Today in Italian politics: Free flights to Italy?

In the run-up to the Italian general election on March 4th, The Local is bringing you a daily round up of who's done what and why in the fast-moving world of Italian politics.

Today in Italian politics: Free flights to Italy?
Don't expect to be ushered aboard a free Alitalia flight anytime soon. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Days to go until Italy votes: 10

Things are getting real. We're almost into single figures.

You can read Wednesday's daily politics recap here and catch up on all our election coverage so far here.


  • Mafia meddling?

Italy's organized crime groups continue to wield significant influence, and Italy's Interior Minister warned on Wednesday that there was a “concrete risk” of mafia interference in the election.

Minniti said there had been “too much silence” on the issue in the campaign so far. Read more here.

  • Italy is 'steeped in hate'

That's the verdict of human rights group Amnesty International, which warned today that Italy's election campaign had unleashed a torrent of hate speech. 

The rights group is monitoring candidates' statements on social media and has flagged more than 200 discriminatory comments in the past two weeks alone, virtually all of them from members of the centre-right alliance. The tone speaks to a country “steeped in hostility, racism, xenophobia and unjustified fear of others”, Amnesty said. 

In response, Matteo Salvini of the League – the party responsible for at least half of the comments identified – says he wants to meet directors of Amnesty and prove he's not all bad. Read more here.

  • Europe bracing for Italy's 'worst case scenario'

The European Commission has to prepare itself for every outcome, EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said today, including the possibility that Italy will end up without a government after the March 4th vote. 

“A strong market reaction in the second half of March is possible,” Juncker says, if indeed Italy finds itself with “a non-operational government”. It's the worst case scenario, he added, but it's one that all the polls have indicated is more than possible.

  • Free Flights to Italy

Free flights to Italy: sounds like a campaign promise we can all get behind. And that's exactly what one party, on the ballot papers for Italians living in the USA, has pledged – at least for Italian citizens abroad, as well as their children, so that they can gain citizenship too.

New York-based journalist Alberto Riva posted the below image of his ballot.

In an interview with La Voce di New York, Giuseppe Macario, who founded Free Flights to Italy, said it was an NGO rather than a political party, and said the goal was for Italy to “welcome Italians, including foreigners, instead of driving them away”.

But some of Italy's major news organizations have raised questions about Macario and the party, and how they ended up on the list. Very little information is available about either online, and Rolling Stone Italia found several of Macario's claims to be false or unverifiable.

  • The Five Star Movement finalizes its team

The Five Star Movement has a government line-up. They just can't tell us about it yet. 

The M5S says it has finished allocating “practically all” its cabinet posts, in the event that it should win a majority on March 4th. It plans to announce them gradually over the coming days. Teaser: several key posts are said to go to women.

  • Slovaks first?

Matteo Salvini is fond of saying “Italians First“. Which is what makes it all the more amusing that the people featured front and centre in some of his campaign posters are… Slovakians. 

For the posters advertizing a rally in Milan, the League picked some stock shots of pale-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed families enjoying some of the city's sights. The only problem was, as a blogger revealed this week, those people aren't Italian. Not even a little bit. The photos are from a set by a Slovakian photographer titled “Holidays in Italy”. 

As the blogger who discovered the mix-up said: “Salvini wanted to divide Italy with secession, but he ended up reuniting Czechoslovakia”. 

IN DEPTH: What the Five Star Movement's local success says about their shot at national power

The Five Star Movement has its eyes on national power, but the biggest realms it has ever governed are cities. Its greatest election triumphs to date were getting its candidates voted mayors, most prominently in Rome and Turin but in dozens of smaller towns across Italy too.

One of those mayors, Michel Barbet of Guidonia outside Rome, is blunt about what got him into city hall: “We were elected, almost by default, because of the widespread disillusion. I wouldn't be here if the city had been well run.”

Now he's running for re-election, no longer an outsider but an incumbent. It's the same challenge the M5S is facing all over the country: how do you continue to fight the power when the power is you?

Find out how it's playing out in one small town here

METAPHOR OF THE DAY: Italy's election is just like a horse race 

Now we're in the final fortnight of the campaign, opinion polls are officially banned (here are the final figures as of last Friday). 

But one election-watching website has found a cunning way round the blackout. In a ruse sure to delight numbers guys and betting enthusiasts alike, has been posting daily updates about a mysterious horse race with runners that include “Burlesque”, “Mathieu de le Sauvegarder” and “Louis le Subjonctif”. 

If the names don't ring any bells, the numbers surely will: the “horses'” “times” correspond closely with what we know about the various parties' share of the vote. Still curiouser, it's the only race in the world where the biggest time on the board gets you first place. 

Did we miss something?

If there are any areas of Italian politics you'd like The Local to explain or take an in-depth look at, get in touch at [email protected], or via Facebook or Twitter.  

By Catherine Edwards and Jessica Phelan


Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.