Explaining the EP election results: Italy

Matteo Renzi triumphs in Italy beyond all expectations

ECFR Alumni · Head, ECFR Rome Office

Matteo Renzi triumphs in Italy beyond all expectations

 

Turnout

For Italy this election had poor turnout with just 58% voting, but still one of the highest in Europe.

The Campaign

The political campaign has been mainly focused on internal issues rather than on foreign affairs. Still, it’s fair to say that this time Italian politicians have focused a bit more on Europe than in the past. The proposal of a referendum on the Euro by the leader of the M5S Beppe Grillo, the Northern League 'no Euro tour' and criticism of immigration policies in the wave of the Italian coasts of Lampedusa, and – in general – criticism from both right and left sides to the status quo in which the EU, have obliged candidates to say openly the kind of Europe they envision.

Winners and Losers

This is Matteo Renzi's triumph. This was a referendum on his leadership, and the result is a much needed legitimation. Even more, this is the election that sees the Italian Democratic Party (PD) (that recently joined the PSE) leading the progressive coalition in Europe.

In fact, the numbers in Italy are almost unthinkable and beyond anyone’s most optimistic expectations. Before yesterday, Veltroni's Democratic Party’s win at 33% had been the highest in its history. Renzi’s PD got almost 41% of the vote. And he won everywhere: from North to South of the country, and huge margins of victory in his Florence and centre. In fact, the PD received 3 millions votes more than the most recent national elections.

In contrast Grillo’s independent 5 Star Movement (M5S) is the loser. It looks like much ado about nothing. M5S came in at 21.5%, losing about 2,5 million votes. Grillo had expected his party to come in first at the polls.

Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (member of the PPE) obtained 16% whereas its former ally the New Centre Right (also PPE) just made it to the EP with a 4% (a percentage that weakens them in the government coalition with Renzi).

The other parties who did a bit better than expected are the Northern League and the Tsipras List. The former can be grateful to its new leader, Matteo Salvini, for bringing the NO Euro party (a probable Le Pen ally) to an unexpected 6% result. And the Tsipras list came in just over 4%.

These elections also see the political death of Mario Monti's Scelta Civica, renamed for the EP elections, Scelta europea that was supporting ALDE. It got a miserable 0.7%. Votes from abroad have yet to be counted, but they should not change much.

Upshot

The Italian electoral results have an impact both at the national and the European level. These elections have been considered by many not much as a referendum on Europe, but as a referendum on PM Renzi, since this is the first time that Matteo Renzi underwent the voters' scrutiny. He was not a member of the Parliament and it was felt that his premiership was lacking of legitimacy, even if of course he won the confidence vote in the Parliament. He passed the referendum brilliantly.

In addition, these elections have also been a stress test for the ruling coalition, the Democratic Party and the New Centre Right. Now it’s clear that the DP can claim powerful leadership.

At the European level, these results also make Renzi is the strongest progressive leader. With the miserable results (especially the Socialists in France) of other PSE members in Europe, he is realizing his dream to become the new Tony Blair. His leverage in Europe will be high. Hollande’s and Cameron’s poor showing give Renzi a strong hand to negotiate more with Merkel, and he can and probably will ask for an Italian high representation in the European institutions (especially with a EPP President of the Commission).

Renzi’s amazing triumph has given him a strong mandate and a huge burden of responsibility – both in Italy and in the most eurosceptic Europe ever.

 

Read the views from the other European capitals here

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Author

ECFR Alumni · Head, ECFR Rome Office