Italy’s Election, the Future of Europe: Part 1

Posted in: Europe, Politics | Posted on

On March 4th, 2018, Italy heads to the polls to elect the 18th Legislature of the post-war Italian Republic. It is an election that will help set the destiny of Europe, and will serve as an indicator of the popularity of anti-establishment, populist, and Eurosceptic parties.

Indeed, Italy is set to elect a hung legislature, with the largest single party, the 5 Star Movement (M5S), currently set to achieve roughly 25% – 30% of the vote. The Centre Right coalition, headed by Forza Italia’s Silvio Berlusconi, is predicted to get 35% – 38%, leaving them short of a full majority despite a large plurality. The incumbent Democratic Party (PD), the leading member of the Centre Left coalition, consistently polls at roughly the same or just below the M5S.1.“Italian General Election Poll Tracker” : The Economist2.Image: poll tracker of Italian political parties : Financial Times

Polls for this election have come under question, as polling patterns now show the kind of mixed polling of Brexit that showed Remain had a slight edge or the more bullish aggregate polling predictions on Hillary’s chance to win in the US. The amount of undecided voters, numbering 30% – 40%, may be significant because the indication is that a large number of these people are past Renzi voters.3.“Italy’s Election: Everything you need to know” : The Guardian This segment of undecided voters certainly leaves any result unpredictable, as these voters could turn to any of the three main blocs.

The Rosatellum System

Adding further to the political unpredictability of this election is the introduction of a new electoral system. Dubbed the “Rosatellum system” after Ettore Rosato, the PD member who first proposed the law, 61% of the seats in the upper and lower chambers are elected via nationwide proportional representation. 37% of the seats are selected in first-past-the-post (FPTP) constituencies. The remaining 2% is elected by Italian expatriates. In order to qualify for the proportional seats, parties need 3% of the national vote.

This move was designed to prevent fragmentation, and at the same time, halt more extreme parties such as the ultra-nationalist Casapound from gaining seats. If allied to a larger coalition partner and if their votes tally between 1% and 3%, the party’s votes are transferred to the largest party. Unlike the previous electoral system, there is no majority bonus, so a hung parliament and subsequent coalition or minority government are much more likely scenarios.4.“How does Italy’s new electoral law actually work?” : Thelocal.it

Another departure from the previous system lies in the issue of mixed voting, as voters can no longer vote for different parties in Chamber and Senate. This means that voters must pick a single party throughout the election. It is generally believed that this will benefit parties with a stronger presence in specific constituencies, such as PD and Lega Nord, while hampering parties with a more national profile, such as M5S or the Brothers of Italy (FdI).

Likewise, the FPTP element encourages parties with like-minded policies and objectives to coalesce in constituencies to avoid splitting votes and to maximise their alliance’s seats. This stands largely to benefit Lega Nord, which has a historically strong profile in Northern Italy, and Forza Italia (FI), which is the strongest right wing party in the south and midlands of Italy. At the same time, the FdI is making inroads in Sicily and Calabria. The PD, on the other hand, has not aligned itself with any major parties, as other components of the Centre Left are rather minor parties. Thus, the Centre Left alliance has little to gain from the Rosatellum’s FPTP changes, as the PD will be campaigning in the same seats it has done already.

Due to the party’s more nationalist focus, with votes generally spread across Italy, M5S stands to be hampered the most from these changes.5.“Italian election results: an interactive guide” : The Guardian The party is struggling to gain a plurality of votes in constituencies when fighting both PD and the Centre Right. The party has also refused to align with any other parties. While the Centre Right dominates the constituencies in the North and gives a fair fight to the Centre Left in central Italy, the question thus presented is how the vote in the South will play out.

The polarising nature of constituency races, coupled with the plurality needed in light voting periods, creates a situation that continues to be unclear about whether the election will be a Left-Right battle, or a Left-M5S battle. The former would see M5S gain little in the form of constituency seats, whereas the latter could witness M5S pick up a fair few.6.“Italy’s new election law: a primer” : GlobalRiskInsights

While the new system was billed to ensure governmental stability and decisive results, it seems that it will provide neither of those.7.“Italian parliament approves controversial electoral law” : Politico A simulation by the Cattaneo Institute predicts that with the foreseen effects of the untried electoral system, PD and Lega Nord will gain the most, gaining 19 and 6 seats respectively. The largest loss is felt by M5S, losing an estimated 24 seats.8.“Rosatellum, the simulation” : La Repubblica

