By Enrico Verga, a writer, consultant, and entrepreneur based in Milan. As a consultant, he concentrates on firms interested in opportunities in international and digital markets. His articles have appeared in Il Sole 24 Ore, Capo Horn, Longitude, Il Fatto Quotidiano, and many other publications. You can follow him on Twitter @enricoverga.
Reading about the Italian election in Italy can be entertaining. However, if I take the point of view of my friends from abroad (in the UK, France, the US, and Iran), I find the election even more entertaining.
Before turning to the question of who won, let’s look at some of the more hilarious stories I ran into in the foreign media before the polls closed.
Exciting Media Narratives
Multiple friends contacted me, worried that Fascism with a capital F was coming to Italy.
One has to keep in mind that a certain stratum of the pro-Renzi media (that we could call the “pro-globalization” media) has, throughout last month, poured oil on the fire, declaring that Italy is teeming with fascist, Nazi, and ultra-nationalist movements. A number of tragic incidents pitting immigrants against native Italians have certainly made it possible for the media to build a formidable echo chamber –and as one knows, blood (like sex) is a reliable way to sell newspapers.
Readers of papers oriented toward Renzi’s center-left were told that Casa Pound (a small social movement with some nostalgia for the historical Right) might get as high as 4 or 5% of the vote. With the polls closed, Casa Pound actually didn’t even reach 1%, and so, given that it is not part of any coalition, the votes it obtained are worthless.
Still more entertaining was reading that during protests and clashes between marches of “fascists” and (left-wing) “anti-fascists,” it was possible to perceive the rise of a new, violently nationalist Right. In fact, it’s true that, as mentioned for example in this article, the police had to get involved during the protests in order to keep the opposing groups apart. However, what actually happened is that the police had their hands full trying to protect the beleaguered far Right militants of Casa Pound from the hundreds of anti-fascists who wanted to beat the living daylights out of them.
As exciting as it might be to think that the era of Mussolini has returned, the fact that back then it was the fascist squads who beat up leftist citizens and not the other way around seems like an important distinction to bear in mind. Claiming that we are in imminent danger of a return to fascism shows more or less the same sense of proportion as seeing in a drop of water falling from the sky the biblical tempest that Noah built an ark in order to survive.
Still within the general cadre of stories about the invasion of the nationalist hordes, another extremely amusing phenomenon was the alarm over Kekistan. Left-leaning newspapers (from Radio Popolare to Repubblica, whose deputy director was a winning candidate for the PD) warned that Kekistan flags were a terrifying symbol of ultranationalist resurgence.
Anyone interested in looking into the matter will discover that Kekistan is a meme created on 4chan during the recent US election cycle in order to make fun of liberal Democrats with attitudes like “if you don’t vote for Clinton and the Democrats, then you are a misogynistic Trump lover sympathetic to Nazism and white supremacy.” Now it so happens that Kekistan supporters dared to raise its flag in one of Salvini’s rallies – Salvini being the leader of Lega Nord, the party in the center right coalition that received the most votes (17%). Immediately, the left-leaning papers trumpeted their outrage, and produced photos taken elsewhere showing Kekistan banners and Nazi flags in close proximity. All of this was naturally accompanied by extremely erudite analyses that threw into a single stewpot Kekistanis, white supremacists, Nazis, (Italian-style) fascists, and so on.
All of this may serve to illustrate the pathetic level reached in coverage of our recent election. Let us now turn to the question of who came out as a winner.
Losers and Winners
We can start by looking at who didn’t win.
The “left” alliance was made up of the social-democratic PD (Renzi’s party), Liberi e Uguali (including the outgoing president of the Chamber of Deputies, Boldrini, and the president of the Senate, Grasso), as well as Europa, a party created by the ex-Radical Emma Bonino, an individual who has gone through more political incarnations than Trump has women, and who for several years has reminded us that she is supported by George Soros. It lost, as dramatized in this picture
showing Renzi as the dying Christ, cradled in the arms of his faithful defender Maria Elena Boschi.
The center-right alliance ended up with 37% of the vote. It is made up of Lega Nord (led by Salvini) which got 17%, Forza Italia (led by the eternal Silvio Berlusconi) which got 13%, and Fratelli d’Italia (led by Giorgia Meloni), with 4%. Fratelli d’Italia is what is left of the overt Italian nationalists (MSI), which were in turn the tattered remnants of the Italian fascist party.
