For the second time in the history of the European elections, the far-left parliamentary group won’t have any Italian member. The vote held last 26 May rewarded four right-wing political forces, plus the Democratic party (PD), sitting within the group of social-democrats (S&D). As a consequence, the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group (most commonly known as GUE), will have no MEPs from the EU founding country.
It happened already in 2009. That year, for the first time ever, Italy wasn’t able to provide any politician to the group once occupied by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), the second biggest political force in Italy until 1991. So, the 2009 European elections marked an historical moment, for the Italian Republic. This trend finds its explanation both in history and in politics.
Communism and communists decline in a changing Europe
In 1979, 1984 and 1989, more than 20 MEPs from Italy found place in the Communist and Allies Group (COM). At that time the European Union still was the European Economic Community, and Europe was still split in two by the Iron Curtain. The Italian political-party framework was affected by the geopolitical order. So, the Christian-democrats were close to the USA, while the Communists were close to the USSR, although after the spring of Prague the Italian PCI party embraced a more independent and less Moscow-oriented path.
In 1994 everything radically changed. The cold war was over, the EEC had become EU, West Germany and East Germany had become a unique nation. All the European Communist parties lost their powers. In some case they were dismantled, as it happened in Italy. Italian PCI was transformed in a completely new social-democratic party. A small part of former members, against the idea of change, gave life to the Communist Re-foundation Party (PRC). This party run for the 1994 European elections, getting five seats.
PRC entered the GUE, a new parliamentary group formed after the abolition of the Communist and Allies Group followed to the fall of communism. Italian new communists fed the GUE family also in 1999 and 2004. Meanwhile, an internal struggle produced a split within the PRC, with a second post-communist party, the Italian Communists (PdCI).
Despite PRC and PdCI were divided, they stayed together in the European United Left/Nordic Green Left group for two legislatures. Then, in 2009, none of the two parties was capable to elect candidates. After two decades and seven European elections, the adventure of the Italian communists in the European Parliament was over. And here comes politics.
The threshold issue
Actually, in 2014 PRC was once again represented by Eleonora Forenza, one of the three outgoing MEPs elected within the list of The Other Europe, an unprecedented coalition putting together the Communist Re-foundation Party, the party of Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) and other small entities.
Anyway, what happened in 2009 was nothing but the logic consequence of having put the electoral threshold for the European elections. Until then, the Italian electoral law was based on a pure proportional system. The number of valid votes expressed determined who was elected. In February 2009 a 4% threshold was introduced, just few month before the elections. That was the end for the minor parties.
It must be recalled that before the electoral law change the Italian Communists (PdCI) party conquered EU seats twice – it got 2% of consent in 1999 and 2.4% in 2004. This clearly demonstrates how the introduction of minimum requirements penalized the less powerful political forces, by pushing them away from the political arena.
Certainly, the modified legal framework alone doesn’t justify the deep U-turn of the Italian republic. If today four out of five political parties with MEPs in the European Parliament are right-oriented (and even far right-oriented), it is because of the Italians’ change of mind.
Looking at the current situation, Italians have sympathy for fascism-oriented parties (Brothers of Italy) and for non-transparent internet-controlled democracy (Five Stars Movement). So, the fact that GUE won’t have any Italian representative is not the main problem.