EU 2014: Italy

ep2014

The European Parliament elections were held in Italy on May 25, 2014. Alongside them, the first round of municipal elections in nearly half of all communes and regional elections in two regions were held.

Italy is famous in Europe for its convoluted, complicated, arcane, peculiar and often very theatrical politics – in short, a political system which may often confound general explanations of European politics. The past five years, in particular the last two or so of them, have been extremely rich in momentous and consequential events which have fundamentally changed the way Italian politics had operated since 1994. Perhaps less dramatic and rapidly than in Greece, it would certainly appear that Italy is undergoing a major political realignment whose final outcome is still very uncertain and whose evolution has continued to defied all predictions. The ongoing changes in the party system and upcoming changes to the electoral system and constitutional structure of Italy may augur the creation of a ‘Third Republic’ to replace the Second Republic (1994-?). The EP elections added to the increasingly open-ended and unpredictable nature of contemporary Italian politics: Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s governing centre-left Democratic Party (PD) won an unexpectedly massive victory at the polls.

Electoral system

Italy elected 73 MEPs to the European Parliament, one more than in the 2009 election (under the Nice apportionment rules) – but Italy had received its 73rd seat in 2011, following ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon. The Italian electoral law for the EP was adopted in 1979, for the first EP elections, making it the oldest electoral law in Italy. Under the current version of the law, members are elected by semi-open party-list proportional representation with a 4% threshold (adopted in 2009) in five multi-member constituencies: Northeast Italy (Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy – 20 MEPs), Northwest Italy (Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Emilia-Romagna – 14 MEPs), Central Italy (Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Lazio/Latium – 14 MEPs), Southern Italy (Abruzzo, Molise, Campania, Apulia, Basilicata, Calabria – 17 MEPs), Insular Italy (Sicily and Sardinia – 8 MEPs).

Unlike in France, the threshold is applied nationally rather than regionally, and the parties’ seats are then distributed to the individual constituencies based on the lists’ results therein (Hare-Niemeyer method, highest remainders). Italian voters may cast up to three preferential votes for candidates on a party list, but under a recent amendment, a voters’ preferences will be ignored if they are not distributed between candidates of different genders. Lists must therefore obtain 4% nationally to win seats, but there is an exception for linguistic minority parties (French, German and Slovenian) who may ally themselves with a national party, pooling their votes together and receiving a seat if the minority party wins over 50,000 votes nationally.

In Italy, candidates may run in more than one constituency, something which is extremely rare in other EU member-states. In 2009, for example, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the lead candidate of his party, the People of Freedom (PdL) in every constituency and was elected to the EP from every constituency. That same year, the then-leader of the Lega Nord, Umberto Bossi, was also the Lega’s top candidate in every EP constituency.

Turnout in Italian elections – at all levels – have traditionally been extremely high, especially given that voting is not mandatory. There has, however, been a very obvious downwards trend in turnout in all elections in the past decades, with turnout in national elections falling from over 90% in the 1970s and 88% in 1983-7 to historic lows of 78.1% in 2008 and 72.3% in the last election in 2013. In EP elections, although Italy remains one of the few EU countries without mandatory voting where turnout has remained over 50%, turnout has declined quasi-consistently (with the exception of an increase in 2004) from 86% in 1979 to 66.5% in 2009 and a new low of 57.2% this year.

Like everything in Italian politics, the history of EP elections since 1979 is marked by a pre-1994 and post-1994 difference, between the First Republic (1979, 1984 and 1989 EP elections) and Second Republic (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009 EP elections) elections. Under the First Republic, in line with the general tradition of that era of the partitocrazia, the EP elections did not see major differences from the results in national elections or wild swings from one election to the next. Nevertheless, the 1984 EP elections were the first and only national elections in which the Italian Communist Party (PCI) surpassed the natural governing party, the Christian Democracy (DC), due to the recent death of popular PCI leader Enrico Berlinguer (though even in that case, the differences between EP election and 1983 national elections were minor). Since 1994, EP elections have seen – in line with the political culture of the Second Republic – wilder swings and an exploded and unstable party system. The 1994 EP elections, right in the aftermath of Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in the 1994 elections, saw Berlusconi’s party win its best national result ever (30.6%). The 1999 EP elections, held during a centre-left government, saw Berlusconi’s party – in opposition – win the most votes (25.2%) and set the stage for his return to power in 2001. However, in 2004, held when Berlusconi’s three-year old government was at its lowest point in popularity, the centre-left coalition (L’Ulivo) swept the board with 31.1% against 20.9% for Berlusconi.

