Parliamentary Elections in Italy: On the Verge of a Stalemate
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On March 5, 2018, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted an expert discussion on the results of the parliamentary elections in Italy, attended by Giovanni Savino, Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences, RANEPA, and Nathalie Tocci, Special Adviser to EU HRVP Federica Mogherini, Director of the Institute for International Relations (IAI) (via videolink).

The Italian elections have once again demonstrated the growing influence of anti-systemic forces in the Western world: the frustrated voter supports the populists, not thinking too much about whether their pre-election promises can be realized. Although the center-right coalition received the largest number of votes, various options of forming the cabinet are possible. But, in any case, the traditional parties will have to take into account the views of their partners who claim to oppose the system – such are the conclusions of participants in the expert discussion, titled “Elections in Italy: How Europe Is Changing,” held by the Valdai Discussion Club on March 5.

According to Nathalie Tocci, Special Adviser to EU HRVP Federica Mogherini, the elections did not bring any surprises: Lega Nord and the Five Star Movement (M5S) achieved fairly high results, as expected, but no party accumulated the number of votes needed to form a government. She did not rule out that the M5S could try to create a coalition with any other party, even though it had previously rejected this possibility. However, its potential partners, both the center-right and the Democratic Party, are unlikely to agree on this. “Since the weakest party in the coalition does not receive almost anything, no one wants to be second after the populists,” she noted.

According to Professor Savino, the elections became a historic event and marked several important changes. “On the one hand, Lega Nord is significantly strengthened due to absorbing former electorate of the Forza Italia party, on the other – it failed to show itself as a national party. No one expected that performance of the Democrats would be so bad: 23% against the expected 26-28%. All parties, except the M5S, show obvious failures in the conduct of political communication, and, as a result, the M5S got parts of the electorate from the left and from the right. As to the possible coalition between Lega Nord and M5S, the expert agreed with Tocci, and added that any government would experience difficulties with the parliament in the current situation. In general, Italy continues to become increasingly weak, and irritation accumulates in society, so that the crisis will only worsen, he stressed.

Immigration was one of the key topics of the recent elections, and both the M5S and Lega Nord managed to capitalize on that. Experts drew attention to the fact that neither party offers any solutions to this problem, especially considering that migration policy is a matter of the entire European Union. According to Nathalie Tocci, Italy is a maritime country and cannot build a “wall” to protect itself from illegal migration. In turn, Savino recalled that the problem of migrants from Africa fades in the face of emigration from Italy – 6 million Italian citizens live abroad. “In the conditions of the economic crisis, rhetoric is directed against the weakest, but it does not solve the problem,” he stressed.

Foreign policy was another topic discussed during the event. According to experts, bilateral relations between Russia and Italy are invariably at a high level, but the European Union’s policy towards Moscow is determined in Brussels, not in Rome. “Even if the M5S and Lega Nord, which are more favorable to Russia than other parties, will be able to form a coalition, a change in Rome’s policy is unlikely, since such a coalition will not get support of the European Union,” Tocci said. “Such coalition government can create conditions for excluding Italy from the common game in Greater Europe.”

There will be no changes on the Russia-NATO track either. According to Savino, Italy will follow the general course of the bloc, as all other member states do. He recalled that Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had once been very critical toward NATO, but he has significantly moderated his position over the three years of premiership.

At the end of the discussion, Nathalie Tocci said that new elections should not be expected in the near future, because under the current legislation their result will be the same. The most likely prospects are a coalition or a government of the right-wing minority, but at the moment one can only keep an eye on the events.

The first session of the new parliament will be held on March 23, after which the President of the Italian Republic will begin consultations on the formation of the cabinet.