Two populist parties on the brink of forming Italy’s first populist government claim strong backing to the country’s defense industry, marking a change of tack after earlier criticism of the sector.
The anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has won votes crusading against political corruption, has teamed with the anti-migrant League party to form a government which may be sworn in next week.
The two parties, which formed a coalition after inconclusive elections in March left Italy with a hung parliament, are currently drawing up a list of ministers.
Five Star has traditionally opposed investment in the defense industry and elected members of the party last year vowed to pull Italy out of the F-35 program if they came to power.
The policy list drawn up by Five Star and the League and published last week instead states a commitment to the industry, albeit with an apparent focus on dual use technologies.
“The protection of the Italian defense industry is essential, particularly regarding the financing of the research and implementation of know-how in areas which are not exclusively military,” the program states.
The F-35 progam is not mentioned, and one senior political source told Defense News its omission meant neither one thing or an other.
“It just means we don’t know what they are going to do,” said the source.
One analyst said that until the equilibrium in the coalition between the two parties was better known, and until a new defense minister was appointed, it was hard to tell what Italy’s next government will do about the F-35 and defense spending in general.
“It’s a confused situation since this is a government born of a coalition we have never seen before,” said Andrea Margelletti, president of the CESI think tank in Rome
“We have to see what agreements will be made within the coalition,” he added.
Margelletti agreed is was to soon to second guess the coalition on its plans for the F-35, but said, “It’s a strategic aircraft. One thing is what is said in opposition, another thing with the responsibility of government.”
The political source did reveal Five Star had blocked moves by the League to insert in their joint program a plan to raise Italian defense spending to the two percent of GDP required by NATO.
“The League proposed it, Five Star blocked it,” he said.
The program is also cagey about Italy’s continued willingness to participate in international military missions.
“It will be opportune to reevaluate our presence in international missions from a point of view of their effective relevance to the national interest,” the program states.
The coalition is likely to name its cabinet of ministers over the weekend and Italian media has suggested the defense job will go to Elisabetta Trenta, who was named by Five Star as its preferred candidate before the election.
Trenta is a defense academic at the Link University in Rome, where she coordinates a masters course in intelligence and security.
Another candidate for the job was Guido Crosetto, a former Italian government junior defense minister who later became head of Italy’s defense industry association AIAD.
He stepped down from the role to seek a seat in parliament at the March election with the hard right Brothers of Italy party. He won a seat and became a ministerial candidate when his party began talks to join the populist coalition.
However those talks failed, and this week Crosetto announced he would quit parliament and retake his position as head of AIAD.
Tom Kington is the Italy correspondent for Defense News.