This coalition does not have an absolute majority in Senate or Chamber. Nevertheless, given how the Italian system works, the president of the Republic might well decide to give it the first opportunity to form a government. If so, it will need to come up with 23 senators, and (in the Chamber) 24 deputies. But where to find them?
One possibility is that some of the deputies and senators elected as part of the Left coalition might decide to fly a new flag, forming a new group (presumably billing itself as “moderate”), which would then put itself up for sale to the highest bidder.
Another possibility is members of the Five Stars movement (M5S), who despite being in the party with overall the largest vote total, might nevertheless decide to betray the movement.
In fact, the M5S was the second great winner from the election. It came away with 32% of the vote, giving it a plurality of the vote, but not a majority. To get one, it is in the same position as the center-right bloc: it would need to strip away enough deputies and senators in order to have a credible shot at forming a government. Its leader is Luigi Di Maio, who was more or less unemployed before getting elected as an M5S deputy from Naples. He is in any case often considered as a puppet in the hands of the Casaleggio organization, a PR agency which in turn has close links to the comedian Beppe Grillo (the founder of the Five Stars party).
The Breakdown of the Vote
Let me begin with a simple premise: the success of both the center-right coalition and the Five Stars represents a rejection of the pro-globalization policy of Renzi’s “leftist” PD party.
To take the analysis a step further, it is important to look at the vote by regions.
In the south of Italy, where the unemployment rate is very high, the ambitious proposals of the Five Stars were inevitably attractive. These included a sort of Universal Basic Income (the reddito di cittadinanza, “salary of citizenship”) of 500 or 1000 Euro per month. Given the stagnant economy of the south, the M5S proposal was tantamount to a wedding invitation, and the party received plenty of votes, whether motivated by hope or desperation.
In the north, however, the anti-globalization vote typically coalesced into support for Salvini’s Lega Nord. Why?
One reason is that two regions governed by Lega Nord are Lombardy and Veneto, major economic motors of Italy. As it happens, the regions of Liguria and Emilia Romagna, two other economic powerhouses, also went for Salvini or for other parties in the center-right coalition.
Italy is in fact split in half, as can be seen in the following charts from Il Sole 24 Ore:
“Red” means left, “blue” means right (contrast the American convention), while “yellow” refers to the Five Stars.
Those who wanted to protest the current regime and who simultaneously hope for an economic liftoff voted for center-right parties that presented (what seemed like) credible plans for economic growth. Those who wanted to protest but find the economic situation hopeless cast their votes instead for the Five Stars. Here and there one can find splotches of red (signifying support for Renzi’s party) – in these cases voters didn’t know whom to support and voted at random.
Reassurance for Concerned Americans
Q: Is it safe for me as an American to go to Italy? What about the dangerous fascists?
A: Yes, it’s safe.
Q: Is it safe for me as an American to go to Italy? What about the risk of a civil war?
A: No risk of a civil war, at worst there will be some punches thrown when the fans of Milan and Inter run into each other at the derby.
Q: Will Italy leave the Euro?
Q: Will Italy betray America and further the nefarious plans of Putin?
A: Italy will continue to be, as it has been, a nation that tries to avoid taking sides.
Q: Will Italy stop being the wonderful country that we know and love?
A: Pizza, the Colosseum, good wine, Ferraris, and (for the fashion-addicted) Monte Napoleone, are safe from danger. American tourists need not worry.
What was more important was the attitude of the police and judiciary. So far the forces of order do not feel threatened by the left. If and when they do, the cops will either be “neutral” or joining the fascists.
Somehow Naked Capitalism always publishes the best coverage of Italian elections – after the elections are over.
It is encouraging to read some meaningful commentary, especially compared to Zero Hedge, CNBC or even European mainstream newspapers, but since you do have good commenters, can you not publish their pieces before, and not after, the misunderstandings get out of hand?
I agree 100%. Italy will not take sides. It will not leave the Euro. The fascist threat is a fiction. All major electoral promises will be broken (UBI, expulsion of 600.000 immigrants, trade tariffs).
The Italian voting law forces parties into coalition: whatever they promise, they have to water down in order to get to power.
