The Author

Leonardo Veneziani

Leonardo holds a Bachelor Degree in International Sciences and European Institutions, and now is currently studying European Affairs at the University of Turin, Italy. His main area of expertise is European Affairs, covering EU institutions - mainly the role of the European Parliament -, EU common foreign and defense policy and history of European integration.

The European Union has experienced a wave of elections in the last year. General elections were scattered in the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Serbia, France, United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and, finally, Italy. In these elections, the populist upsurge that has struck the United States of America acquired a major role.

If we look at the electoral process in these European countries, in fact, one or more political party declared themselves “populist”. Populism, in this case, acquires a very precise meaning: Euroscepticism, disruption of social, economic and political order, struggle against the “establishment” and “privileged élites”.

On the 4th March 2018, Italy went to the polling stations to renew its Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic for the next 5 years. Three main coalitions battled for a new governing majority: the centre-right, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; the centre-left, led by former Prime Minister and Major of Florence Matteo Renzi; the MoVimento 5 Stelle, led by the vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies Luigi Di Maio. Especially in the Italian elections, populism had a major role, both in the electoral campaign and in the results of the vote.

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A stagnating economy with higher unemployment than its European neighbours, a public deficit and debt among the highest in the continent, a general sentiment of public dissatisfaction against the political class of the country, are among the decisive factors of these elections. While I am writing this article, even though the results are not official yet, there is a clear common thread: populism has won the ballot.

In fact, populism was and still is the major “ideology” of two main parties: the MoVimento 5 Stelle and the Lega. If we look at the provisional results, in fact, those two parties have obtained together a total of 16 million of votes out of 32 million voters. That result adds up to roughly 50% of total votes. Populism is, therefore, the main “ideology” of Italian voters, and truly expresses their concerns and political orientation.

This alliance, though, is not to be taken for granted. Both parties have different ideas on many issues. However, they have an indicative programme: a referendum on the euro, which might be partly unconstitutional, a block of the immigration, strong welfarism of the State. According to Italian Constitution, anyhow, a majority needs to receive a vote of confidence from both Houses of Parliament before it can be fully operative: the only majority that may form a government, therefore, is the one formed by Lega and MoVimento 5 Stelle. The negotiations will therefore be the most interesting part of the next legislature.

The most shocking result of these elections, however, are mainly two: the defeat of Mr. Berlusconi, and the disastrous debacle of the centre-left and, mainly, of the Democratic Party. In the centre-right, in fact, no one expected, probably not even Berlusconi himself, expected such a good performance by the Lega and by its leader, Matteo Salvini. Historically, the Lega has always been behind Forza Italia, Berlusconi’s party, in the polls. This means only one thing: the centre-right has now moved to the right rather than keeping itself in the centre-right. Salvini has in fact pledged a strong alliance in Koblenz in January 2017 with Geert Wilders, the leader of the Eurosceptic far-right of the Netherlands, and Marine Le Pen, the strong Eurosceptic and Europhobic leader of the French Front National. Not without reason, both have congratulated Salvini on his victory.

The second huge result is the complete collapse of the centre-left. In 5 years, the centre-left has gone from 29.55% of total votes (2013 elections) to 40.81% (2014 European Elections), to the current roughly 23% in these elections. The incumbent Secretary of the Democratic Party – the architrave of the centre-left alliance – Matteo Renzi, has been the maker of the highest and lowest record of his party. Many, in fact, expressed their concern, and hope that he will resign as result of the bad performance. The other parties in the centre-left alliance, especially +Europa (More Europe), led by former European Commissioner and Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Emma Bonino, have performed worse than the last polls suggested. +Europa, in fact, failed to achieve the 3% needed to gain seats in both Chamber, while it was roughly 3.5% of the votes in the polls.

These elections, therefore, represent a foremost watershed in Italian politics: the Italians have therefore opted for a complete overhaul of the political landscape. The vote clearly paves the way for the anti-chaste sentiment against the political elites of the country, and completely falls in line with the general trend the Western world is experiencing.

Now the ball is in the MoVimento 5 Stelle’s and Lega’s court: they will probably be the pivot of this new legislature. The question that every journalist and politician ask is this: what will the MoVimento 5 Stelle do, if they are given the mandate to form a government by President Mattarella?

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