Italy: a vote in the spirit of the times?

It was a vote of protest: in Italy's parliamentary elections one in two voters cast their ballot for parties that challenge the current political system - including populist and far-right groups. One week later journalists are still trying to explain the results and draw conclusions for the future.

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Times of Malta (MT) /

Lega the only option

The EU bears partial responsibility for the rise of the far right in Italy, the Times of Malta comments:

“The League did particularly well in the north of Italy where a large number of migrants have settled. The fact that 600,000 irregular migrants entered Italy in the last three years cannot be overlooked, nor can the EU’s failure - due to opposition from some Eastern European Member States - to help Italy with its migration crisis through burden sharing. Many Italians therefore felt they had no option but to vote for the anti-immigrant League, something which cannot be ignored in the corridors of Brussels.”

Novoye Vremya (UA) /

Darkness falling over Europe

The series of defeats for Europe's major traditional parties adds up to a dangerous trend, Novoye Vremya writes:

“This is the new norm. The European elites must stop acting as if nothing serious was happening and pull themselves together. Otherwise I can guarantee that new Mussolinis will emerge as early as the next election period in the countries of the old world, followed by modern versions of Hitler. And the blame won't lie with the dumb voters, but with smart ministers and members of parliament who care about nothing but their sponsors from the big banks and companies. And who leave normal voters in the hands of the populists, nationalists and socialists of all stripes. Darkness is falling over Europe. And that is very, very serious.”

Aftonbladet (SE) /

Lost trust

Right-wing populism is an appeal by those who feel left behind by globalisation, writes Aftonbladet:

“When the EU was enlarged around 15 years ago we should have given certain factors a little more thought - for example the losers of globalisation. ... With the benefit of hindsight it's also clear that the EU would have a more stable foundation if it had expanded at a slower pace. ... The parties of the populist and anti-European movement are above all 'bonfires of distrust', as the University of Gothenburg put it. ... This is where all those who no longer trust society, politicians and the media gather. If we want to reverse the trend, we must start here. The media and parties must ask themselves: why don't they trust us? And they must listen carefully to the answers.”

Deutsche Welle (RO) /

The north is wrong about what makes Europe tick

EU Commissioner Frans Timmermans has described the election result in Italy as an appeal for the EU to take action. The Romanian service of German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle contradicts him:

“We, who are watching the situation from Eastern Europe, have a small advantage: since we are not among the main players in the European edifice, we see things more clearly. The Germans and the Dutch (and the French) who are leading the integration process and want a Europe modelled on the northern states see the unpredictable movements of the south as a 'deviation' from Europe, as a kind of 'desertion' that calls for immediate action. But we must also realise that the 'deviations' have become the norm. This brings us to the conclusion that the Europe of which Timmermans speaks is a minority project that must be adjusted to the reality of the situation.”

Efimerida ton Syntakton (GR) /

Evil lurking in Europe

Dimitris Christopoulos, President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) also warns that the Italian election result is more than just an anomaly. In Efimerida ton Syntakton he writes:

“At the moment a diffuse mediocrity prevails in Europe. And mediocrity is not attractive. It's not convincing and it doesn't inspire. But evil can charm people, it can appeal to them, as it has done in the past. The political scenarios on our continent are reminiscent of the Hollywood films where we know from the start that the good man will triumph in the end. But Italy's realist cinema is far more fitting in our case. In these films Italy would set a precedent. As long as Europe remains mediocre, evil will lurk here. Italy has done us the favour of saying this out loud.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Can Movimento 5 Stelle do real-world politics?

Movimento 5 Stelle is an atypical protest movement that has certain similarities with Macron's En Marche, US journalist Anne Applebaum comments in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“Both [parties] are creatures of the Internet. ... But if they are alike in having a virtual-world base, they are different in what they intend to do with it. En Marche is a pro-European movement that seeks to modernize France, raise the tone of French politics and prepare the French to live in a globalized world. The Five Star Movement’s language was from the beginning darker and more nihilistic. ... If the non-party could channel its members' real desire for reform into a clear ruling philosophy, then it might achieve a great deal. But for that, its leaders will have to turn virtual-world enthusiasms into real-world policies, and it's not clear yet that they can.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Voters not driven by ideology

Stereotyped thinking is of no help in analysing these election results, Večernji list comments, insisting that rather than getting hung up on the parties' ideologies people should

“focus on the voters' desire for change. Why try to force Movimento 5 Stelle and Lega Nord into ideological straitjackets? ... Perhaps young Europe is simply trying to overcome ideological rifts and build society on people's endeavours to satisfy their needs. The new Italy with its 'un-ideological' party M5S could be a laboratory for Europe's future. The Italians didn't vote with their hearts, but with an eye to what they'll have to eat in the era of globalisation.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Outcry of those who've been left behind

Corriere della Sera reflects on the losses suffered by the left, explaining why their policies failed:

“First of all the era of deficit financing ended. In other words the possibility of financing the welfare state through public spending in a bid to secure public support. No one in Europe does that any more, not even rich Germany. ... Secondly, the culture shock triggered by the huge waves of migration was grossly underestimated. That shock was felt in particular by leftists, in other words those who used to be the last people and now feel like the 'left behind' or even 'forgotten men', as they say today. This feeling has only been reinforced by the digital revolution which has rendered many occupations - and much knowledge - obsolete.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The gap is growing

The Italians are particularly hard hit by growing poverty and inequality, La Stampa stresses:

“In 2014 we finally emerged from the recession. ... Not just disposable income is growing, albeit slowly, but also purchasing power. ... So is everything okay? No, it's not. Because it's mainly the income of the middle and upper class that has risen, translating into growing inequality. In 2016 the income of the richest 20 percent of Italians was 6.3 times that of the poorest 20 percent. ... The data on absolute poverty is even more revealing: it doubled in 2012 and hasn't gone down since then. It's alarming because we're talking here about more than 4.7 million people living in absolute poverty.”

Le Quotidien (LU) /

EU's mistakes coming back to haunt it

The reasons for the election results are also to be found in the nature of today's EU, Le Quotidien admonishes:

“From Italy's point of view the EU stands for impoverishment and a lack of solidarity. Italy is the EU's second most indebted country. As a result it's under pressure from Brussels to cut its social spending, privatise state enterprises and refrain from trying to stimulate its economy through public spending. ... It's no surprise that the Italians now openly reject this EU, of which their country is a founding member. This development has been long in the offing and will be repeated in all other countries as long as Europe remains a symbol for everyone fighting for themselves while only the interests of a privileged few are defended.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Paradoxical fear of decline

And in Deutschlandfunk's opinion the EU needs to not just look for explanations but also find solutions:

“Merkel's border opening, globalisation, the fear of losing out, the feeling of being left on the social periphery or in the backwaters - all these factors may explain why some people are putting their faith in the populists. But what it doesn't explain is why many people whose status is less precarious than in the past are now more afraid than they used to be. Why they vilify the EU even though it has allowed them to get ahead and only it can offer them at least some protection from globalisation. It's time the search for answers to these questions took centre stage in every aspect of European politics. Otherwise Europe could end up right back where it started: in ruins.”