View from Rome: Activating the anti-Establishment

Interest in Law & Justice’s victory comes from Italy’s anti-European opposition

While last week's Polish elections caused evident and widespread reactions all over Europe’s capitals and institutions, in Italy there has been an apparent lack of political interest. 

Apparent because, although there has been a lack of a political debate on the results and their consequences for Europe and for Poland's role in Europe, strong reactions and comments have come from the opposition – Italian anti-European and anti-establishment parties, notably the North League and the Five Stars Movement.  

The North League leader, Matteo Salvini, who, according to latest polls is leading his party with 14.5 percent of citizens' support, has openly declared that after Hungary, Switzerland and Austria, Poland is the next positive lesson of good democracy that Brussels and Europe should learn from. For Salvini, the Polish elections are a clear sign of how Europe should address a whole array of issues differently, from immigration to unemployment and finance.
The Five Stars Movement leader, Beppe Grillo, whose party is now seriously catching up with the ruling Democratic Party (27.2 percent of support to the Five Stars Movement versus a 31.4 percent for the Democratic Party)  used the Polish election results to stress his anti-austerity political vision.  

In one of his blogs, this time fully dedicated to the election results of Poland and Portugal, he made a comparison between the Polish and Portuguese votes, referring to them as an earthquake in Europe, an exercise of democracy against austerity. Even if he openly recognised Poland's excellent economic performance over the last decade, he made strong criticism of Tusk (who he refers to as “Merkel's candidate”) and his liberal policies, which are seen as the main reason Poles decided to turn towards the Law and Justice party. According to Grillo, the Polish and Portuguese elections bring two conclusions: first of all, the fear for euro is one of the main causes of the rise of nationalism across Europe; secondly, Poland, thanks to the fact it is still outside the euro zone, has retained its own economic sovereignty and freedom to express democratically against austerity.

No other comment was made by political leaders from the ruling coalition or from Berlusconi's Forza Italia. If, on the occasion of Poland’s May 2015 Presidential elections Foreign Minister Gentiloni said that Poland, Spain, the Brexit and Grexit perspectives, all contribute to a general European emergency, and Prime Minister Renzi commented by saying that Polish, Greek and Spanish elections, although in different directions, were all a clear symptom of the need of changing Europe, as yet no clear position has been taken. This could be because the results of the May election came as no great surprise, or because, when it comes to Eastern Europe and its features, it looks like the main political concern is still Russia. It might seem as if there is a vacuum in Italian politics as Poland and Hungary, although under clearly different perspectives, should be scrutinised very carefully as two members states moving against EU project’s purpose and founding principles. 

Despite a lack of explicit political engagement, the Polish elections have caught a lot of attention in the Italian media, with massive coverage. There is a general concern, caused also by the demographic and political relevance of Poland in Europe, about the winning party’s position on several domestic as well as European issues, such as migration, where the Law and Justice party has expressed its appreciation for Hungary's stance on immigration, including the disputed “anti-immigration wall” they have constructed.

The main Italian daily newspapers, from Il Corriere della Sera to La Stampa and Il Sole 24 Ore, have defined the Law and Justice victory as an “inconvenience” to the European Union's enlargement. The general media debate was focused on how Poland will deal with the migration issue and how the electoral results will influence the future state of Polish relations with Russia, Germany and the US. There was a widespread concern about Polish “ambiguity”: Poland wants to be in the EU and to benefit from it, however, at the same time its future political leadership openly challenges Brussels as well as Berlin. The Polish vote, alongside Orban's stance and UK Brexit project, might then contribute to reinforce the “sovereignty front”. The Polish elections are an example of another event that can be added  to the already long list of 2015 electoral experiences that challenge the European project. 


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


ECFR Alumni · Head, ECFR Rome Office

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