And the Italian Constitution gives the government very limited powers. Governments are hilariously short-lived by design. No government will ever start earth-shaking reforms and survive longer than a few weeks.
Thanks for your kind words. However, we are a very thinly resourced site and don’t provide posts on upcoming US elections, save on particular issues (and Lambert’s news extracts in Water Cooler). And we didn’t have comments on the upcoming elections in Italy in the comments section, nor do any of the regular writers read Italian. Outis does but he writes only very intensely researched pieces on topics that interest him, which means he publishes very intermittently. He does translate Enrico’s posts.
This bunny does speak Italian but I frankly didn’t find this election all that interesting until after it was over. Imho, best thing to do to follow Italian politics is to either be there or watch the talk shows on RAI 1. I read La Repubblica and La Stampa occasionally but if you’re not in Italy it’s hard to stay current.
You need more writers/reserchers. Make more donations folks, and maybe Yves can hire a few more pens.
The reason why all major electoral promises will be broken doesn’t reside neither in the weak nature of coalitions nor in the Constitution formal favour for the legislative instead of the executive, which in real politics has been overtaken since a long time, but in the fact that there are external boundaries and , how can I say, real policies prompters , called Euro , ECB , European Commission , Germany , France and so on.
Of course. I did not want to make my comment too long, but what you say is also true. The Italian Constitution also subjects the government to external boundaries, so even voting a government into power will not mean it can deliver on extreme promises.
And the country is dotted by more than 100 US military bases. Just as a reminder of where our loyalties must lie.
It’s worth considering the role of civil law and the unitary state here as well. Italian governments can’t change things quickly, because government agencies don’t have the wide discretion to do their own rule-making as one sees in the common law countries. Where a US government agency can write its own regulations, Italian regulations are literally laws passed by the legislature – even minor-seeming things like the daily schedules of public employees. Local arms of ministries rarely have budget or staffing autonomy, and many still use cash accounting systems! This gives a major role to administrative lawyers in the day-to-day running of the country and limits the potential for change from a particular constellation of parties.
If the election was a rejection of “globalization,” doesn’t that also mean the EU? Why is there no danger of leaving the Euro (granted, as we’ve seen here, that would be quite difficult)? Both the big winners have been historically hostile to it. Couldn’t 5 Star and the Lega, together, have enough votes for a government? I can see that they wouldn’t get along, but it’s a way to re-unify the country, or at least the electoral map.
Footnote: that picture led to Civil War in the United States. Maybe Italians are used to it, but I’d be really nervous about that split.
Forty years of much below replacement birth rates explain Italy’s malaise. A relatively young, energetic and enthusiastic population has increasingly been replaced by a lethargic, cynical and unenthusiastic population. There was a time when the world thought the Italians and the Irish were put on earth to populate the world. How times have changed. Japan and Germany have similar problems but have been managing them better so far. I am now at an age where I have completed most phases of life’s journey.
The article does sound ” lethargic, cynical and unenthusiastic.” That isn’t a criticism; maybe that’s the appropriate response. There’s certainly a message that nothing much will change.
A distinction that doesn’t change the agument as a whole, but:
“The “left” alliance was made up of the social-democratic PD (Renzi’s party), Liberi e Uguali (including the outgoing president of the Chamber of Deputies, Boldrini, and the president of the Senate, Grasso), as well as Europa, a party created by the ex-Radical Emma Bonino”
Liberi e Uguali (that I voted) wasn’t part of Renzi’s coalition, it ran indipendently because it is a group of leftish politicians dissatisfied with Renzi, who was seen as too centrist.
LU got, I think, around 4% of the vote, so on the whole is a bit irrelevant.
Also, my opinion: the problem isn’t really “globalisation” but rather “austerity”, as Italy is running a primary budget surplus since the early 90s, and this is having a toll on italian economy.
Renzi (more center than left), either because of his own opinion or because he is forced by the EU, went on with austerity and in pratice promised more of the same and “responsible” government.
The “center-right” parties (who in my opinion are actually quite hard right, starting with Berlusconi who proposed a flat tax as a campaign promise) promised mostly tax cut, and had more success in northern Italy because northern Italy lives on small businesses (and also because up to a few years ago the Lega party was strongly against southern italians, bordering on racism at times, now they changed to anti-immigrant).
The M5s promised an UBI.
