Italy – a political laboratory for the EU?

The next European elections could produce an unprecedented outcome for the EU. Many people fear the rise of anti-European movements, and Italy could be country leading in term of (dangerous) political experiments.

According to latest polls, the two political parties currently ruling the country are the most supported by the Italian voters. Yes, Matteo Salvini’s League (Lega) and Luigi di Maio’s 5-Star Movement (Movimento 5 Stelle, or M5S) have the support of the majority of the Italians. So, if the European elections took place next week, the majority of MEPs Italy would send to the European Parliament would be euro-critic if not euro-skeptic.

The League is expected to get 34% of votes in case of new elections, according to Bidimedia, one of the main polling agencies in Italy. One Italian out four (25%) would be ready to vote for M5S. The third political party is supposed to be the centre-left Democratic Party (Partito democratico, or PD), more or less stable at 17% in terms of general attitude. Regarding Forza Italia, Silvio Berlusconi’s political force, it slightly rises up to 7%.

These figures show how Italian representation in the EU is about to change. The two mainstream pro-European parties are loosing ground, which means they will have less MEPs in the two main political groups of the European Parliament, namely EPP and S&D. Consequently, non-traditional forces will increase their presence, and perhaps their influence, in Brussels and in Strasbourg.

Looking at the current composition of the European Parliament, PD is the largest Italian group sitting in the EU institution with 31 MEPs out of 73. Second comes the centre-right coalition Forza Italia- Unione di centro, and M5S, both with 14 MEPs (althought at the beginning of the legislature both the coalition Forza Italia-Unione di centro and M5S counted 16 members and M5S had 17 (in both cases some meanwhile changed group).

Considering which political groups Northern League and M5S are sitting with, there is no doubt Italy is ready to feed, if not lead, the anti-system forces in Europe.

Trying to make a first preliminary comparison between 2014 European election and the 2019 European elections, PD is expected to elect 13-14 candidates (currently they have 31), Forza Italia- Unione di centro 8-9 (down from 16). The real boom is of Salvini’s League: 34% of consent would mean about 26 MEPs, an increase by 16 MEPs compared to the current number in the directly elected EU institution.

Again, based on an election result similar to the one measured by Bidimedia in early January, the 5-Star Movement should be able to get nearly 20 seats in the European Parliament (up from the 17 it won in 2014, reduced to 14 after internal defections during the legislature). It is not clear which group M5S will decide to join as from the 27 of May, the day after the European elections. In this legislature, they sit in the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFD) of Nigel Farage.

But after Brexit, the main EFDD partner, UKIP, will disappear. So Di Maio’s men could lead the EFDD group in coalition with other (new?) partners to come out after the vote, or they could even change alliance. But the change would hardly be in the direction of the mainstream, given that for the time being they are no working together with the most convinced pro-European political forces. The same goes for Salvini’s League, sitting with the harshest anti-EU parties of the continent, in the Europe of Nations and Freedom group of Marine Le Pen.

Moreover, Salvini has declared his will to launch a European anti-immigration force, with allies such as the Fidesz party of Viktor Orbán (now EPP-affiliated, but less and less comfortable in the centre-right group). This means that completely new alliances are possible, in which Italian MEPs could play not a supporting, but a leading role.

So Italy, one of the six founders of the modern European Union, is approaching the next European elections as it never happened before. The traditional pro-European forces are on free-fall, while the anti-system forces, on the contrary, are on the rise. It is unlikely that the situation could change much by 26 May. It remains to be seen what consequences such tectonic changes can have for the European project – at least as we know it.

The first party is expected to be the one of the abstained. According to the Bidimedia’s analysis it is ready to vote for the next European elections nearly the 52% of people with voting right.

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