Italian Politics Adesso!

By Katia Taylor, NYU Florence student

When I first left to study abroad in Italy, it occurred to me that, despite committing to live in the country for several months, I knew nothing about Italian politics. I didn’t know the Italian prime minister’s name. I didn’t know how active Italy participated in the EU. I didn’t know how the Italian political system functioned, what the parties were like, or what issues were pressing Italian politicians today. This is why I looked forward to “Italian Politics Adesso!”, an event hosted by La Pietra Dialogues to give students a general overview of Italy’s contemporary political landscape.

On Monday, September 25, Alessandro Chiaramonte, professor of Political Science at the University of Florence, and Roberto D’Alimonte, Director of the Italian Center for Electoral Studies (CISE), came to present an introduction of Italian politics and discuss Italy’s upcoming general election. Knowing that a majority of the students in the audience weren’t familiar with the country’s political situation, the two experts started by delving into the country’s historical background.

In the 1990s, the country’s political system developed a dynamic much like that of the United States, in which the left and the right are pitted against each other.  Instead of a two-party system, however, Italy had a two-coalition system, where each side consisted of a coalition that contained multiple parties.

A celebrity businessman named Silvio Berlusconi emerged as a prominent political figure during this era, serving as Prime Minister of Italy from 2008 to 2011. Italians either love or hate him. D’Alimonte called him “flamboyant,” with a brash personality. In 2011, he was forced to resign after an underage love scandal was brought to light.

Further political tension began developing in 2013, when the two coalition system was challenged by the emergence of a new populist party called the “Movimento 5 Stelle,” or, in English, the “5 Star Movement.”

According to Chiaramonte, the 2013 election was the “third most volatile election in the western hemisphere since 1935.” One out of every two party members switched parties. And in the end, the Democratic Party won with Italy’s youngest prime minister since its unification: Matteo Renzi, otherwise known as “il rottamatore,” or the “demolition man” in English.

Renzi’s main goal was to modernize Italy’s constitution. He wanted to change how the president was elected, and restructure the chambers of government. However, in two years, his popularity dropped dramatically because he didn’t focus on Italy’s biggest issues: the slow pace of the justice system, the culture of political perks, open cheating in the government, tax evasion, and the fact that the youth unemployment rate is at forty percent. As a result, his mission to reform Italy’s political system failed in a referendum, and it was a major defeat for the Democrats.

In either March or April of 2018 a general election will be held for the country’s parliament (Italy doesn’t have this date set in its constitution), whose representatives will serve for five-year terms. Several parties will be competing, including the 5 Star Movement, the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party), Forza Italia, Lega Nord, Fratelli d’Italia, MDP (Movement for Democrats and Progressives), Sinistra Italiana and Alleanza Popolare. Below is a table of each of their characteristics, color coded according to which political coalition they belong to:

 

Political Parties in the 2018 General Italian Election:

 

KEY OF THE COALITIONS:

Purple = Independent party outside of any coalition

Green = Left wing coalition

Orange = Right wing coalition

 

Which of these parties will lead Italy? That is hard to say. Either way, the parties will need to form coalitions with each other in order to command a parliamentary majority. This means over 50% of the seats need to belong to one coalition for parliament to effectively pass laws. Right now, though, it seems more likely that the parliament will be fragmented, and decision-making will be incredibly difficult.

The 5 Star Movement is expected to poll higher than the rest of the parties at 29%, but that still isn’t enough for the party to command a majority in parliament. “They would have to create a coalition with the smaller populist parties,” D’Alimonte explains, in order for the 5 Star Movement to achieve any of their goals.

The right coalition (color-coded in orange) will take up 34% of parliament at best. This does not bode well for their alliance. Even if it did, the right coalition parties do not share the same viewpoints, which could cause problems in the future. For example, Forza Italia is a member of the European People’s Party, while Lega Nord is completely anti-European integration.

“Nobody will win in 2018,” states D’Alimonte. This will all lead to a fragmented parliament, which is the last thing Italy needs right now. After Greece, Italy has the largest national debt in Europe at 2 trillion 200 billion euros. Because of that, Italy cannot run up deficits, and the unemployment rate is rising every year. The statistics show that the trend will not end anytime soon – the GDP’s annual growth rate has been declining since 1960.

“There is not a single party that will change this situation,” remarks D’Alimonte. “It takes investment and innovation to lift this country up.” He does mention that Italy has great potential for economic growth, by capitalizing on food, fashion, robotics, cars, tourism and bio-technology. “They’re all missed opportunities,” he states, disappointedly.

Learning about the parties and Italy’s main political concerns made me realize how strained the Italian government is now, not to mention where it will be in a year. I’m anxious for the results of the 2018 election. Will the Italian parliament reflect the fragmented beliefs of the Italian people? Will Italy ever be economically stable? Will a TV personality again prevail as prime minister, just as a TV personality became President of the United States? I know that these are the questions floating inside the mind of every Italian voter. They are questions that should also matter to us, as students, and as visitors in this beautiful country that has so much potential.

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