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An Electoral Bombshell in Italy

Niccolò Ruffin 

On Sunday, September 25, Italian voters made their decision: the center-right coalition, led by “Fratelli d’Italia” leader Giorgia Meloni, will have a large majority in the two chambers of Parliament.

The majority, that will most likely go on to form a government in the coming weeks, includes within it three different European political families who sit in different political groups in Strasbourg: Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (26 percent) belongs to the Conservative and Reformist Europeans group; Matteo Salvini’s Lega (8.8 percent) belongs to the Identity and Democracy group; Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (7.8 percent) belongs to the European People’s Party. A very peculiar fact: the first two parties are part of the fierce and combative opposition to mainstream European opinion and the large “Ursula majority” in the European Parliament. Very often, anti-European positions have appeared from the members of Fratelli d’Italia and Lega, even in the Strasbourg Chamber itself.

Although in the last month of the campaign Giorgia Meloni has tried to present herself as a moderate, pro-European and Atlanticist leader, her past and her ties speak for themselves: Fratelli d’Italia is in fact a sovereignist, populist and nationalist party.  Until yesterday, Meloni’s major allies in the European arena were the governments of the Visegrad bloc of countries and post-authoritarian parties such as Vox in Spain. Fratelli d’Italia’s own lists include candidates who are avowedly anti-European, sovereignist and have militancy in post-fascist parties. During the government of National Unity led by Mario Draghi, recognized by all of Europe as a serious and authoritative government, Fratelli d’Italia was the only party in opposition.

Of note is the heavy defeat of the more strongly pro-European and progressive parties and coalitions. Enrico Letta’s Partito Democratico, which includes Economic Affairs Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni and belongs to the European Socialist Party family, won just 20 percent. Carlo Calenda’s Liberal Pole, registered in the European Parliament in the Renew Europe group, won a mere 7 percent.

There are many thorny issues that are likely to come up in the Italy-European Union relationship. The new government will certainly be closely watched by the EU and international financial markets. In previous days a statement by President Von der Leyen caused a stir: “if things go in a difficult direction, the EU has the tools to deal with them.” The clear reference was the potential victory of sovereignist parties and the “Hungarianization” of Italy. The PNRR, the Italian portion of Next Generation EU funding, could represent a first battleground: Meloni and Salvini had already announced the idea of a renegotiation in previous weeks.  Other issues of strong confrontation and friction will surely be the European integration process, civil rights, and environmental protection. The center-right coalition, except in its moderate component (Forza Italia), is characterized by sovereignist instincts: it will be very difficult to see Italy leading the way in processes aimed at creating greater integration in fiscal, monetary, defense or constitutional reform issues. It is also difficult to imagine an Italian government leading the way in protecting the environment and civil/social rights: in Strasbourg, Italian right-wing delegations voted convincingly in opposition to the “Fit for 55” and the minimum salary directive, while also maintaining an ambiguous position on sanctions against Russia.

The relationship between the three leaders of the Union’s most populous countries -Germany, France and Italy – may also prove very complicated. A path of rapprochement and collaboration had begun during Mario Draghi’s presidency that could now be broken, with a reshuffling of weights and alliances in the European Council. While the France-Germany relationship could strengthen, Italy could become a foothold for sovereignist and eurosceptic governments.

Now the path to forming a new government involves the “rite of consultations” between the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, and coalition leaders. In all likelihood, the task of forming a government will be given to Giorgia Meloni, leader of the most voted party in the winning coalition. After the verification of the parliamentary majority, Meloni will have to provide the Quirinal with the list of government ministers. From this point of view, also in relation to the European context, the President of the Republic may have some power of mediation: in 2018, he refused to sign a list of ministers that contained, in the sensitive role of Economy and Finance, an avowedly anti-European person. We will see how the new government takes shape in the coming weeks.

Niccolò Ruffin works for an Italian MEP.

The views expressed in this blog reflect the position of the author and not necessarily that of the Brexit Institute Blog.

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