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Together in Italy, divided in Europe

The leader of Five Stars Movements, Luigi di Maio (on the left) and the leader of The League, Matteo Salvini [personal archive]

Unless last-minute changes, the two Italian ruling parties – the League and 5-Star movement (M5S) – seem to have the intention of running independently at the next EU elections, and building up no common alliance in the European Parliament after the 26 May vote. No one has ever expressly said that they want a new partnership, on the contrary, it was announced as the will of seeking new paths.

“No partnerships are foreseen, neither at local nor at European level”, the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico, from 5-Star Movement (M5S), stated during his latest visit in Brussels, in early October. “Five Star Movement will run absolutely alone”, he hammered out. And indeed M5S is already talking to other political forces, as written on this blog.

In this legislature, 5-Stars sit in the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy group (EFD) of Nigel Farage. Matteo Salvini’s theLeague is sitting with the harshest anti-EU parties of the continent, in the Europe of Nations and Freedom group of Marine Le Pen.

Between 15 April and15 June 2019, local elections will take place in different part of the Italian Peninsula. In such a context, mixing up provincial and regional strategies with the European agenda is not feasible for the time being, and the same applies for the The League. So basically the European elections interfere with the national local vote, and the two political forces in the cabinet coalition are not in a hurry to formulate a European agenda, trying to avoid unwanted repercussions in the country.

“We will see in the next European Parliament”, Fico said, referring to the formation of parliamentarian groups.

Of course politics is the art of possible, as Machiavelli wrote long time ago, and without any doubt in politics “never” could mean “maybe” and “no” could mean – or turn into – a “yes”. What is certain however is the lack of intention of reproducing the government coalition at European level. The reasons are domestic reasons, as well as European.

Domestically, Matteo Salvini and his League party have overtaken the co-ruling partner. Compared to the Italian general election hold on 4 March 2018, Lega has almost doubled its support, up from 17,3% to 34%, according to the latest polls released in Italy. On the contrary, M5S has been losing support since the beginning of the legislature (-13% in less than one year). This is why the Movement is seeking ways to regain ground.

The European elections will set a new balance into the Italian government. When the M5S-League coalition started, the Five Stars were the first party in the country. After the ballot in next May, The League will become the most supported political forces. Then, it is legitimate to expect people from Lega to claim a different role within the government as a direct consequence of the mutated scenario.

Therefore, the next European elections could bring elements of uncertainty in the country, and in Europe as well.

The 5-Stars dilemma lies in its partner. Beppe Grillo and his party fellows are aware that the majority of the voters they have lost switched to the League and its leader, Matteo Salvini. To make an alliance in the next European Parliament would basically mean for M5S to play once again the supporting role. Conversely, running independently, would give the Movement an opportunity of playing a completely different role, possibly as main player in a political group formed by smaller national delegations.

In the EU context there it is clear that a coalition-type partnership between the League and M5S would not work. The two parties have different ideas about Europe, although both are united in their criticism and skepticism over the EU project. But the lack of love for the current Union is not enough to bring together these two political forces.

The clearest example of that was the vote in Plenary last September on triggering Article 7 against Hungary – 6 MEPs from the League voted unanimously against, while with two exceptions (one abstention and one MREP who didn’t vote), all 12 MEPs from 5-Stars voted in favour. This vote marked an official split within the government over a non-marginal topics such as democracy and respect of the fundamental freedoms.

It is always normal in politics for coalition partners to sometimes have different opinions on the legislative proposals, but it seems that a League-M5S partnership would be unsustainable in the long run because their strong ideological differences. Fico said so, when he referred to the political group where Lega sits. “Marine Le Pen is in the Northern League’s direction, not in ours”, he said.

The statement marked the distance, easier to observe in the EU context than in the national, with a more and more uncomfortable bedfellow, seen by many as outright far-right.

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