by Francesco Sismondini

On March 4, Italian citizens will be called to the polls to decide the members of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate of the Republic, which in turn will be called to create a stable majority to support the Prime Minister appointed by the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella. After Sebastian Kurz in Austria, and Angela Merkel in Germany, who will be the tailor who will have to untangle the difficult and skein post-election politics with the Italian parties? Above all, will he succeed in creating a sweater that is strong enough for Europe, comfortable and warm for the citizens, and coloured for the parliament?

No clear winner in sight

The coalitions that today have deposited symbol and candidates give the Italian scene a united and compact centre-right of which, Berlusconi presents himself as a leader. Making up the nose to the charismatic Matteo Salvini of the populist Lega Nord, who chooses to insert in the electoral symbol, next to its name, the word “Premier”. The other two members of the coalition represent the newly founded Christian Democrats Union UDC (Noi Con l’Italia, inspired by the ideals of the EPP), and the national right (Brothers of Italy). The Democratic Party of Matteo Renzi and the current Premier Paolo Gentiloni underwent a split a few days ago that will bring the party’s “post-communist” and “anti-Renzi” phalanx to vote for the new political subject founded by the actual President of the Senate Pietro Grasso, “Free and equal”. Fragmentation is on the day-by-day agenda for the Italian left, which seems increasingly to project its policies and its choices not on the proposals but on the desire for the elimination of this or that leader. Finally, we arrive at what is today the first Italian party, even if it will not define itself as a party: the 5 Star Movement (M5S) of Beppe Grillo. Given at 30% by all the polls, it will present as Prime Minister Luigi di Maio, famous in the peninsula for his lack of familiarity with the Italian language and his only previous work experience: Steward in stadiums during football matches.

Europe at the centre of the debate

In this period, the beginning of the electoral campaign, the citizens loyal to the European Union begin to wonder what the position of their candidate will be towards Brussels, and the candidates start to respond. After months of statements that bordered on populism and anti-Europeanism, Silvio Berlusconi began to re-conceive himself and his party, which belongs to the European People’s Party, as the only true Europeanist in the Italian scene. After a series of official meetings with the President of EU Parliament Antonio Tajani, his great friend and loyal comrade, Jean Claude Juncker, Joseph Daul and Antonio Lopez who officially declared “The EPP is Silvio Berlusconi’s home. Our party will support the centre-right coalition which, thanks to him, will make Italy strong “. The Democratic Party, for its part, strong of its current presence in the government, appeals to Europe following a double strategy: that of “fists on the table” used by the party secretary Matteo Renzi, and the peaceful and constructive way of Paolo Gentiloni. The latter seems to follow in European perspective the possible Franco-German axis that Lady Merkel, fresh of government, and fizzy Emmanuel Macron are rebuilding at the base.

The presence of Federica Mogherini at the top of the EU Common Security and Foreign Policy, and her well-judged job in the supranational environment, also gives the Democrats legitimacy and ‘push’ to fight. The only party that has always fervently supported its anti-Europeanism is the M5S, which in the wake of European populism has made bureaucracies and banks the first enemies. This move scares the markets and the moderates, and consequently those who, like Berlusconi, have an interest in keeping the Italian economic situation stable and secure.

Let us recap

A compact right centre which, however, may be more or less pro-European depending on the percentages achieved by the internal coalition parties, but inspired by Forza Italia values, a left-wing centre that has now been 100% Renzi-addicted, the 5-Star Movement and Pietro Grasso’s left Liberi e Uguali. All the coalitions will be fighting on a new field: in fact, a new electoral law “Rosatellum Bis” was voted in 2017. Unlike the previous “Porcellum”, so called because it was considered, at the end of a series of changes, by its creator as “filthy”, “Rosatellum Bis” is a semi-majority. This is thanks to the 37% of seats allocated from the results of first-past-the-post uninominal colleges and a semi-proportional system 61% of seats allocated depending on the success of the party nationwide, with a threshold of 3% for single lists, and 10% for coalitions. This system will give the opportunity to parties “strong” territorially to conquer the single-member seats even at the expense of possible failure at the national level, and great parties to “navigate” in the system proportional to blocked lists. As I demonstrate in my analysis, I would like to “reassure” BullsEye’s friends: the only real danger for the role of Italy in Europe is the 5 Star Movement which, by itself, will not succeed in any hypothesis to conquer a substantial majority.

26 February 2018
This text was published in Bullseye issue 71