Both Berlusconi’s flat tax and M5s’s UBI would lead to big budget deficits, and both parties rely to a large degree on “growth” to keep debt in balance.
The most important issue is the migration issue in Italy. The murder of Pamela Mastropietro by a Nigerian drug dealer set off something that isn’t going away. I visited my family for three weeks and I was shocked at the situation. My family members are/were left-wing their entire lives. This election they all voted Lega, everyone under 50. My family’s voting patterns are by no means some empirical measuring stick, but I just wanted to share what I saw while in Veneto.
Austerity is a huge problem, especially the fiscal constraints. I simply cannot in good conscience support the EMU as its presently constructed. I think its a form of collective delusion or something. This entire thing is neoliberalism run amok.
Rather than “It can’t happen here”, the phrase of our time should be “It’s happening everywhere.” Between legal and illegal immigration and out-sourcing, at the expense of labor in favor of capital, obscene wealth concentration, the increasing ineffectiveness of democratic governance to mitigate the excesses of capital and so on, can “morbid symptoms” be far behind?
Eight years ago Robert Reich imagined the following possible development here in the U.S.:
For the moment, given the lack of working class cohesion within countries with the prospect of an international working class movement not on the horizon, a more draconian nation state may be the last bastion of the developed world’s working class.
The changes Reich describes would involve violence, probably a full-scale civil war. What did he say about them? I take it that’s a book, and the quote describes his nightmare scenario.
Large parts of it follow directly from the anti-corporate globalization movement. It’s arguably a left-wing program. (At present, the Left, and the Green Party, favor immigrants, essentially on humanitarian grounds. But that isn’t an inherently Left position – as Yves keeps saying, open borders are a cheap labor policy.)
Yes, a cheap labor policy. And promoted by dem elites because profits, nothing to do with humanitarian… that’s just the cover story.
Yes, the migration issue is a real firecracker in my experience as well. I lived for three years in a traditionally ‘red’ city in the north, and I was surprised at the openly racist and anti-immigrant opinions expressed by people who were nominally ‘leftists’.
As a one-time immigrant to Italy myself (though a white American who looks Italian enough and speaks the language OK), I was shocked at how intricately hostile the migration bureaucracy is: the system is extremely complicated (especially if you are trying to get something like a family reunification visa) and very opaque for people who do not speak Italian or have at least one foot in Italian culture already. It takes forever to get your papers in order, and you’re constantly anxious that you’ve missed some crucial series of stamps and documents that will ensure your status is legal. Beyond some token programs (e.g. watching boring videos at the local Prefettura on your rights and obligations as an Italian resident), I didn’t see a lot of resources to help the newcomer assimilate.
This may be a feature rather than a bug, as I get the sense that, both within the public administration and among a majority of Italians more generally, they would rather that most immigrants didn’t assimilate but just went away. I don’t think most Italians have accepted the fact that 10-15% of Italy is going to be African, South Asian, and Chinese for the forseeable future.
This would be a big deal without the ravages of neoliberalism, of course, but as readers know it’s much easier to hide behind xenophobia when the native population already feels under threat. (It’s pathetic that a Universal Basic Income of €600-800 per month would be more than a lot of working people in the south earn from full-time jobs.)
Italy is one of the few EU countries with no minimum wage at all (Austria, and the Scandinavian countries are the others I think). Some claim instituting one will cause whatever low wage jobs remain in the South to evaporate but I reckon it’s just helped keep the South poor. The lack of an EU-wide minimum wage just feeds a race to the bottom on many wages— one very much planned I assume.
Immigration/refugee flow into Italy is, obviously, enormously complicated, both politically and culturally. Much of the opposition to the uncontrolled nature of immigration into Italy will be held by people who wouldn’t self-identify as racist at all. But of course they share that political ground with those who do, which neoliberals like the PD can and do cynically exploit by conflation.
I was talking to a very respectable woman in a small town in Tuscany and asked her why she moved there from Bologna, which is a city I have an affection for, and she immediately replied “I neri”, the blacks. I was taken aback by the baldness of it. On the other hand, you’ll see groups young people hanging out amicably with faces of all colors— the ones who grow up and go through school together share a common culture. Assimilation happens relatively quickly over generational timescales but an uncontrolled flow of adult immigrants who know little about Italian language or culture can place enormous stresses on communities.
