The state of votes
Domestic or European elections?
Francesca Romana Bastianello
A simple political thermometer, nothing else
Francesca Romana Bastianello | 2014. May 24. 19:20
Less than a day is left until the upcoming European elections. In a climate of change and subsequent expectation, the elections seem more a matter of internal politics and legitimization rather than a real commitment to the future of Europe.
The current government is formed by a coalition of Partito Democratico (PD) – whose first secretary is the current Prime Minister Renzi –, Nuovo Centro Destra (NCD) together with Unione di Centro (UDC), and previous Premier Monti’s Scelta Civica. However, their deep ideological and programmatic difference resulted in the three ruling parties entering different European alliances. The PD supports the Party of European Socialists, NDC prefers the European People’s Party, while Monti chose the Alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe. For Partito Democratico, next May’s vote is especially important in order to obtain the electoral legitimization Renzi never received as Prime Minister and therefore to legitimize his reformist agenda - above all the electoral reform which is at present frozen in Senato (the second Italian chamber). However, their success is far from guaranteed, due to the different European paths the members of the coalition took and the low support NCD and Scelta Civica enjoy – which may even not pass the 4% threshold – and Movimento 5 Stelle’s high shares.
The non-aligned Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) founded by comedian Beppe Grillo – which explains the label “Grillini” given to its members – and the right wing xenophobic Lega Nord are the two main opposition parties; but the only common point they share is euroscepticism. Grillo appears to be able to confirm the electoral success of the 2012 election when Italians’ discontent and disappointment with the untrustworthy and selfish old parties encountered the anti-politics of the Movimento. PD tried to renovate its image with Renzi – who actually shares more ideas with central rather than real left parties – but a good share of the population (25%) still prefers Grillo. His ‘democratic’ selection of candidates by means of online voting aims at direct civic participation, but at the same time raised consistent doubts about Grillini’s competence and aims, sometimes not unfounded. In fact, many party members are chosen in accordance to the sympathy they raise in the population rather than on their actual competences and their experience in political affairs.
Even the Lega Nord changed its image for the European elections when choosing Salvini, who is known for his anti-euro electoral campaign. They joined the Movement for a Europe of Liberties and Democracies. In contrast, the M5S remained faithful to its political isolation and did not join any European alliance.
Far more complicated is the position of the newly re-created Forza Italia, the party under whose flag Berlusconi governed Italy until 2007 when he founded Il Popolo della Libertà. The court decision to condemn Berlusconi for tax fraud seems to have renewed his popularity – he had always had a strong appealing in the population – and consequently his energy in the political arena. Ultimately, in November he withdrew his support to Letta’s government and decided to leave Popolo della Libertà and re-found Forza Italia. However, a part of Berlusconi’s faithful entourage disagreed with his decision. First of all, Angelino Alfano, who founded the NCD, creating a deep rift in the right coalition. The change of government, with the appointment of Renzi (PD) as Prime Minister last February, did not substantially change the situation, despite Berlusconi’s initial involvement in the draft of the main reforms, especially the electoral law. The ex-premier continues his strategy of approving only what is in his direct interests and his strong personality guarantees a noticeable share of support among the population. Forza Italia joined the European People’s Party and Berlusconi hopes for the highest support possible to regain influence in internal politics, with the surveys awarding him with 20% of vote intentions.
All political parties appear more interested in the possible domestic weight they could gain from electoral European success, rather than showing real supranational commitment. It is true that these elections will be the opportunity to understand the electors’ preferences after the unexpected top down change of government in February 2014, but politicians should be reminded that we are voting for our future as European citizens and not to answer their tantrums. The current situation is a perfect mirror of our politics, where personal interests and ambition, along with personal discord and disputes determine alliances and political programs. In this context, it is not a surprise that a growing part of the population is continuously abstaining from vote. It is precisely abstention which is the real rival of each political party, an enemy they should fight together to guarantee the basis of democracy: the active participation of its citizens.
