Sunday

15th Dec 2019

Salvini triumphs in Italy

  • 'Not only is the League the biggest party in Italy, Marine Le Pen's party is the biggest in France and Nigel Farage's is the biggest in the UK,' pointed out Salvini during his press conference (Photo: russia.tv)

The European elections in Italy were an indisputable triumph for Matteo Salvini and his governing League party.

The far-right party doubled its vote compared to the national elections in 2018, while the other governing party, the Five Star Movement (M5S), lost half of its voters.

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  • Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, managed to get himself elected, despite a drop in support to his party (Photo: Caterina Tani)

The turnout decreased slightly in contrast to the overall trend in Sunday's European parliament elections, with 56.1 percent casting their vote, compared to 58.7 percent five years ago.

The result is destined to have a destabilising impact on domestic politics with the inversion of the balance of power between the two governing parties.

"Only five years ago the newspapers talked about the League being close to extinction. Now we are the biggest party, both in the north and in the south," League leader Matteo Salvini said.

With 34.4 percent of the votes, the League's delegation in Brussels looks to be second only to Germany's CDU and equal to the UK Brexit Party.

Crucifix

"Not only is the League the biggest party in Italy, Marine Le Pen's party is the biggest in France and Nigel Farage's is the biggest in the UK," said Salvini during his press conference, as he held up a crucifix and added that this was "a sign of change in Europe".

Salvini thus had considerable success in his attempt to transform the European vote into a referendum about himself and his party's performance in government.

For a moment it looked like it could have backfired, when Salvini became the target of protests during his electoral campaign around the country, but this seems only to have galvanised his supporters.

One should bear in mind, however, that the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) obtained no less than 40 percent of the votes at the European elections in 2014 – only to see its leader at that time, Matteo Renzi, swept from power two and a half years later.

This time around, the PD got almost 23 percent of the vote under new secretary Nicola Zingaretti – four percent more than in last year's national vote, but still considerably less than in 2014, meaning that weight in the socialist group in the European Parliament will be diminished given, given that they are no longer the largest national delegation.

"The nationalist aggression on the European institutions has failed. In the European Parliament there is a broad and solid majority for change, but also for re-launching the European dream," Zingaretti wrote on Twitter as a reaction to the results.

But the result does confirm that Italians perceive Salvini as the government's real leader.

For M5S, who obtained slightly less than 17 percent (compared to 32 percent in the national election last year), the outcome of the vote is a serious problem.

Compared to the last European elections, M5S lost five percent of its support, and it is not yet entirely clear in which group in the European Parliament the party will end up after having initially allied itself with the Brexit Party's leader, Nigel Farage, in the last term.

According to Italian news magazine L'espresso's editor-in-chief, Marco Damilano, M5S' leader Luigi Di Maio "walked into a trap", when he accepted to form a government with the League. Ever since M5S has been "entirely hypnotised" by the League, and Di Maio has now become the victim of political blackmail.

"You either bin the parts of the government contract that you hold dearest, or you take upon yourself the responsibility of sending the country to new parliamentary elections with the prospect of losing two-thirds of the party's parliamentarians," Damilano said.

The European issues were remarkably absent from the campaign, which reflects the fact that Italians' trust in the European Union has dropped significantly in recent years. The governing parties have stressed the need for national solutions to the major political issues, such as unemployment and migration.

"To speak of the European Parliament as something which is relevant would send a message, which would go in the opposite direction to what the League and M5S want and be incoherent," Marco Venturini, an expert in political communication, said.

The far-right party, Brothers of Italy, whose MEPs will presumably join Salvini's new group in the European Parliament, also picked up seats, unlike other small pro-European parties.

Berlusconi's back

Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, managed to get himself elected, despite a drop in support to his party.

Forza Italia obtained 8.8 percent of the votes, compared to 16.8 percent at the last European elections and 14 percent at the national elections last year.

Berlusconi will thus make his comeback as lawmaker after being expelled from elected office due to a conviction for tax fraud in 2013. At the last national vote and in regional elections held along with the European vote Forza Italia ran in an electoral alliance with the League and Brothers of Italy.

However, it is unlikely that Salvini should attempt to form a government Berlusconi, which would be perceived as a return to the past.

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