Many see the success of the right in Italy as a vote against the EU. It is not that simple. Europe only played a minor role in the election campaign.
Was that an election against Europe? Last Sunday has clearly won a legal alliance in Italy, whose largest and second largest party – the post-fascist Fratelli d’Italia Giorgia Melonis as well as Matteo Salvini’s Lega – have repeatedly railed against “Brussels, Paris and Berlin” and the euro. What’s more, the Fratelli d’Italia sit in a parliamentary group with the Polish PiS and the Spanish Vox, while the Lega there is allied with the AfD, among others.
For this reason alone, the conclusion seems obvious: Yes, it was an election against Europe. But things are not that simple. The EU and the euro came namely in the election campaign the right as good as not at all. Whenever anyone spoke about Europe, it was the centre-left forces who repeatedly warned against the election of “anti-Europeans”, Italy’s threat of isolation in the Union, relegation from the “First League” alongside France and Germany in the “second division”, in which Poland and Hungary play.
This asymmetrical election campaign between right and left represents two things. Firstly, right-wing voters did not cast a decidedly anti-European vote, but rather let themselves be guided by domestic political expectations. Secondly, however, the warnings from the left about the threatening European political damage did not catch on with them.
This is not surprising in a country where sentiment towards the EU has completely turned around in the last 15 years. All opinion polls paint the same picture: Little is left of the earlier enthusiasm for Europe. Around 60 percent of citizens are of the opinion that the EU and the euro would bring the country more disadvantages than advantages. At the same time, however, up to two-thirds of those surveyed said that the country should neither leave the Union nor the common currency.
Since the euro crisis, many in Italy no longer believe the promise of prosperity of the Union, which is growing ever closer together. It would be cheap to accuse them of “falling for right-wing slogans”. Conversely, it is more likely that the right-wing slogans fall on fertile ground in Italy – fertilized by the austerity pressures, the cuts in salaries and the precariousness of the world of work, implemented in Rome often enough by governments in which the left participated.
Anyone who wants to counteract the drift to the right and EU skepticism should keep this in mind. What is needed is not enthusiastic European vows, but left-wing politics that rediscovers the social question and thus returns to the old promise of prosperity.