Italy's election yields worst possible result for EU

Italy's More Europe party did not even make the 3% threshold for parliamentary representation. For the EU, the dominance of right-leaning and populist parties is yet another massive headache. Only those in denial can fail to see the writing on the wall for Brussels' failed project

Luigi Di Maio's Five Star celebration
Tim Hedges
On 5 March 2018 13:50

Of the two great spectaculars of Sunday night, each managed successfully to sideline a major figure with a dubious sexual past; but while the Oscars emerged looking sensible, staid even, the Italian election has produced not just an earthquake, but a volcano.

As with most eruptions, hardly anyone foresaw it.

Italy, discovering to its embarrassment that its electoral law was unconstitutional, had changed to something similar to the German one, a mixture of first past the post and proportional. No one knew how it would pan out: it has been a massive failure in Germany itself, of course, delivering another grand coalition which will suit nobody except the Far Right.

The surprise in Italy is that it seems to have produced something of a result. The counts are still finishing as I write but we can see the picture: the old guard has been rejected in favour of something new. The Italian German copy has passed the first test of an electoral law, that it can deliver an upset and does not entrench an existing, failed regime.

In the two weeks running up to the election opinion polls are forbidden. This is (presumably) to stop people simply backing the likely winner, which they are prone to do. However there seems almost to have been a silent popular agreement that immigration was going to be an important part of it all and that it might be time to try something new.

The results seem to be Centre Right 36 percent, Centre Left 19 percent. 5-Star 32 percent. Matteo Renzi, the leader of the left, has already announced his resignation. His party has collapsed from 2013’s 30 percent.

Silvio Berlusconi has succeeded in pushing the centre right into first place but failed in his bid to make his Forza Italia party the largest party in it. By establishing a coalition before the vote he legitimised Matteo Salvini’s Lega party, which hitherto was described as Far Right, and then lost to it: 18 percent to Salvini, 14 percent to Silvio. If the centre-right form a government, Salvini will lead it, not Silvio.

The old guard cannot form a government: Berlusconi and Renzi between them can only command 33 percent of the vote. The old, hard left split off into a new party called Free and Equal, which has faIled with only 3 percent. Veteran Emma Bonino with her More Europe Party did not achieve the 3 percent threshold for parliamentary representation.

There is already talk of a coalition between the League and 5 Star which could command 50 percent of the vote but Matteo Salvini has rejected it, or at least will try to form a government without 5-Star.

The result is clear. The voters were prepared to take a gamble in order to get something new and different.

I have to say I feel sorry for Matteo Renzi. He was perhaps the only politician to realise how much change Italy needs but when the change turned out to be uncomfortable the voters said no. My guess is that we haven’t seen the last of him but he will have to lie low for a few years.

And Europe? This is the least favourable outcome for Brussels of all the original possibilities. They were even ready to welcome Berlusconi if he kept the 5 Stars out, but he has not. Luigi di Maio, 31 years old, will be a handful, as will Matteo Salvini, 45 in a few days’ time. They will spend what they want without regard to Brussels and handle the refugee problem the way they want to.

To give an idea of how things might be, Salvini said in his press conference that he was grateful to Jean-Claude Juncker because the more he spoke the better Salvini’s party did. On the euro he said it was not to be worried about because its time was in any case coming to a close. We are in for some amusing times ahead.

What happens now is a period of limbo, while the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, together with the main players, tries to organise a government. The process will probably last a few weeks and then Italy will embark on what some are already seeing as a reckless experiment.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here


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