I used to buy La Repubblica daily when there, they are graphically really nice and cover arts, music, food and cultural stuff and hard news very well but there’s a neoliberal political bias too. I’ve found Il Fatto Quotidiano better for politics.
The belief that, because more urban young adults are happy multiculturalists, everyone will be one day, is a bit like believing that because more fourteen year olds are vegetarian, everyone will be one day. Or because one year olds wear diapers, everyone will wear diapers one day.
All salient points.
Here’s the thing: Italians will not accept 10-15% or more of the population being non-Italian, especially non-Europeans. You’d literally end up with serious civil unrest and another March on Rome if demographics were seriously shifted in such a direction. The average Italian, at least in Veneto, simply isn’t interested in multiculturalism. It’s a non-starter.
I think that we may be missing something and that is this. For those of us that are from Anglo-Saxon nations, it is typical to have only two real political parties. Oh there may be a third that may even amalgamate with one of the two parties but in the end it comes down to two choices for most voters. And we tend to stick by them no matter how many times they sell us out or ignore our interests.
From my perch, it may be that Italy is mixing it all up, especially with the rise of the Five-Star party. We are not accustomed to the idea of governments that have to be formed from smaller parties none of which have the numbers in their own right. The idea seems alien to us and even Germany is now finding itself having to do the same. It may be that this will become the new norm for most nations, including the US, UK, and other such countries. I only hope that when it happens that it is a matter of “Buckle up!’ and not a matter of “Brace! Brace! Brace!”
Yes, that’s what is happening. It’s happening here, too, in a subtler way: in polls “affiliation” with the duopoly parties (that is, the percentage of people who will admit to supporting one or the other) has plummeted, for reasons documented every day on this site. Loyalty to the “major” parties hovers around, or below, 30%, so not a major party; “independents” (everybody else) are over 40%, a very solid plurality. Pluralities are what win elections in the US. (Bill Clinton: 42%.)
So far, voting behavior does not reflect that. If we could vote for “none of the above,” that might score really high, but we can’t. So far, people are still voting based on habit and preconception – or not voting. Americans treat politics a lot like a football game, with some reason, since it doesn’t affect policy, at least on the national level. At what point the “independents” start voting accordingly, I don’t know; but in Oregon, there is a party by that name, which qualifies as a major party. It’s a popular idea.
We do not have a parliamentary system, like most of the world, so multi-party politics would be very awkward without some institutional changes, starting with an alternative to plurality voting. We’d wind up with presidents with maybe 30% of the vote, or elected by Congress (the OLD Congress, I believe, not even the new one.) Of course, that would be a move toward a parliamentary system; it would certainly re-empower Congress. That, or torches and pitchforks after the next financial collapse, presently being engineered.
Could be interesting times.
I have some quibbles, which mainly have to do with the problems of portraying the Italian right. And there are definite problems with the Italian right besides Berlusconi, who had a Contract with Italians for a while. It’s his habit to channel American politicians. This time it was Newt Gingrich. Berlù also used to channel W.
Casapound isn’t a bunch of right-y clubs that engage in Civil War reenactments. Casapound, and the Pound is Ezra, or as Wikipedia puts it:
“The name, inspired by the poet Ezra Pound, in particular, refers to his Cantos against usury, criticisms of the economic positions of both capitalism and Marxism, and his membership of the Italian Social Republic. It also gives particular attention to the Manifesto of Verona, the Labour Charter of 1927 and social legislation of fascism. There has been collaboration with the Identitarian movement which propagates a “White, Christian Europe”.”
You can see why many Italians would have a problem with resurrecting old Ezra and the Italian Social Republic, which was particularly good at massacring centrist and leftist Italians.
Also, and back to Newt Gingrich, Matteo Salvini endorsed Trump. Much of Salvini’s public persona is highly Trumpian rather than Gingrichesco. So let’s not pretend that he is some ready-to-govern right-ish person like Emanuel Macron or Theresa May. He’s considerably more dubious than the dubious Marcon.
And, yes, Emma Bonino is remarkable for still getting votes. She has been fairly consistent, but there is no U.S. politician who is comparable. [And, finally, Rosy Bindi, her center-leftist counterpart, has retired.]