Enrico Sbicego | 2014. May 24. 19:20
Pragmatism at its best: The European Parliament possesses less power than the European Commission, which in turn already has few powers. Italian parties understood this aspect and, with a devoted dose of cynicism, they regard the next European elections only as a test for their domestic strategies.
The European elections give a perfect opportunity for parties to measure their weight inside the Italian political scene. Their actions let us understand who they are and what they fight for.
Among the parties composing the “Grosse” Koalition currently in power, the Partito Democratico is certainly the most relevant in terms of consensus (circa 35%, IPSOS) and shares in the coalition. Its internal clashes, caused by the struggle for the power among its numerous components, continued after Matteo Renzis victory in the run for the Secretariat: The support of “minority streams” in the party is always depending upon numerous factors (policies to implement, seats in the Government, etc.). Despite his presumed appeal and charisma, Renzi could not manage to collect the craved 10% which would have allowed the Partito Democratico to be a majority party. This is why the next European elections will constitute the “stress test” for Renzi’s appeal not only as Prime Minister but, first of all, as leader of the Partito Democratico.
The second entity in the coalition (circa 6%, IPSOS) running in the European elections is the NCD-UdC (New Center-Right – Center Union). Founded in November 2013, this coalition groups a narrow number of MPs of the PDL (Popolo delle Libertà, Peoples of Freedom) and the “Christian Democrats”(UdC) which decided to detach from Berlusconi after his conviction for tax fraud. The two parties play a key role in both Government and Parliament: In fact they control a decisive number of seats in the Parliament, which enables them to decide the fate of the Government (Italy is a parliamentary republic). The NCD also controls three important ministries (Interior, Healthcare and Transports). Their tactical role in the survival of the coalition Government (they are numerically indispensable to form a majority) would allow the NCD-UdC to exploit a good performance to strengthen their pressure on the Partito Democratico in the Government’s action, spending their victory on political capital in the domestic arena.
On the other side of the barricade stands Berlusconi with his reborn Forza Italia. His latest conviction caused a significant shrinkage of support (circa 19%, IPSOS) and drove some key figures of his closest entourage to leave him (Paolo Bonaiuti and Fabrizio Cicchitto, above all). The position of his party is probably one of the most delicate ever: Outside the government and with a constant loss of supports, the upcoming European elections may play a decisive role. There’s a say in Italy, “rats are deserting a sinking ship”. An eventual debacle could determine other defections within the party. Nevertheless, it is vital to keep in mind Berlusconi’s ability to regain consensus short before elections. Moreover, his control over a large part of Italian media remains strong and intact even today.
Another party trying to recover from scandals is the Lega Nord (Northern League). After the loss of its founder and historical leader Umberto Bossi, the regionalist right-wing party is trying to surf the popular unrest caused by the economic crisis. A renewed wave of propaganda managed to regain some support in the North, where the party has its electoral base. According to IPSOS the recovery would result in an estimated share of 5.4% of the votes, on a national base. As well as Forza Italia, Lega Nord is obliged to use these elections to try to reaffirm its role in the Italian political arena, where a new political subject has fostered a huge wave of disgust spread widely among a large portion of voters.
The Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Stars Movement) is the big outsider of this electoral turn: No previous experience in Europe and an outstanding performance in the last legislative elections in Italy (25,09% of the votes, according to the Ministry of Interior Affairs). Founded by brilliant comedian Beppe Grillo and by IT engineer Gianroberto Casaleggio, the movement is storming the Italian arena with its message of political cleansing. Surfing the waves of the various continuous scandals affecting political élites, M5S’s proclaimed aim is to overthrow the ruling class and to establish a new participative and incorrupt democracy. With no clear perspective in foreign policy, the M5S will not place itself within any European coalition. Entering the European arena is at the bottom of M5S’s agenda. This can be easily explained: With less corrupt and indecent adversaries, their arguments would virtually disappear.
Despite the wide profusion of Euro-enthusiastic proclaims by the coalition parties, the inconsistence of Italian foreign policy (including a European-based) constitutes the most obvious sign that none of the Italian political players place any importance on the next turn. It is just a political thermometer - in Italy more than in any other European country.
Francesca Romana Bastianello
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