Italy's Populists Can't Agree on Anything. Not Even Prostitution

(Bloomberg) -- Most Italians can rattle off a list of their populist government’s internal quarrels: energy, infrastructure, immigration, regional autonomy. Most would be surprised to find out that prostitution is also on the list.

League party leader Matteo Salvini’s comments on the issue Thursday look likely to stir things up with coalition partner the Five Star Movement.

“I would back reopening the ‘closed houses,’" Salvini said, referring to the term Italians once used for brothels. “Taking this business away from the Mafia, off the streets is the right thing to do,” he said in remarks cited by Ansa news agency.

Salvini was quick to note that his position isn’t shared by Five Star, with whom the League has squabbled over budget priorities, gas pipelines and relations with neighboring countries, just to name a few issues.

Support for legalized prostitution “isn’t included in the government contract, because Five Star thinks differently,” Salvini said.

Prostitution had more or less full legal status for years in Italy. Ernest Hemingway described brothels operating openly along Milan’s canals in “A Farewell to Arms.” Most were shut in 1958 and illicit, mostly street-based prostitution, has taken their place.

Like many things in Italy, prostitution operates in a gray zone. It remains legal, but profiting from it, public acts of prostitution or involving minors is against the law, as is the use of any dedicated location.

Efforts by previous governments to introduce regulations to either fully ban prostitution or to regulate it in order to introduce health standards have failed.

Salvini has previously expressed his views supporting legalization, calling brothels “a work of civilization.”

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