Italian politics give Europe a massive headache

The outcome of last week’s election in Italy is raising concerns among EU representatives and Member States’ leaders. Why?

As mentioned in one of the latest weekly articles, according to the new electoral law, a party (or coalition) must gain a 40% majority in order to form a government. In this years’ elections, none of the competing parties reached this threshold. Although the polls predicted a political deadlock, the outcome highlighted few unexpected trends, which are in sharp contrast with the previous elections.

An anti-establishment winner

The 5 Star Movement (5SM) was the party which gained the largest share of votes: around 33% (8% more than 5 years ago). Its current leader, Luigi Di Maio, has softened the movement’s tones, perhaps also to increase its chances of building a coalition after the elections. But the party still holds to its populism, xenophobia, and Euroscepticism.

The 5SM has conquered almost all Southern regions, grasping people’s anger about the difficult economic situation. The perspective of a 5SM led government is worrying the country and the European Union, especially because the Movement’s ideology is very difficult to identify, and no one knows what could be next.

A new leader to the right

The center-right coalition won 37% of the votes and its main members, Brothers of Italy, Forza Italia and the League, gained respectively 4%, 14%, and 17%. These parties won a vast majority in the North of the country. Even if the 5SM is the uncontestable winner in terms of numbers, politically, the League has brought home a significant victory. Not only has the party overshadowed Berlusconi’s Forza Italia as leading party of the center-right, but it has also significantly widened its ranks, increasing by over 4 times the number of votes it gained in the previous parliamentary elections (from 4% in 2013 to 17% this year).

This victory was achieved under the guidance of Matteo Salvini, who turned a once regional party into a national one – a transformation reflected also in the recent decision to change its name from the original ‘Northern League’. Traditionally, his main points have been opposing the euro, promoting wide fiscal cuts, and maintaining a hard line on migration.

Political failure to the left

In line with the general trend of the social democrats in Europe, the center-left coalition suffered a huge defeat. Particularly evident was the failure of the Democratic Party – leading the coalition – which gained only 18% of the votes (10% less compared to the previous elections). All the other parties, some of which were created after internal clashes in the Democratic Party, were too small and most of them didn’t reach the 3% threshold.

Possible scenarios and EU concerns

Very little can be said at this point. On the 23rd of March, the newly appointed representatives in the Senate and in the Chamber of Deputies will elect their Presidents. The results of this vote will tell more about possible alliances.

Although Di Maio said to be open to dialogue with all political forces, he subjected any possible alliance to the agreement with the Movement’s program. On the other side, Renzi – who announced he would resign right after a new government is formed – said that the Democratic Party will remain in the opposition, and Salvini stated that he was not up for ‘strange alliances’, probably referring to Di Maio’s 5SM.

Some suggest that the main contenders, the 5SM and the center-right coalition, could try to attract single MPs. Although this is unlikely to happen because both need a very high number of supporters, it wouldn’t be so strange in a country like Italy, where MPs often change political side. According to a dossier published by Openpolis in 2016, in the previous 3 years, over 250 members of Parliament changed political group.

Another option would be the appointment of a Prime Minister by the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. The chosen PM would either form a ‘grand coalition’ or a temporary government which would be given the task of drafting a new electoral law since the current one would probably never produce a 40% majority.

The outcome is raising concerns among Brussels officials, as the future seems to bring a hung Parliament and consequently even slower negotiations in European Institutions. But what is scarier, both for the EU and for Italy, is the message that Italians have sent through their votes, reflecting a country where over half of the voters is anti-European, populist or racist. Around 50% of the electorate voted for the 5SM and the League, and, as the defeat of the left shows, the system failed to provide valid alternatives. These elements suggest an alarming decline of democracy, which could have very deep consequences, beyond just instability.

Author: Ljuba Ferrario

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