The Parties

Forza Italia (English: ‘Go Italy’) was recreated in 2013 after a four year stint as the People of Freedom. Forza Italia serves as the main representative of Italy’s Centre right. It is lead by four-time Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and is generally pro-business. While some factions and members are eurosceptic to an extent, Silvio Berlusconi has defended Italy’s membership in the European Union and in the Eurozone despite its parallel use with a domestic currency.9.“Berlusconi is back, and his eurozone idea isn’t completely barmy” : Coffee House Berlusconi himself has labelled Forza Italia a ‘liberal, Catholic, reformist movement’.10.Silvio Berlusconi: “This is where Forza Italia is going” : Forza Italia The party wishes to propose a flat income tax of 23%, although Salvini has put forward a flat rate of only 15%.11.“Silvio Burlusconi lures Italian voters with flat tax plan” : Financial Times12.“Burlusconi ally proposes 23% flat tax to stimulate Italy” : Reuters13.“Prosperità per L’Italia” : Flat Tax blog14.“Italy’s election pits populists against populists” : Reuters They have also proposed plans to halt all immigration, and in the aftermath of the Macerata attack, where a far-right Italian shot and injured 6 immigrants, Berlusconi has promised to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants.15.“Berlusconi pledges to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from Italy” : The Guardian16.“Italy elections: Burlusconi plans to deport 600,000 migrants” : Independent

Lega Nord (English: ‘Northern League’) used to serve as a bastion for Northern Italian regionalism, and has advocated for, at minimum, Italian federalism, though more frequently outright separatism with the goal of creating a Padanian nation. After its electoral losses in 1999, it moved away from separatist ideology and instead focused on devolution. Under Salvini’s tenure beginning in 2013, the party has shifted away from the regionalism of the past, focusing more on becoming a national party and dropping the word “Nord” from much of their public releases.17.“‘No Federalism Please, We Are Leghisti!’: The Lega Nord under Matteo Salvini” (2017) by Daniele Albertazzi, University of Birmingham18.“Lega Nord website features new poster” : Leganord.org

Embed from Getty Images

Their main campaign messages in this election are focused on Euroscepticism and anti-immigration policy. 19.“Political Cheat Sheet: Understanding Italy’s Northern League” : Thelocal.it20.“Italy’s Northern League dangle EU exit in election campaign” : Reuters21.“Why immigration has the potential to upend the Italian election” : London School of Economics EUROPP Blog The party has taken a strong stance against wholesale immigration and have argued that the recent Macerata attack occurred as a result of the social tension caused by mass migration originating from Africa and the Middle East. They have blamed political opponents for the incident, asserting that the PD has “blood on their hands”.22.“Italian man held after driving through city shooting at black people” : Reuters They are allied with Forza Italia in the Centre Right coalition.

Brothers of Italy: The Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) are a right wing party in Italy, led by Giorgia Meloni, and are members of Berlusconi’s Centre-Right coalition. They wish to boost Italy’s native population growth, increase funding to law enforcement, and soften self-defence laws. 23.“Leading lady of Italy’s right campaigns for a baby boom” : Reuters As with Lega Nord, they are vehemently against illegal immigration and propose strict policy on legal immigration.

Democratic Party: The PD is the forerunner of the Centre Left coalition and the current incumbents of the Italian government. They are social democrats, strongly pro-European, and backed the failed Constitutional Reform referendum of 2016. 24.“Political Cheat sheet: Understanding Italy’s Democratic Party” : Thelocal.it They currently back the introduction of a €10 minimum wage, and continue to abide by the Maastricht criteria in order to balance Italy’s budgets and reduce the deficit. 25.“PD, Renzi, here is the election program” : La Repubblica26.“PD Manifesto” : http://ftp.partitodemocratico.it/programma2018/PD2018-programmaA4_5feb.pdf It is currently lead by former prime minister Matteo Renzi.

Embed from Getty Images

Five Star Movement: The M5S can be considered one of the most interesting Italian political parties, as while it is by most definitions populist, anti-establishment and ambiguously eurosceptic, it is neither left nor right. Indeed, it insists the ‘movement’ cannot be included in the left-right paradigm.27.“Italy’s Five Star Movement” : The Economist Explains blog They are passionate advocates of direct democracy as well as e-democracy, as they manage their party via online elections open to all members. Their five focuses, referenced by the star, are as follows: public water access, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to Internet access, and environmentalism.28.“Italy’s Trump: This is what the Five Star Movement is all about” : BusinessInsider On many other issues, however, the party is ambiguous, perhaps deliberately so, in order to maximise support from across the anti-establishment field. While the party’s leader, Beppe Grillo, has said that all undocumented migrants should be expelled, the party itself has put forward little in terms of concrete policy.29.“Grillo calls for mass deportations” : ANSA M5S is also currently considering a basic income in Italy in order to fight against poverty.30.“Italy Takes Another Step Towards A Universal Basic Income” : Themarketmogul.com

