On March 4th Italians will vote in a general election widely regarded as the most important in Europe this year. This election has the greatest potential for tipping the eurozone back into crisis. Two of the main parties in contention are skeptical about the single currency. One is the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The other is the right-wing populist Northern League led by Matteo Salvini, which forms part of a broader electoral alliance forged by the former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi.
All the main contenders, moreover, have been making extravagant promises that threaten to increase Italy’s budget deficit and its already huge public debt (132% of GDP at the end of 2016). Any loosening of Italy’s public finances could send the interest rates on its existing debt soaring. The outcome matters! But who will win?
If the polls are to be believed – and they are being treated with caution, as Italy’s election is being held under a new voting system – the center-right coalition, led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is in the lead.
League, formerly known as the Northern League, is the other main member of that coalition. Its leader, Matteo Salvini, is a friend of France’s far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen and an admirer of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. His slogan is “Italians first”.
This is a campaign that has been dominated, like no other, by issues of immigration and security
It is perhaps not surprising – in the last four years, more than 600,000 refugees and economic migrants have reached Italy in boats from the coast of North Africa, with the vast majority coming from Libya.
Italians are citing the same complaints we’ve seen in Germany and other parts of Europe when it comes to skepticism over accepting large numbers of migrants and refugees, largely from Libya and Syria. There was already an incident in Macerata, where an African immigrant is charged with the brutal slaying of an Italian woman. In retaliation, an Italian man drove into town and shot and wounded six migrants near an immigration center. Other scattered reports of violence and public protests have gone along the same lines.
A big problem facing those seeking to curb migration is that the smaller political parties they are forming around are the remnants of the old fascist parties, which once controlled Italian politics. And there are still stalwarts of that movement involved today. The man I mentioned above who shot the migrants in Macerata actually performed a fascist salute on steps of the town’s war memorial before surrendering to police. Needless to say, this makes you something of a target in Italy since they aren’t emotionally far removed from, well… you know. That whole Il Duce thing is still far fresher in their memories.
The elections are coming up on March 4th so we’ll check back in then. It’s still doubtful that the smaller, nationalist parties will be able to take a majority, but much like in Germany they may see significant gains in this election cycle and seek to build on that success going forward.