Europe’s vote and Italy’s right-wing bloc

Flat tax, privileges to rich regions, restrictions on migrants, emphasis on “security”. This is Matteo Salvini’s agenda for the Italian government in the aftermath of the European elections. The ‘Lega’ (League), the party he leads, now running the country in coalition with the Five Star Movement, has won big on May 26 obtaining 34.3% of the votes; five years ago the Lega had 6.2%, and in last year’s political vote it reached 17%. With Berlusconi’s Forza Italia at 8.8% and the post-fascists of ‘Brothers of Italy’ at 6.5%, the right-wing bloc in Italy has half of the votes.

The Five Star Movement collapsed to 17.1%, losing half of the votes compared to the political elections of 2018 and is down compared to the 21.2% of the European elections of 2014. The Democratic Party (PD) has reached 22.7%, a modest recovery after the fall to 18.7% in 2018, against the 40.8% of the European elections five years ago, at the beginning of the short-lived era of Matteo Renzi.

In absolute terms, with voters falling from 73% in 2018 to 56% last Sunday, the shifts are more contained. The right-wing bloc has received 13 million votes against 12 million in 2018, with the Lega increasing from 5.7 to 9.1 million votes, absorbing voters from Forza Italia, while ‘Brothers of Italy’ increased their absolute votes. The Democratic Party has kept its 6 million votes. The Five Stars have lost half of the votes obtained last year, with voters choosing the Lega or abstention.

Consolidated right-wing reality

Two facts now dominate Italian politics in the European context. The first is the consolidation of a right-wing bloc under the leadership of Matteo Salvini. This is a real social bloc rooted in the combination of ‘fear and poverty’, the mix that was already visible in the 2018 elections: the fear of losing ground, identity and future, and the impoverishment that has affected 90% of Italians.

Italy’s right-wing bloc has found in Salvini a leader capable of dominating the political discourse, occupying the media, fueling racism, building a real political hegemony both within the center-right coalition, that he has managed to keep intact, and within the government with the Five Stars Movement who, concerned about staying in power a few more months, will be unable to break the alliance with Salvini and choose another route.

In terms of policies, the right-wing bloc shapes the ‘lib-pop’ agenda of the current government, a mix of liberalism – flat tax, deregulation, tax amnesties – and populism in social policies – easier retirement terms and a start for the ‘citizenship income’ – an agenda that finds approval well beyond the core supporters of the right, among business and among many ‘losers’ in the peripheral areas of the country.

What about the European picture? Europe’s vote has shown the strength of the right-wing, nationalist and populist vote, but we are very far from the consolidation of a right-wing bloc on a European scale, capable of affecting EU policies. The right-wing bloc rules Italy, Poland and Hungary; it came out first in the election results in France with Marine Le Pen and in the United Kingdom with the Brexit Party, but has no impact on the balance of power and on the government of such countries.