Ideas on Europe

What's going on in Italy - Antonella Forganni

What's going on in Italy - Antonella Forganni

Our weekly “Ideas on Europe” the editorial by UACES, the University Association for European Studies, with Antonella Forganni, law professor at ESSCA School of Management, and  Italian citizen living in Nantes.

Antonella, what is your perception of this election?

Honestly, I am asking myself how we managed to get to this point.

But perhaps it makes sense to remind the audience quickly of Italy’s institutional framework. Contrary to France, we are a parliamentary republic: the citizens elect deputies, and then the President of the Republic appoints the head of government. Since the government must have the Parliament’s confidence, the appointment process is complex and requires consultations conducted by the President with the leaders of parties and coalitions. The idea is to choose a government that has the best chances to obtain and preserve the Parliament’s confidence.

Given recent history, this seems to be a “mission impossible”!

Yes, Italian politics is characterised by chronic instability due to a highly fragmented spectrum of political actors. For this reason, when the political groups are unable to achieve a solid majority in the Parliament, alliances play a strategic role. And the frequent changes in the political alliances inevitably breed government crises. Having two or more governments during a single legislature term (or shortened legislatures) happens often:  since 1948, we have had 28 legislature terms and more than 60 governments.

Now that Mario Draghi has resigned as head of government, what are the options on the table for Sunday?

In the political landscape that we have today, we basically find the 5-Stars Movement, which after a surprising initial success has been declining over the last years, a fragmented variety of centre/left parties, and an amorphous coalition on the right. 

As a result, there are serious probabilities to have a government taken over by a coalition in which Silvio Berlusconi, 85 years old and with a significant record of scandals and judicial proceedings behind, goes as the moderate, “reasonable” partner. Indeed, the other two components of this coalition are both extreme right parties:the Lega per Salvini Premier (previously called Lega Nord) led by Matteo Salvini, and Fratelli d’Italia led by Giorgia Meloni,. In the 2018 election Lega Nord was at 17,4%, while Fratelli d’Italia obtained only 4,3% votes. In the meantime, there has been a major shift, and today the opinion polls show the Lega Nord around 12% and the Fratelli d’Italia around 25%.

How extreme are they really?

The Lega has promoted for decades racist attitudes across towards people from the south of Italy who moved north looking for a job and better life conditions, before enlarging its electoral base by reorienting their hatred narrative towards foreigners in general. While proposing themselves as a new force against the corrupt traditional parties, they have been themselves the object of a high number of legal proceedings for different affairs, mainly for corruption. Among them, one related to 49 million euros which remain to be reimbursed to the State.

The Fratelli d’Italia undoubtedly took advantage of Salvini’s relative decline. In their official programme, theyavoided to be too straightforward on certain sensitive topics, which hints at a strategy of “normalisation”, similar to Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement national. In the heat of the election campaign, they did, however, make public statements to the media that opened the door to many concerns about their extreme right orientation, for example concerning abortion rights or the insistence on the central role of traditional families. They announce the maintaining of civil unions, but they also confirm their stance against adoptions by homosexual couples. 

Security and immigration are of course high on their agenda. Their foreign policy is founded on the protection of the national interest, and they invoke the “defence of the classical and Judeo-Christian roots of Europe”. Their slogan “Defend Italy” already comes with the idea that an aggression is in place, so here we go with the opposition of “us” against “the others”, a well-known staple in the extreme right narrative. Last but not least, their symbol includes the green-white-red flame, historically used by the Italian Social Movement, a neo-fascist party. 

Antonella, should Europe be worried about the likely victory of these politicians?

My answer is “Yes, definitely, we should all be worried”. What is happening in Italy is not good news for Europe. In the past already, Giorgia Meloni proposed to remove any reference to the European Union from the Italian Constitution. And today Fratelli d’Italia is close to Viktor Orbán’s positions in many ways. Their victory may have heavy consequences for Italy and for Europe. And their coalition with Salvini’s movement will make them stronger. Until, of course, the next government crisis.

Which may come sooner than expected. Especially if they try to push through a constitutional reform included in their programme, which aims at moving from the parliamentary republic to a presidential regime with a strong executive power. It is not impossible we’re at a point where our chronic instability may actually protect us.

Thank you very much, Antonella, for these insights into Italian politics. We’ll follow the election outcome closely on EU!radio.

Interview conducted by Laurence Aubron