Background

In the 2009 EP elections, then-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi – the histrionic business magnate at the centre of Italian politics since 1994, won yet another convincing electoral victory over the left, one year after Berlusconi was elected to a third term in power (Berlusconi won the 1994, 2001 and 2008 elections and served thrice as Prime Minister, from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011). Berlusconi is a highly controversial but also highly interesting and unique political figure in contemporary Western Europe. A prominent businessman, Berlusconi made his fortune in the 1980s with Fininvest, a financial holding company which still controls a football club (AC Milan) and a powerful private media empire (Mediaset, which controls about 35% of the TV market in Italy).

In 1994, the ‘First Republic’ collapsed, opening a major void on the right of the political spectrum which was up for grabs. The First Republic a fairly stable (the heavy turnover in cabinets obscured constants in the partisan makeup of said cabinets and electoral trends) but also very corrupt fossilized political system structured around the catch-all Christian Democracy (DC) party and its minor allies (Socialists, Liberals, Republicans and Democratic Socialists) and united by the very potent threat posed by the Italian Communist Party (PCI), one of Western Europe’s strongest and most influential communist parties during the Cold War. Since 1991, the First Republic collapsed first as the Cold War ended and huge corruption scandals and investigations which revealed that the governing parties, led by the DC, were rotten to the core. The DC and Socialists scuttled themselves altogether, the PCI responded to the fall of communism by transforming itself into a modern social democratic party (the PDS), the old neo-fascist/far-right Italian Social Movement (MSI) rebranded itself as the post-fascist and moderated National Alliance (AN) under Gianfranco Fini and new parties emerged forcefully – most notably, the regionalist/separatist populist Lega Nord in northern Italy. The DC’s collapse opened up a big void on the right and centre, one which would not vote for the ex-PCI under any circumstances (thanks to decades of instinctive anti-communism), but which was left homeless by the collapse of the DC and other parties. Berlusconi, a very shrewd and talented political operator, understood the opportunity which existed (and realized the consequences that the likely left-wing victory in the 1994 elections would have on his personal business empire, built up in good part due to his ties to prominent politicians in the old system) and decided to ‘enter the field’ with a new party, Forza Italia, founded just months before the 1994 elections. In regionally-differentiated coalitions with the Lega Nord and the AN (and small centre-right remnants of the DC), Berlusconi won the 1994 elections but his government quickly collapsed due to conflicts with the Lega. In 2001, Berlusconi, who had reconstructed a right-wing coalition with the AN, Lega and the ex-DC centre-right (what is now the Union of the Centre, UDC) since his 1996 defeat, won a large victory over the left. Despite many coalition crises and his growing unpopularity, Berlusconi accomplished a rare feat – remaining Prime Minister throughout the term of Parliament (until 2006) – but was defeated by a hair in 2006. In 2008, Berlusconi roared back like the proverbial phoenix and merged his Forza Italia with Fini’s AN in a new party, The People of Freedom (PdL).

Forza Italia, especially at the outset, was much more of a marketing product than traditional party (academic literature has described it as a ‘media-mediated personality party’, ‘patrimonial party’ or a ‘business firm model party’) – hierarchical, limited membership, a heavy personalist focus on the media-savvy personality of the leader and political strategies imported from the private sector (focus groups, marketing techniques, reliance on polling). Ideologically, Berlusconi’s parties, although nowadays affiliated with the EPP, have been populist more than traditionally conservative – despite being in power regularly since 1994, Berlusconi’s anti-system and anti-establishment rhetoric (in which Berlusconi presented himself as the businessman who challenged a corrupt party system and promised to apply his ‘entrepreneurial success’ to politics) continued to prove electorally successful. While Berlusconi has used neoliberal language of low taxes and small government since 1994, in practice he has mostly sought to adapt his politics to pre-existing socioeconomic contexts and he has a deft ability to switch positions according to context and region (appealing to both anti-tax and anti-government northerners and state-dependent southerners). Despite countless corruption scandals and a fairly mediocre – at best – record while in government (indeed, he basically spent most of his last term as Prime Minister fighting his own judicial battles and staying out of jail), Berlusconi’s political survival through countless tests since 1994 has been nothing short of remarkable. Although he has been defeated in three legislative elections, two of them were unexpectedly close and the last one (1996) was largely due to the division of his original 1994 coalition. Each time, Berlusconi has made good use of his domineering media personality to shift the focus on him in every election and seize the spotlight through various carefully-staged media events or rhetorical flourishes (his 1994 ‘entrance into the field’, his constant anti-communist rhetoric, the constant use of the myth of the ‘creative entrepreneur’ fighting a vast leftist conspiracy, a ‘persecution syndrome’, his Manichean outlook of good and evil, his 2001 Contratto con gli Italiani, his 2006 and 2013 promises to abolish – and, in 2013, refund – a property tax on primary residences).

