could almost single-handily win a majority by slightly improving his popularity in an autumn election, Salvini looks to ride a wave of anti-migrant sentiment, a flat tax, and his “Italians First” motto to consolidate his power, abandoning his current coalition partners.
Italy’s current Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development, Labour and Social Policies, Luigi Di Maio, is the leader of the Five Star Movement and a blockchain supporter — and up to now, the main coalition partner of Salvini, the two of them lending their party support to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte while benefitting from cabinet positions.
In his travels to the United States for a technology event, Di Maio would note that “Italy is the first country in Europe that has already introduced the blockchain in its own legislation, equating the notarization of deeds made by a notary with that made with blockchain. Smart contracts have been a reality in our system since December.”
With his economic powers, Di Maio has implemented a one billion euro fund to complete the digitization of Italy, with heavy emphasis on supporting cryptocurrency/blockchain and AI initiatives. The investment in this fund was billed as a way to encourage innovation and to try to get young people to stay in Italy.
Di Maio’s Ministry of Economic Development convened a panel of 30 experts to help it develop a cohesive blockchain strategy. Driven by him, Italy joined the European Blockchain Association and was part of a series of amendment of laws in the Italian Senate that saw the terms “smart contract” and “distributed ledger” recognized by Italian law for the first time. He has openly mused about blockchain being used to support “Made in Italy” initiatives.
This forward-looking attitude to blockchain has its basis in the Five Star Movement that Di Maio now leads, which pioneered the use of e-voting for party decisions and participatory budgeting among its internal movement and which advocated for more online direct democracy in Rome when the party took power there. M5S founder Beppe Grillo commented that “It should be the citizens and the local community who govern cities through the Internet, using collective intelligence. The web is revolutionizing the relationship between citizens and institutions making direct democracy feasible, as applied in ancient Greece.” He has blogged about blockchain solutions in science and off-handily (and perhaps in jest) referred to blockchain concepts to enforce accountability in politics.
Both the Five Star Movement and the center-left coalition that governed Italy before the League and the M5S are now looking to delay snap elections being held as Salvini has approached the current peak of his popularity. Salvini is looking to govern in a majority government by himself, or perhaps in coalition with the Brothers of Italy, a far-right nationalist party that draws its roots from the Italian Social Movement, formed in 1946 by supporters of the deposed Benito Mussolini — or the center-right coalition brought together by the eternally-present Silvio Berlusconi.
His pursuit of power is linked to the next budget bill Italy must pass. Salvini wants a flat tax, while the M5S want universal basic income. The two parties, drawn together in a pragmatic power-sharing relationship, have now split at the seams and are unlikely to want to have anything to do with one another for the next few elections. Both sides have descended into a flurry of insults.
While Di Maio and his Five Star Movement have championed blockchain in many instances, Salvini has never noticeably mentioned it.
After sweeping to power in European elections, the League leader has mentioned creating an alternative currency to the Euro, the “mini-BOT”, a government issued security that could be used to pay down debt, essentially threatening to undermine the Euro by giving Italy a way to finance its large public debts by issuing liquidity on its own. Though supported by Five Star Movement, the alternative was originally proposed by the League.
The securities would be government-issued and controlled and it’s fair to say that the “mini-BOT” may be an “anti-cryptocurrency” in many of its principles — centralized, and built to expand political power for an authority — though interestingly localist and autonomous when compared with the larger Euro it seems to undermine. Coupled with Salvini’s drive to tax safety deposit boxes at 15% to make room for his flat tax however (where Italians have an estimated $200 billion Euros stashed), and it’s easy to see how a Salvini-led government with no M5S support could quickly be indifferent at best to blockchain and cryptocurrencies, and hostile at worst.
Italy’s coalition government, shaky as it was, had leaders that were at the center of government who were blockchain advocates and who advanced policy that made a meaningful difference in Italy’s blockchain adoption. With the rise of the far right and an attempt to sideline those figures in government who made those advances, it looks like the blockchain friendly government present in Italy will be no more.