Analysis from our member organisation "transform! italia" on the political landscape in Italy.
Mural in Rome depicting Five Star Movement leader Luigi Di Maio kissing
League leader Matteo Salvini
Italy will arrive to the forthcoming European elections with the uneasy role of being the first among the founding countries of the EU with a populist government.
In actual fact, the populist forces that lead the executive are Lega and the Five Stars Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle/ M5S), parties very different from each other. The Lega, is now one of the oldest parties present in the Italian parliament. On the contrary, the M5S is instead a relatively recent movement. Their “core businesses” and their electorates are quite different too. The League was born as “Lega Nord” with the idea to divide Italy in favour of the wealthiest part, while the M5S received more votes in the South. However, both of them grew up because of a critique of the elites and the establishment that in the case of M5S focuses on the so-called caste.
The League, in fact, has been related with the Italian establishment many times during the past, since it had been a coalition partner in government with the center-right led by Berlusconi. Afterwards, the party made a transition in its “raison d'etre“ from Lega Nord to Lega by pointing out as enemy no longer Rome, the Capital and symbol of the unity of the Nation, but the migrants.
Theoretically, both actors should not be able to stay together but in practice, while in government, they combine their demands and, above all, their electorates are gradually resembling. Lega has the lead with its attacks against migrants and its neo-corporate policies that fit perfectly in a framework shaped by a 20 years old center-left and center-right neoliberalism.
The Lega is increasing in the polls and also in the local elections, in which the party runs together with the old alliance with Berlusconi. The M5S, instead, is losing consensus both in the polls and in elections. This creates tension but for now does not seem to cause a break since both parties do need the governmental stability. On the other hand, Berlusconi’s opposition is very weak, burdened by the popular discontent of the previous 20 years. His criticism focuses mainly on the incapacity of the populists to govern and on the risk of rupture with Europe. Thus it certainly does not appear as effective.
Particularly, on the European question, there is an increased attention because of the relationship with the EU as one of the key points of the governmental action and its propaganda. The populist government has actually denounced any rupture with the EU, and when there were negotiations upon the national budget together with Brussels, the government basically surrendered to the EU’s will. However, the debate is still intense ahead of the European elections where the government claims it will “take over” Europe. Concretely, the Lega (which participates in the group of the Europe of Nations in the European Parliament) is moving with its eyes upon Orban as a meeting point between the popular party and the populist right.
The M5S has been engaged to a confrontation with France and Macron, but even that creates them a great difficulty in comparison with the League, since they have not yet identified their own European position.
The center left and the opposition of the old Berlusconi is weak and clinged to the past and the defense of the existing European Union.
The candidates of the PD (Democratic Party) secretariat have all signed a pro-European manifesto which confirms the old alliances between socialists, conservatives and the liberals in an anti-populist front.
The European question will be central but there is a risk of them becoming a clash between the mainstream political elites and the populists with the latter being favoured initially but compromising with the EU in the end.
What goes against the trend are the social movements motivated in particular by anti-racism and by mobilizations against the most odious acts of the government. Recently, a major trade union demonstration gave -thankfully- the sign of an awakening.
On the radical left space, there is a part that is looking for a consensus among social groups disappointed by the M5S. In this way there is a possibility of creating an electoral list that draws from the experience of the Party of the European Left and the GUE/NGL group in the European Parliament.*
*The article was written and published before the announcement of the left candidacy "La Sinistra-Europa". Please check their website for more information: https://la-sinistra.it/ .