Italian parties experience power shift, PM advocates for unity

Andrew Shermoen

As Theresa May moves forward with the United Kingdom’s plans to withdrawal from the European Union, the remaining 27 member states met this past weekend in Rome to celebrate the Union’s 60th anniversary. While at the event Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni spoke against UK’s choice to leave and commented on the contentious political climate of Europe at the moment. “That triggered in part of public opinion, unfortunately the majority of public opinion in the United Kingdom, it triggered a crisis of rejection,” Gentiloni said at the summit in Rome. “It brought forward the closed nationalism that we thought has been closed down in the archives.”

Gentiloni’s own country is not without its nationalism as well and many Italians wonder if populist and nationalist tendencies might be the leading party of their administration in the next few years. Italy’s upcoming 2018 general election will see the powers of the house shifting as voters will choose which new or incumbent candidates will fill every single seat of the two houses of Italy’s bicameral Parliament. Italy’s elections do not operate in a system where a few seats in our house are up for election every year. Italy votes on every single seat at once every few years. Meaning a large power shift can happen in the course of a night when the majority party is overtaken by a surprise election. Which is something frightening many Italian citizens at the moment.

According to Dr. Linsey Moddelmog, an assistant professor from the Political Science department of Washburn who teaches International Politics, Italy’s decision to be in the EU or not weighs several pros and cons. “ Italy’s government has historically mismanaged monetary and fiscal policies which in turn created an unstable currency and problems with inflation,” Moddelmog said. “When I was in Italy in 2001, right before adoption of the Euro, a single piece of pizza cost $3,000 Liyra, which was the equivalent of $3.  So the Euro currency brings stability to Italy, for workers wages, prices, investment and retirement savings.” Italy benefits from the economic strength of the EU, and in Moddlemog’s opinion, Italy is stronger when it stays in the EU then if it is outside of it. “Overall, I believe the benefits of the union, freer movements of goods, services and workers and a stable currency, outweigh the cons.”

Over the past few months Italy has seen a meteoric rise in popularity and attention to populist parties such as the Five Star Movement and Lega Nord, or the Northern League. Both parties are not nearly as provocative as the nationalist group Brothers of Italy, but have advocated for Euroscepticism, meaning if they win the general election they could begin to turn the tide towards an Italian government that may be the next country to leave the EU. Matteo Salvini, the leader of Lega Nord, endorsed President Donald Trump himself when he was campaigning, and both men share very similar views on closed borders on limiting ties with foreign countries and businesses.

The Five Star Movement and Lega Nord both operate as the opposition portion of Italy’s main government. Meaning they have lesser number of seats in the house but still represent opposing viewpoints against the majority. This upcoming general election could see a surprise turn as both Lega Nord and The Five Star Movement gain a large number of seats. This shift in Italy’s government would see the country take on a heavy anti-immigration stance, which would spell disaster for Syrian refugees who have sought Italy as a place to escape when crossing the Mediterranean Sea. The next step for the parties if they gained a majority would likely be to begin the process of removing ties with the European Union to turn Italy into a country focused on its own interests and not the interest of other European citizens.

Moddelmog believes these parties may be gaining votes but it won’t be enough to tip the balance in their favor, but she remains a skeptic due to recent events. “I do not think any of them could gain enough votes to make up the dominant governing coalition, thus they will remain in the opposition.  But, I also didn’t believe the British would vote to leave the EU.”

It would be foolish to call the increasing rise of Nationalism and anti-immigration anything other than unjustified fear mongering. Yet, it seems even Italy will be stopped by the meteoric reappearance of nationalism that has taken place across the world in the last few years. Opinion polling from Italy shows that the Democratic Party, which is the majority in the current Parliamentary structure, is still going to be the likely winner of the 2018 election, but the Five Star Movement is currently placing a close second with Lega Nord and Forza Italia maintaining a steady tie. We’ve seen that in past elections predictions are often not indicators of victory so if Italy’s political system begins to take a turn towards nationalism its citizens and politicians will likely be battling over exactly what the UK is debating today.

Moddelmog sees the EU as the way of the future, but does think it needs to improve certain aspects of its operation to gain more acceptance from the states within the Union. “The EU does need to work on improving coordination of fiscal policies across its member states.  And if they are to craft a message, it is we are stronger together.  They can assist one another by cooperating in areas like refugees, terrorism, creating sound economic policies, and by creating a strong vibrant European economy.”