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Italy: Challenges and Uncertainties for a new Political Season

Italy: Challenges and Uncertainties for a new Political Season

At this point, we just have to wait and see who will be part of the new government and hope that the priority will be to take on the numerous internal problems.

Italy, seeking change, looks to the right. As generally foreseen by the polls, the Italian elections produced an indisputable result: the center-right won a majority in both the House and Senate. Driving the coalition to victory was Giorgia Meloni whose party (Fratelli d’Italia) just grazed the peak of 26%, increasing its votes by nearly six million, compared with the general elections in 2018.

A victory that redefines the internal balance of power within the right, led for years by Silvio Berlusconi. But in the center-right, it is not all a bed of roses. Although part of the winning coalition, Salvini emerges from the elections as a loser. Support for the Lega dropped below 10% and compared with the 2018 elections, it lost 3.2 million votes, a 57%. This is one of the most critical points that could lead to early friction in the formation of the new government.

Although with a decrease of 2.3 million votes compared with four years ago, Forza Italia emerged with a percentage that guarantees the party a strong position in the formation of the new government. This is good news for Europe. Silvio Berlusconi’s party could act as a key counterweight to rein in the Eurosceptic tendencies typical of the more conservative right.

What emerges from the results of the 25 September elections is the defeat of the left and the Partito Democratico which, despite the fact it will be the main opposition party, was unable to achieve the 20% baseline it was hoping for. A result that pushed Enrico Letta to announce that he will not be in the running at the next PD Congress, which must not only choose a new leader but will also have the broader task of rehashing a new political platform, which is clearly in crisis.

The results for the Movimento 5 Stelle, on the other hand, were not bad. The party gained support in the southern regions and, compared with poll forecasts, received a good amount of votes, rising to a share of 15.4%. This result puts the M5S in third place, after FdI and the PD, despite a loss of 6.3 million votes compared with 2018.

And finally, the third pole, led by Calenda and Renzi, was not able to take hold and failed to attain its goal, remaining below 8%. However, it is an admirable result, given that it is a newly-formed party and with an election campaign that lasted barely two months.

The abstention party

What is worrying is the high level of abstentionism. With a decrease of 9% compared with the 2018 elections, voter turnout was 63.9%. This is the lowest level ever: one Italian out of three decided not to vote, a decision taken—at least by a significant number of people—in the final days before the election. While a third claimed to have had difficulties of some kind, the rest stated that there was no political party they could relate to.

A parliment one-third smaller

These were the first post-pandemic elections with a new legislative branch with a Parliament one-third smaller. In fact, with the 2019 reform, the number of legislators was reduced from 945 to 600—400 deputies and 200 senators.

The centre-right holds the absolute majority. With 43.8% of the votes, it won 235 seats in the House and, in the Senate, with 44%, 112 seats.

The next steps

While in 2018 it took 89 days to form the government, this time it is expected things will be different. Fratelli d’Italia is fully aware that it would gain nothing by working against the outgoing government, especially given the current crisis situation. Discussions between Giorgia Meloni and Mario Draghi began immediately because continuity with the outgoing government is fundamental to understanding how to take on such hot issues as the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, the NRRP deadlines and the national budget.

Although there is little question that the nomination will go to Giorgia Meloni, the final decision is that of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella. The first meeting of the new members of the House and Senate is scheduled for 13 October, during which the presidents of the House and Senate will be elected. Consultations with Mattarella will then follow before the task of forming a new government is assigned. Following a second round of consultations, the decision will be confirmed and the new leader will present his or her government which, within ten days, must pass a vote of confidence in the House and Senate for the new legislature to begin.

What can we expect?

The reactions following the victory of the center-right—especially in Europe—show that Italy’s partners did not accept this new situation with serenity. The choice of Italians to make a clean break with the past could be alarming, especially given that the winners are the conservative right-wing.

On issues such as relations with the US, the war in Ukraine and Italy’s role in NATO, the leader of Fratelli d’Italia has been clear: maximum continuity with the Draghi government. Italy will continue to support Ukraine (by providing military and economic aid) and maintain a pro-sanction stance regarding Russia.

Most uneasy about the personality of the leader of Fratelli d’Italia is Brussels, which is wary about the spread of right-wing conservatism. However, it should not be forgotten that Italy does not enjoy an especially privileged economic situation. This limits the maneuvering room. Between the NRRP and European funds, there is a significant amount of money at stake. If Meloni wants to do what is good for the nation (as is hoped), reassurances from the leader of Fratelli d’Italia will be fundamental. But the underlying contradiction remains involving the deregulation of markets, in which the Draghi government was unable to intervene due to the factions within the Cabinet, and whose opponents included Fratelli d’Italia. Liberalization of transport, as well as other sectors, is an absolute necessity for Italy to once again become competitive and attract investment. Giorgia Meloni must choose which side she is on: to support the country’s development or protect a number of minorities that are blocking growth.

At this point, we just have to wait and see who will be part of the new government and hope that the priority will be to take on the numerous internal problems: inflation, increase in energy prices, and long-term debt. The hope is that the desire for change does not end up jeopardizing Italy’s credibility with the rest of the world. Only time will tell.

Author

  • Carola Macagno

    Carola Macagno is analyst at Competere. She graduated in International Relations at LUISS Guido Carli. In 2019 she graduated in International and Diplomatic Sciences at the University of Bologna – Forlì. In addition to working with Competere, she is a member of Associazione Guido Carli.

The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.

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