Free and Equal: A leftist alliance led by Pietro Grasso, the LeU (Liberi e Uguali) is a minor alliance formed from six leftist parties: The Democratic and Progressive Movement, Italian Left, Possible, Socialist Area, Greens of South Tyrol and the Sicilian Socialist Party. Their main electoral proposals include the provision of free university education and the effective repeal of the Renzi’s Jobs Act, which eased restrictions on the firing of workers and provided incentives for firms that hired permanent workers on new, less protected terms.31.“Italy’s rightist bloc vows to reform pension reform if elected” : Reuters

There are a number of minor parties which are not in any coalition, such as the ultra-nationalists (and by some definitions, neo-fascists).32.“In Italy, a Neo-Fascist Party’s Small Win Creates Big Unease” : New York Times Such groups, like the Casapound party, are not in any alliance and are unlikely to get more then 3% of the vote. As a result, they are unlikely to have any representation in Italy’s houses and will certainly have no role to play in any governance or coalition. A similar situation is faced by the communist “Power to the People” coalition, a group made up of small, radical-left political parties, who are in no coalition themselves and like Casapound have never polled above 3%. While it is possible for one, or even both, of these entities to breach the threshold for the proportionally allocated seats, they would still likely only gain 1-3 seats. This provides them little influence unless the fate of the governing coalition hangs on a majority of ~2 seats. The most valuable objective this would achieve for these parties is a national platform to advocate their views. This would ultimately be a major win for these parties, but it is highly unlikely that either party gets higher then 3% of the national vote.

Editor’s note: The article has been edited post-publication to allow for a correction of mistakes with regards to the analysis of polling.

William Baker

I am from the UK, and have been interested in international politics, history, economics etc and how they all interlink to affect the World we live in for years. I have a special focus on European politics, however am interested in it all.

References   [ + ]

1. “Italian General Election Poll Tracker” : The Economist
2. Image: poll tracker of Italian political parties : Financial Times
3. “Italy’s Election: Everything you need to know” : The Guardian
4. “How does Italy’s new electoral law actually work?” : Thelocal.it
5. “Italian election results: an interactive guide” : The Guardian
6. “Italy’s new election law: a primer” : GlobalRiskInsights
7. “Italian parliament approves controversial electoral law” : Politico
8. “Rosatellum, the simulation” : La Repubblica
9. “Berlusconi is back, and his eurozone idea isn’t completely barmy” : Coffee House
10. Silvio Berlusconi: “This is where Forza Italia is going” : Forza Italia
11. “Silvio Burlusconi lures Italian voters with flat tax plan” : Financial Times
12. “Burlusconi ally proposes 23% flat tax to stimulate Italy” : Reuters
13. “Prosperità per L’Italia” : Flat Tax blog
14. “Italy’s election pits populists against populists” : Reuters
15. “Berlusconi pledges to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from Italy” : The Guardian
16. “Italy elections: Burlusconi plans to deport 600,000 migrants” : Independent
17. “‘No Federalism Please, We Are Leghisti!’: The Lega Nord under Matteo Salvini” (2017) by Daniele Albertazzi, University of Birmingham
18. “Lega Nord website features new poster” : Leganord.org
19. “Political Cheat Sheet: Understanding Italy’s Northern League” : Thelocal.it
20. “Italy’s Northern League dangle EU exit in election campaign” : Reuters
21. “Why immigration has the potential to upend the Italian election” : London School of Economics EUROPP Blog
22. “Italian man held after driving through city shooting at black people” : Reuters
23. “Leading lady of Italy’s right campaigns for a baby boom” : Reuters
24. “Political Cheat sheet: Understanding Italy’s Democratic Party” : Thelocal.it
25. “PD, Renzi, here is the election program” : La Repubblica
26. “PD Manifesto” : http://ftp.partitodemocratico.it/programma2018/PD2018-programmaA4_5feb.pdf
27. “Italy’s Five Star Movement” : The Economist Explains blog
28. “Italy’s Trump: This is what the Five Star Movement is all about” : BusinessInsider
29. “Grillo calls for mass deportations” : ANSA
30. “Italy Takes Another Step Towards A Universal Basic Income” : Themarketmogul.com
31. “Italy’s rightist bloc vows to reform pension reform if elected” : Reuters
32. “In Italy, a Neo-Fascist Party’s Small Win Creates Big Unease” : New York Times