The problem with the interpretation of Italian elections is that the U.S. media think of Italy as fundamentally unstable. It isn’t. The “curse” of Italy may be too much cultural continuity. You walk into a museum of classical art and all of the statues look like the men and women at the front desk and the museum guards. So much of the novel Il Gattopardo is a meditation on “too much” cultural continuity.
Further, the U.S. media love to talk about the 70 or so or 27 or so Italian governments: Yet anytime a legislature is dissolved, it is a new government. This means that the U S of A gets a new government every two years–just like those darned Italians!
You’re right that the author was inaccurate about Casa Pound, they are self-declared fascists and nostalgic of the repubblichini experience, nevertheless, from my Milan point of observation, which is the same of the author I guess ( and bare in mind that I can have have a particular sensibility about the issue as I’m the nephew of a partisan ) the game of the fascist threat described in article appeared pretty blatant to my eyes. As for Bonino, the neolib for all the seasons, what is remarkable is that she took votes with a list called “More Europe”, which was another way of saying ” more austerity”. I must admit that she was honest enough to put her baleful promises in the party program.
That’s a fair assessment. “More Europe” in Italy is a non-starter at this point. I’d prefer Salvini as PM over Di Maio at this point.
In terms of Casa Pound, they do provide services to the poor, some housing, etc. Other than that, they come across as fascist LARPers.
I don’t want to speak for Enrico, but my impression is that some of these quibbles are with positions he is not taking.
When Enrico speaks of Casa Pound’s nostalgia for the historical Right, he presumably means the historical Right in Italy, meaning fascism Italian style. This can hardly be construed as a claim that “Casa Pound [is] a bunch of right-y clubs that engage in Civil War reenactments.” There is a difference between saying that “Casa Pound is not currently a threat to the stability of Italy” and “Casa Pound is a benign force for good,” just as there is a difference between saying that “the threat of jihadi terrorism is sometimes exaggerated” and “al-Zarqawi was a constructive leader.”
Similarly, when you say “let’s not pretend that [Salvini] is some ready-to-govern rightish person like Emanuel Macron or Theresa May,” I’m confused as to where you thought Enrico was saying that. I believe he is saying that in parts of the center-north, Salvini’s appeal partly came from (some voters) hoping that he might “do something” for the economy, but that’s not the same statement.
I’ve been searching the English language internets about a well researched analysis about the Italian election results, and have only found something like this here. So thanks. My Italian is not good enough to make it worth accessing the Italian media on this.
One thing about the analysis. The right wing coalition (I don’t like calling them the center-right because they are not the same as the previous DC dominated coalition, which really was center-right) did well in the north but they have always done well in the north. The left of center coalition stayed above water in the traditional left wing strongholds. Geographically, the big difference is the near sweep of M*5 of the South, which historically has voted with the right. Pretty much the left lost to the right in the north and center, due probably to the unpopular globalist center-left government, in a “normal” election, which would normally be a curb stomp for the right but then M*5 took their southern strongholds away from them.
Looking at the charts at the bottom of the map, it seems that when M*5 emerged, it cannibalized support from Forza Italia. At 14% of the vote, Forza had a bad election result, masked by the success of its coalition, which now for the first time is dominated by another party. There was drop in PDS etc. support in this election of just over 10%, split probably between M*5 and the Lega. The dog that did not bark is the lack of success for the traditional, or hard, left. Maybe potential voters for them were giving M*5 a chance. But in terms of appeal, though not personnel or program, M*5 seems to be the heir of Forza, or at least the celebrity focused, non-ideological part as opposed to the more traditional right-wing part.
Mark Blyth and David Kertzer discussing Italian politics. Pretty good segment.
This article makes the point the election will not move Italy out of the euro. And Brexit will discourage Italian leavers.
But there is great frustration, and the wave out of Africa has not stopped. Austerity will not stop either. TINA.
But it is a first step. Next will be Spain, populist party is not, and France is about to get lots of austerity as macron gets with the program with great gusto.
Brexit doesn’t matter, the latins do. And France is the Latin kingpin, where it goes the others follow.
At some point the Latin anti austerities will get together, either forcing Germany and the north out, or splitting off to form a far more compatible southern euro, FISP.
> All of this may serve to illustrate the pathetic level reached in coverage of our recent election
It all seems familiar, like.
I wonder what Italians think about the globalization of cuisine, especially given that Italy is the birthplace of the Slow Food movement.