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On Feb. 22, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker offered an anodyne statement about Italy’s elections: “Whatever the outcome, I am confident that we will have a government that makes sure that Italy remains a central player in Europe and in shaping its future,” he said.
But in private remarks he delivered at a think-tank in Brussels earlier the same day, Juncker took a much gloomier line. He fretted about how populist, anti-E.U. parties were likely to make gains, and he warned of the potential political chaos of a fragmented result. Europeans, he reportedly said, needed “to brace ourselves for the worst scenario, and the worst scenario could be no operational government.”