Populism Or A United Europe? Italy Wants Both

A recent survey of Italian political views shows a seeming contradiction: a willingness to forego democracy but submit to EU economic and military directives.

Rome, upon reflection
Rome, upon reflection
Marco Zatterin


It is better to have less democracy, provided everyone's better off. This is what 43% of Italians believe, according to a survey conducted by the Piepoli Institute on Jan. 8. Just to clarify: The poll is from this year, not 1922, Year One of the Fascist Era.

Among voters of the League (the far-right co-governing party led by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini) the proportion of people who see democracy as relatively useless goes all the way up to 67%. Surprising? Not to some people. Still, the numbers are worth looking at.

From the same survey, we learn that 44% of Italians favor a government based on the principles of populism. Among voters of the Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party led by Luigi Di Maio that is in a ruling coalition with the League, the number goes up to 78%. M5S voters appear to be more populist than the League voters, at least in words (78% against 64%).

Surprising? Not to some people.

Overall, 62% of Italians admit that the current government is populist. Strangely, the only ones who are not so convinced are the center-right voters. The poll then says that 89% of the League and M5S voters would vote again for these parties.

All normal, up to here.

But here comes the oddity: 78% of Italians favor of a more united Europe as far as the economy is concerned. And that includes backers of the League (69%) and M5S (77%). Really? Are these voters really fine with Brussels being in charge of growth policies and budget control? Seriously? They're okay with being led by unelected Eurocrats?

Tricky choice — Photo: Ewan Topping

It seems so, because 82% of Italians would also like a united European defense (League voters 80%, 5MS 84%), meaning they support putting EU armies together and maybe giving control to unelected generals from another country.

The image that emerges from Nicola Piepoli's survey is that of people who are (justifiably) fearful of the future and willing to accept anything as long as it is not what they have right now, the status quo.

Maybe there's something new in play.

Populism seems to be useful to keep thieves and migrants at bay. At the same time, a united Europe guarantees economic security because it seems to be able to prevent rash decisions and, with its armies, keeps the enemy at bay — perhaps even those Russians with whom the current government happily flirts.

We Italians seem to be confused. Or maybe there's something new in play — call it Euro-populism — and Salvini and Di Maio are its healthy and probably unaware champions. Will it overcome democracy? Will it bring answers or curses?

We have conflicting ideas that can only be clarified with answers, not with charity. Because if it goes on like this, even Salvini and Di Maio, who in the European Parliamentary elections in May will not do away with Europe, but will have to deal with economic stagnation instead, will end up being considered the status quo that no one wants.

We will have to start from scratch. In the meantime, not having witnessed an end to poverty or a new economic boom, people will be increasingly confused and enraged. And at that point, it won't just be our collective well-being that's in danger, but democracy itself.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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