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Good morning. Dozens of people have been killed in a major train collision in Greece earlier this morning. And annual inflation in France and Spain rebounded in February, defying expectations and suggesting that Europe’s consumer price pressure is more persistent than hoped.
Today, our Rome bureau profiles the surprise new head of Italy’s centre-left opposition shaking up the stale status quo, while our man in Zurich explains why Switzerland is the latest country to push back against a global minimum corporate tax deal.
I am also thrilled to announce that the fantastic Laura Dubois will start as editor of this newsletter tomorrow, working with me and the Europe network each day, and reporting on EU news from Brussels. You can reach her at [email protected].
Italy’s Giorgia Meloni made history last year as the country’s first female prime minister. Now the country’s previously male-dominated political scene has hit a new milestone with Elly Schlein, 37, as leader of Italy’s largest opposition party, the centre-left Democratic party (PD), write Amy Kazmin and Giuliana Ricozzi.
The openly bisexual progressive activist, likened by Italy’s media to New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, faces the challenge of reviving a weak, divided party that has struggled to connect with ordinary voters, while also contesting Meloni’s arch-conservative policies.
“The Democratic party is alive and ready to stand up,” Schlein declared after her surprise victory on Sunday over her former ally Stefano Bonaccini, a longtime centrist apparatchik.
While Meloni positions herself as a fiery traditionalist defending the Italian nation and conservative Catholic family values from outside influence, Schlein is an energetic feminist, green-oriented social justice crusader who has advocated for workers’ rights, immigrants, the environment and the LGBT+ community.
“I am a woman, I love another woman, I am not a mother but that does not make me any less of a woman,” Schlein said before last year’s general election. “We are not walking wombs. We are people with rights.”
The daughter of an Italian mother and Jewish-American father, Schlein was born and raised in Switzerland before studying law in Bologna.
As a student, she volunteered for Barack Obama’s first presidential election campaign in 2008, and returned to the US briefly in 2012 to train volunteers for his re-election bid. In Italy, she dabbled in filmmaking and became active in PD’s leftwing.
In 2014, Schlein was elected to the European parliament. The next year, she quit the party in disgust after prime minister and PD leader Matteo Renzi pushed through a controversial law that made it easier to hire and fire workers.
In 2020, as head of her own small party, Schlein joined a regional coalition led by Bonaccini. Having reconciled with the party, she was elected to parliament with the PD last year.
But her unexpected elevation to party head promises a shake-up of Italian politics.
“We made a little big revolution,” she said. “We will be a big problem for Giorgia Meloni’s government.”
Chart du jour: Inside track
A Red Sea rendezvous, secret negotiations and Irish whiskey: here’s the inside account of months of diplomacy that led to this week’s deal over post-Brexit trade for Northern Ireland.
In Switzerland, an agreement to enforce the OECD’s groundbreaking deal on a global minimum corporation tax has hit opposition from an unexpected quarter: the country’s socialist party.
More than two-thirds of members of the Swiss Social Democratic party [SP], the country’s largest leftwing political bloc, have voted to campaign against the OECD proposals in a national referendum due to be held in June, writes Sam Jones.
Context: 137 countries signed up in 2021 for the OECD proposal for companies to pay a minimum 15 per cent levy on their profits, but ratification across Europe has already been help up by opposition from Poland and then from Hungary.
The SP’s decision means it is now far from certain that Switzerland, which is one of the world’s lowest tax jurisdictions for big business, will sign up. At least, not this year.
Compliance with the new standard is already opposed by Switzerland’s largest rightwing political group, the Swiss People’s party.
The social democrats’ decision is all the more unusual since they support a global floor on corporation tax in principle.
Their opposition stems from wording of the Swiss government’s referendum text, which will allow 75 per cent of increased tax revenues from the measure to be retained by the country’s 26 individual cantonal governments, which set their own tax policies. The SP favours a more redistributive model.
SP leadership believes that Switzerland could quickly hold a second referendum with a revised question. But Bern’s obscure political procedures would make that hard to achieve, and unlikely to take place before 2024.
What to watch today
Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz hosts Latvia’s prime minister Krišjānis Kariņš for talks.
Hungary’s parliament begins a debate on the ratification of Finland and Sweden’s Nato membership.
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