A view of the harbor of Portofino, brimming with yachts—this is the image chosen for the online edition of Der Spiegel to illustrate an editorial by Jan Fleischauer (a journalist who has turned from left-wing to hardline conservative positions) about “Italian freeloaders.”
The article opens with a description of a veritable “invasion” of chalets in the Swiss Alps, which—he claims—have Milanese owners and are designed by famous architects.
This seems to be enough of an argument for him to conclude that “Italians are richer than Germans,” since Italian families, on average, have assets worth €275,000 EUR (i.e. €80,000 more than the German average).
These figures are meaningless, completely ignoring the enormous and growing inequalities and social strife afflicting both Italy and Germany. They are brought out in order to set up the fictitious “us vs. them” that lies at the core of every nationalistic ideology.
As expected, the usual clichés about Italians follow: tax evasion as a national sport, the dolce far niente (“sweet idleness”), and so on. In conclusions, all of them are freeloaders, different from beggars only in that they don’t even say “thank you.”
One can see that there is much more at play here than just the “warnings” and “concerns” coming from Brussels and the harsh opinions by German politicians and economic analysts. We are also witnessing the launch of the type of media campaign aimed at mobilizing public opinion that has already been used effectively against the proverbial “lazy cicadas” in Athens during the time of the Greek crisis.
Then as now, it was aimed at those found guilty of threatening the financial returns of German investors, who are now said to be €80,000 poorer than the Italians, even though they refuse to give any discount on the substantial interest payments they are receiving.
However, the real target of the editorial is the governor of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, guilty of implementing the quantitative easing program to absorb the mountains of debt in the form of bonds issued by the “freeloaders,” who are now shamelessly asking that they be erased from the books altogether.
The Italian ECB governor is, in the end, pointed to as the one who would jeopardize German financial returns under the pretense of saving the single currency at all costs.
These accusations echo the threats that the ECB might condition further purchases of government bonds on an evaluation of the fiscal reliability of the governments issuing them.
The contemptuous tone of the editorial, and its narrative centered on a “people of freeloaders” who would like to live on the backs of a hard-working people, betray the vulgar nationalist ideology underlying this propaganda coming from across the Alps, which mirrors perfectly what Matteo Salvini has been peddling here.
His “Italians First” now gets its inevitable answer: “Germans First.”
Europe as a realm of cooperation and community, set up as being against “national priorities,” is the common enemy of both these ideologies, locked in a fundamental conflict which—for the moment—has limited itself to barbs and insults.