What to Expect in the Upcoming Italian Election By Joshua Turner
It is time once again for another important and potentially ground shaking European election. After France and Germany, Italy is the most important Euro-zone country. After Brexit is finalized next year it will become the third largest economy in the European Union.
Italy’s election comes on the heels of a French election that saw Emmanuel Macron seize total control of the French government and a German election that has still not resulted in a government with Angela Merkel unable to form a stable coalition.
Italy has similar populist versus establishment forces at work, put in motion a little over a year ago with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s failed referendum on changes to the Italian constitution. Renzi resigned as prime minister and Paolo Gentiloni took over what has been described as a ‘caretaker’ government that currently runs the country. In December of 2017 the Italian President, Sergio Mattarella dissolved parliament and called for new elections this Monday.
Renzi, who is running under the banner of the center-left Partito-Democratico (Democratic Party or PD) is Italy’s answer to Emmanuel Macro; a young, pro-European lawmaker who would like to make structural changes to Italian government. Despite his failed referendum, Renzi has remained popular, winning a party leadership contest with almost 70 percent of the vote.
A center-right coalition opposes PD led by Forza Italia, the party of former PM Silvio Berlusconi, and its chosen Prime Minister candidate for 2018, Antonio Tajani. Berlusconi, despite leading the party, is not able to run because of legal issues stemming from a tax fraud conviction. Should Forza Italia be able to form a government with Tajani as PM, it could form a relationship similar to the one Dimitri Medvedev had with Vladimir Putin when the former was President.
In a normal election year the Forza Italia would be the choice of most on the right, given their skeptical views on European integration and hot button issues, like immigration. Recent European elections have been anything but normal. Running to the right of Forza Italia is the Lega Nord party headed by Matteo Salvini, Italy’s answer to the National Front of Marine Le Pen. It would not be a stretch to label Salvini as a fascist given his extreme nationalist views and his promise to pull Italy out of both the EU and the Euro-zone. It is worth noting that Mr. Salvini is an ardent supporter of Donald Trump and that Steve Bannon will be traveling to Italy to campaign for him.
Finally, there is the Five Star Movement, a political party founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, which has been gaining support among the youth of Italy and is largely seen as outside the traditional left-right political spectrum. The party holds views that commonly described as Euro-skeptic, pro-environment, and anti-globalist. While it is likely to win a large number of votes, perhaps even more than any other single party, they have alluded to not wanting to coalition with any other parties, making it difficult to see them potentially running the government.
So what is the likely outcome of this election? It is difficult to say. A grand coalition between the Forza Italia and the PD is possible, though there are serious policy differences in regards to Europe that may strain a coalition government. A right wing coalition between Forza Italia and Lega Nord is unlikely to have enough votes to form a majority government. This mean it is possible for a centrist coalition with current Prime Minister Gentiloni to limp on until more elections can be called.
Despite all this, the outcome of the election is extremely important. Italy remains one of the most important countries in Europe and for people like Emmanuel Macron, who have lofty goals for European integration, the stakes couldn’t be higher. If this election proves indecisive then, along with Germany’s evolving governing situation and the contentious Brexit talks, this could make for the most uncertainty we have seen in Europe in quite a long while. No matter the outcome of all of these situations, it is likely that reports of the death of European populism have been greatly exaggerated.
Joshua Turner is a Masters of International Relations candidate at American University and editor of The Hitch.