5 things you need to know about the EU elections in Italy

5 things you need to know about the EU elections in Italy

Lucrezia Quarato April 2019

  1. The “Northern” League is no more

Lately the Lega Nord has changed its strategy and name to be more appealing to voters from the South. Now they are just “Lega”, but that’s not all that has changed – their ideas have too. Until a few months ago, Lega was federalist and, at times, separatist. They proposed “Padania” as a possible name for an independent state in Northern Italy. From mocking the South for “not having the money”, to now winning in the South, Lega is at its historical peak and according to the latest polls could increase their vote share from 17.4% at the last political elections to around 35.5%. If these polls are confirmed, Lega will dictate the political agenda, and an exit from the Euro could be one of the top issues. Translated to the European elections, this will mean they will gain considerably from the mere three seats they hold currently in the European Parliament.

  • Lega – 5 Star Movement: will they divorce?

The political history of Italy has always seen frictions and divisions between the forces that rule the country. Lega and the 5 Star Movement are no exceptions. To keep them both in power, they signed the famous “government contract”, a kind of prenup, but over time the topics of deep division between the two partners grew, from the TAV (high speed train rail) – where also the European Commission had to intervene –  to their view on Europe.

Despite ruling the country together, both parties are at two different phases. While Lega is at its historic peak, the 5 Star Movement is in decline, polling at around 23% – around 10% less than a year ago. As we say in Italian “if two argue, a third benefits”, and in this case the “third one” is the Partito Democratico (PD), led by Nicola Zingaretti, which is on the rise and now trails the 5 Star Movement by less than 2%.

  • How will Italians vote?

In 2014, the turnout for the EU elections in Italy was 57%, 15% higher than the EU average, making it the country with the highest turnout by far among those with more than 15 million inhabitants.

As for the 2019 European elections, the PD has been considering presenting a pro-EU list and will be vying with the 5 Star Movement for second position behind Lega.

Forza Italia, still led by Silvio Berlusconi, is polling at around 8%. Other parties (Fratelli d’Italia and +Europa) may not meet the electoral threshold of 4%. This means that, according to the latest polls from the European Parliament, there will be a huge change, with the majority of seats (27) going to the ENF (Lega), followed by the S&D (PD) and EFDD (5 Stars Movement), both with 18 seats. Only 9 seats are expected to go to the EPP, with 4 for the ECR. Unfortunately the Liberals, Greens and far-left GUE are not expected to have any Italian representative in the European Parliament.

  • Back to Rome

Three Italian politicians who play a key role in the EU institutions will return to Italy: Antonio Tajani, current President of the European Parliament; Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs; and Mario Draghi, President of the ECB. Who will take their place? The new Italian Commissioner will almost certainly be proposed by Lega, with the most likely candidate being Luca Zaia, current President of the Veneto Region and former Agriculture Minister in the last Berlusconi Government. Agriculture may actually be Italy’s favoured portfolio, and Zaia, who hails from the moderate side of the Lega, could even appeal to the traditional parties.

  • When did Italy become anti-immigrant?

What do we expect from a country whose Minister of Interior’s slogan is “Italy for the Italians”? Since the migrants started arriving on Italy’s shores, fleeing war and poverty, they have clashed with Italy’s own poor who have been hit hard by austerity policies. This is why Lega’s propaganda and public discourse have played a leading role in broadening the perimeter of what is socially acceptable. This is a country whose government proposed different opening hours for “ethnic” businesses from their Italian equivalents, closed all ports to migrant shipping, and where a school canteen made different arrangements for foreign children to have their lunch than Italian pupils. No wonder perhaps that Lega looks set to dominate next month’s EU elections.