By Campaign Agent Juliana Christianson
The 2018 Italian General Election took place on Sunday 4th March, with a turnout of 73%. The latest exit polls predict that the centre-right coalition will take around 37% of Italy’s lower parliamentary chamber, the Chamber of Deputies, followed by 23% for the centre-left coalition, and 32% for the independent Five Star Movement. This means that a hung Parliament is likely, and the centre-right coalition and the Five Star Movement must vie for power. Ultimately, the decision will be in the hands of the Prime Minister, Sergio Mattarella.
In Italy, most major political parties have aligned themselves to either the centre-left coalition, or the centre-right coalition. Italian voters faced a choice of, firstly, the centre-right coalition, made up of Forza Italia, Lega Nord, Brothers of Italy and Us with Italy, secondly, the centre-left coalition, made up of the Democratic Party (which garnered only 18.7% of the vote), More Europe, Together and Popular Civic List, and finally, the independent Five Star Movement.
Unlike previous general elections, there was an ascendency of outsider parties, with right-wing parties Five Star Movement and Lega Nord becoming more mainstream. The public only vote for one party at the polls, however, if the party they vote for is part of a coalition then their vote will affect the results in a unique way. Consequently, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement are disadvantaged, despite gaining the largest share of the vote of any single party, because the combined vote share of all parties within the centre-right coalition is greater.
Matteo Salvini, leader of Lega Nord, heads up the centre-right coalition, as former president Berlusconi is currently barred from holding political office. Whilst Matteo De Renzi, a former Prime Minister, was leader of the Democratic Party and centre-left coalition until his resignation on Monday. The centre-left coalition is set to take 23% of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies, which is a much lower result for the coalition than their 2013 achievement of almost 30%. Many commentators have claimed that this was due to the Democratic Party’s poor handling of the economy. During their time in power, unemployment has risen to 11.1% and there is also widespread discontent with the rate of Italy’s economic recovery, which, despite rising to 1.5% last year, remains below the Eurozone average.
Luigi De Maio is the leader of the Five Star Movement, Italy's main anti-establishment party, and holds no allegiance to either coalition. Currently predictions show that the party have outperformed the opinion polls taken two weeks before the election and their 32% vote share is due to a strong performance in the south of Italy.
This current trend of a majority of Italian voters turning to Eurosceptic, right-wing parties has been likened to other recent populist phenomena, including Donald Trump's election in the USA and the UK’s vote to leave the European Union. Initially, it appears surprising for a country that has previously been a strong supporter of the European integration project, however, the issues of immigration and the economy have been very important in this election, especially given the arrival of approximately 600,000 immigrants to Italy over the past four years. The leader of the centre-right coalition, Matteo Salvini, has emphasised his support for radical immigration policies, including the mass deportation of illegal immigrants residing in Italy, as well as denouncing the Euro as an effective currency. Similarly, the Five Star Movement blame the EU for the influx of immigrants to Italy and are against the continued use of the Euro, previously promising a referendum on the currency’s use. The party have since toned-down their eurosceptic rhetoric in the run-up to the general election.
The implications for Europe
Many politicians from across Europe have expressed their concern with the outcome of the Italian General Election, especially those working in Brussels with the European Parliament. One French MEP, Françoise Grossetête, from the conservative European People’s Party, said that the results highlighted “the rise of populism in numerous EU countries” and suggested there will be “a period of uncertainty for Italy”. There are also concerns for the next Italian government from the other side of the political spectrum, as Jo Leinen, a German Social Democrat MEP, said, “We are concerned about a Eurosceptic having a majority in the chamber. We have the same concern as in Germany — Italy is a big country and we need a stable and constructive government in Italy”.
The outcome of this election that would have the biggest impact on Europe would be a marriage between the Five Star Movement and the centre-right, as both parties are Eurosceptic. Predictions show that an agreement between the two would result in a parliamentary majority, so they could form a government, and they also have many overlaps in their manifesto, meaning it would be a government that would reject EU deficit rules and call for more spending on welfare. Both measures would cause issues for Europe and the Union, as Italy is already seen as a threat to European stability, primarily due to the insecurity of its banks. As a result, an unstable, non-mainstream government and uncertain future can only cause more worry in Brussels.
Sources and Further Reading:
- Matthew Weaver, Jon Henley and Bonnie Malkin, 'Italy election: hung parliament on cards as populists surge – as it happened', The Guardian (5 March 2018)
- Stephanie Kirchgaessner in Rome and Daniel Boffey, 'Eurosceptic Italy in race to form majority government', The Guardian (5 March 2018)
- 'Italy's Renzi resigns as centre-left Democratic Party leader after election defeat', France 24 (5 March 2018)
- Maia De La Baume, ‘Italy chooses, Brussels worries’, Politico, (5th March 2018)
- ‘Italy election: Populist Five Star and League vie for power’, BBC, (5th March 2018)
- James Politi, ‘Italy’s rising jobless rate piles pressure on Democratic Party’, Financial Times, (1st March 2018)
- Stephanie Kirchgaessner, ‘Prospect of coalition with M5S splits Italy’s Democratic party’, The Guardian, (6th March 6, 2018)
- Gregory Viscusi and Hayley Warren, ‘Italy’s populists redraw political map, split country in half’, Bloomberg, (6th March 2018)
- Ritula Shah, ‘Italian election dominated by immigration debate’, BBC, (26th February 2018)
Image: Neil Howard @Flickr