Italy: A Push Towards Populism

30 May 2019

Italy voted for the European Parliament on Sunday, and out of the 28 countries that took part in this election, its polls were open the longest. Fears of a further push to the Right became reality in the Union’s fourth largest country: The populist radical right party led by Matteo Salvini came in first, increasing their seats by 19 and, ending up with a total of 24 out of the 73 available seats in Italy. The Democratic Party led by Nicola Zingaretti lost drastically, decreasing their seat share from 31 to 19, and the Five Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio came in third with a total of 14 seats—down 3 from the previous election. In contrast with the national election results in 2018, (Lega 17 percent, Five Star 32 percent), Salvini was able to double the strength of his party, while Di Maio’s Movement lost considerable ground.


Looking at the regional and communal map of Italy, Salvini’s Lega party undoubtedly swept the country. They not only kept their base in the north, but increased their followers in central Italy, a traditional social-democratic stronghold, and took over some former Five Star territory in the South.


What does this mean for the European Parliament?

There is no doubt that the European Parliament underwent a drastic change, with the Conservative EPP and the Democratic S&P losing considerable power. Neither party holds a solid majority. At the same time, the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group made up of populist radical right parties—including the Lega as well as UKIP/Brexit and the RN—was only able to acquire 58 seats, which is fairly insignificant given some predictions of a massive takeover. The other Euroskeptic group, European Conservatives and Conformist Group (ECR), to which the Polish PiS and Theresa May’s Tories belong, also acquired only 59 seats. Thus, despite coming in first place in Italy, Salvini’s Lega and its French and British allies will arguably have a fairly limited impact on EU politics. The greater impact of these parties will undoubtedly be seen on a national level.


What does this mean for Italy?

The 2017 National Election in Italy gave rise to a populist, anti-establishment and Eurosceptic coalition formed by the 5 Star Movement and the Lega. This week’s election results showed increased support for Salvini’s radical right approach. These results imply three things for Italy’s near future:  (1) A more distant relationship with Europe, which is not advantageous for an economically weak and politically unstable country, (2) a coalition that, although still built on Five Star’s anti-establishment politics, will feature the Lega’s nationalistic and anti-immigration platform more prominently moving forward, and (3) the possibility of Salvini triggering a snap election in order to capitalize on this emerging majority, which, if successful, would likely make him Prime Minister. All eyes will be on this “beautiful country” in the coming months looking to see what cards Salvini will play.


Photo Credit: Fabio Visconti, Discorso di Matteo Salvini alla cena di gala per il 30° anniversario della Lega Nord in provincia di Bergamo, via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0.


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