“Russia has already won them”


Leader of the Five-Star Movement Luigi Li Maio. Credits: Link Campus University

In less than two weeks, Italy will head to the polls to elect members of the Chamber of Deputies in the campaign which is described as the most important one in Europe this year.

The three main rivals are the centre-right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the centre-left with Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party and the Five-Star Movement led by Luigi Di Maio.

Europe Insight talked to Piero Schiavazzi, professor at Link Campus University and columnist for the Huffington Post and the Limes, on the intrigue, electoral balance, Europe and Russia in the first of a series of articles and interviews on the Italian parliamentary elections.

The parliamentary elections in Italy are the most important in Europe this year, but what role does the issue of Europe play in the campaign?

These are the most important elections in Europe, no doubt. But they are not elections that have Europe as their focus and main target, but rather the Mediterranean. The issue of migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East, which the European Union has left Italy and Greece to manage alone, is becoming increasingly central in the debate. The choice is not between East and West, between those who want more or less Europe, but between North and South, between those who promise to send migrants home and those who accept at least part of them.

The Forza Italia party with Silvio Berlusconi at the helm is pro-European but its allies are Eurosceptic populists from Lega Nord. Do you think an alliance of so different parties can be stable and effective?

The Italian Right and Left are both chronically unstable, since the beginning of the Second Republic: divided between moderates and populists (Right) and between reformists and maximalists (Left). Even the 5-Star Movement is no exception to this Italian rule, being itself divided between the two souls “of government” and “of protest”, or I would say, “of palace” and “of square”, personified respectively by Luigi Di Maio and Alessandro Di Battista, the two most representative and charismatic protagonists of the Movement founded by Beppe Grillo. Therefore, it is not unthinkable, indeed it is possible to imagine a post-electoral alliance between the moderates of the two camps, Forza Italia and the Democratic Party, replacing the traditional division between conservatives and progressives with a new form of bipolar system, between moderates and populists, in line with the current trend in European history. The problem, however, is that even this “secret” alliance between Matteo Renzi and Silvio Belusconi, at the moment, does not have the numbers to govern.

Marine Le Pen of the National Front of France said in a recent interview that Lega Nord and the M5s could make an alliance after the elections. But given the current difference between the two parties’ positions on Europe, could it actually happen?

No, it could not realistically happen. Some aspects of their programs may coincide, but the souls of the two parties are too different. Both the 5-Star Movement and Lega Nord are aware of this. Yet, both of them have an interest, at the same time, to let everyone believe it in deterrence against the possibility, which is instead realistic, of an alliance between Forza Italia and the Democratic Party. An alliance where the Atlantic and western orientation would prevail again, braking and slowing the rapprochement with Russia.

I read one article which says that the key distinction of these elections is that the only thing opposition parties want is to scrap reforms implemented by the Democrat-led government. In your view, is it a reasonable impression?

Officially, they are bound to say it, but in fact, unofficially, they are grateful to those who preceded them (not only the Democratic Party but also the technical government of Mario Monti, 2011-13) and did all the “dirty work”: increasing the retirement age and liberalising the labour market with more but also more precarious jobs.

Recent elections across Europe have seen a growing attention to social media as a campaign tool. What is the case of Italy in this regard? How important are social networks like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram in national elections? 

In this regard, there is a phenomenon that affects the evolution of the political system. The so-called Second Republic in Italy, born in 1993-94 following the crisis of the twentieth-century mass parties (overwhelmed by scandals, the Christian Democrats, or by the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Communist Party), saw the advent of Silvio Berlusconi and his “television” party, I mean supported by the media power of his TV network. Now, due to transition from the era of television to that of the Internet and social media, the political landscape is consequently changing, with the birth of a “web party”, like the 5-Star Movement, which develops its program as well as structure on the web.

For this reason, we could conclude that, in terms of structural and functional analysis, we are already entering the Third Republic.

What in your view is the main intrigue (or question) of the elections?

What makes these elections intriguing is a cocktail of certainties and uncertainties, with the final result of a totally new geopolitical flavour. To date, in fact, there is absolutely no certainty about the future majority, with three sides at 30 percent each: Right, Left and the 5-Star Movement. But it is equally certain that there will be in any case a pro-Russia majority, I mean in favour of removing the economic sanctions, because if we add together the votes of Forza Italia, Lega Nord and the 5-Star Movement, we get up to 60 percent. So even if we do not know who will win the elections, we can say that Russia has already won them. And at the moment it is the only certainty.

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