The Italian election will pit the centre-left coalition, led by incumbent Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni’s Democratic Party, against an alliance of right and centre-right parties led by the controversial former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his Forza Italia party. However, the rise of the protest-oriented Five Star Movement has led to anti-establishment views clashing with the political mainstream. This election has been notable for the level of Eurosceptic sentiment.
Many of the main parties are offering some degree of reform regarding Europe. The right-wing Northern League have promised immigration reform and a referendum on Italy’s membership of the Euro. Forza Italia have suggested that they would be willing to ignore certain EU rules concerning state intervention in the troubled Italian banking sector, and even the traditionally pro-Europe Democratic Party have criticized the EU’s focus on austerity.
Italy withdrawing from the eurozone would potentially spell the end of the currency union – but worry not, the very referendum promised by the Northern League would require substantial changes to the Italian constitution. Nevertheless, the fact that the very role of the EU is up for debate in Italy, one of the founding nations of the European Coal and Steel Community, goes some way to underline how important this election could be for the entire bloc. It would be hyperbolic to suggest that a right-wing victory in this election would trigger some form of cataclysm for the EU, but it is accurate to assert that the future of the EU will be up for debate in the coming days of the campaign.
The center-left seems poised to lose its place in government, but who will succeed them is unclear. Berlusconi has gone to great lengths to portray his party as a safe pair of hands against the insurgent Five Star Movement, who have been unable to convert much of their support amongst the Italian youth into success on the local level. If the Democratic Party are to lose their place in government, then the important question becomes whether the center-right coalition of Berlusconi will win enough seats to have a parliamentary majority. Recent polls have placed the center-right in the region of 38% support, with 40% considered to be the minimum amount needed to govern alone.
Berlusconi cannot stand for public office, due to a ban that expires in 2019, although his influence on the right will continue.