The left – with weak leadership, deep divisions between its countless parties and factions defined largely in opposition to Berlusconi and its inability to challenge Berlusconi’s control of the media campaign – failed to measure up to Berlusconi, especially in 2001 and 2008, but the left’s narrow victories in 2006 and 2013 when they should have won by a mile were also quasi-defeats. The Italian left since the 1990s has been a very complex web of alliances, parties and factions – ideologically, it runs the gamut from old-style communists (usually outside the mainstream left and irrelevant since 2008) to ex-DC moderate centrists and liberals. The main ideological groupings traditionally being social democrats (most with PCI roots and former members of the PDS/DS) and moderate centre-left Christian democrats (most with DC/PPI roots and former members of the Daisy party) – but in all cases, the participation of groups to the left (communists, socialists, ecosocialists) and right (conservatives, libertarians) of these main factions have complicated governance (notably in the days of The Olive Tree coalitions) and election strategies. Since the creation of the PD in 2007, the traditional ideological lines have remained important, but there has been a growing divide between an ‘old guard’ of the party – mostly traditionalist social democrats with centrists and younger leftist allies (Young Turks) – and a ‘modernizing’ and reformist wing – traditionally liberals and centrists, with some social democrats. The ‘old guard’, whose most famous name is former Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema, suffers from an increasingly negative image because of its association with backroom politics, underhanded political maneuvers, stale leadership and inability to successfully take on Berlusconi.

Berlusconi’s charm and political power worn off beginning in 2010. That year, Berlusconi’s parliamentary majority was severely reduced with the defection of Gianfranco Fini, the former AN leader and Berlusconi’s one-time heir apparent, and his colleagues. Berlusconi’s undoing, however, came with the worsening of Italy’s economic situation in 2011. Since the 1980s, Italy’s economy has generally been struggling largely due to weak governments unable or unwilling to reform Italy’s economy, tackle ingrained corruption or challenge established economic and political structures, but also to its lack of competitiveness (unit labour costs in Italy since the birth of the euro in 1999 have risen must faster than in other EU countries and productivity declined). In 2011, Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio was actually the second largest in the EU behind Greece (121% of GDP), although because most of Italy’s debt is domestically-owned and Italians have a high level of savings and low household debt, the impact hasn’t been as catastrophic as in Greece. However, in 2011, because of weak growth (Italy was in recession in 2008-2009 and only grew by 0.4% in 2011), budget deficits and debt levels over EU limits, the risk of ‘contagion’ and Berlusconi’s poor economic stewardship (preoccupied with his own financial and sexual scandals), Italy’s economy teetered on the cliff and was said to be on the verge of default. In November 2011, Berlusconi finally lost his majority in the Chamber of Deputies and resigned after the Parliament passed a final austerity package. Berlusconi’s own political failures since 2008 and doubts over Berlusconi’s leadership and personal behaviour were widely blamed for fueling market and EU anxieties about Italy’s precarious economic condition. Berlusconi maintains that he was forced out of office by a conspiracy led by his EU partners (indeed, EU leaders such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy had grown exasperated with him and lost faith in his abilities, and contributed to the pressure which led to his ouster). At home, after remaining popular in 2009 and 2010, Berlusconi was quickly becoming very unpopular – the PdL suffered some stunning defeats, including in Berlusconi’s Milanese heartland, in the May 2011 local elections and the government was defeated on ‘abrogative referendums’ in the summer.

The ceremonial President, Giorgio Napolitano, got the main parties – including the left and right – to agree to a technocratic (or ‘technical’) government led by Mario Monti, a former European Commissioner and a respected economist. The new government’s immediate task was to ‘save’ the Italian economy from collapse through urgent reforms. Monti immediately set to work on passing an emergency austerity package which significantly raised taxes and cut pensions. His government also undertook several other major reforms aimed at liberalizing and reforming the Italian economy. His government passed measures aimed at introducing more competition in monopolized and noncompetitive sectors (taxis, pharmacies); a pension reform which pushed the retirement age to 66 and attacked ‘special retirement plans’; a labour market reform along the lines of Denmark’s flexicurity model which reduced guarantees for employees; and got serious on targetting the very high rates of tax evasion in Italy. Monti managed to save Italy from default and he took the first steps in righting the ship before it sank. His reformist policies won him the plaudits of investors, foreign markets and his European partners and he reduced the deficit to 3% of GDP in 2012. However, Monti, while still respected by most Italians, lost in popularity because his policies contributed to increased unemployment (from 9.3% when he took office to 11.9% in February 2013 and 12.6% today) and a severe recession in 2012 and 2013 (-2.4% and -1.9% respectively).

Monti resigned in December 2012 after the PdL withdrew its support from his government, and called for elections in February 2013 after Parliament approved the 2013 budget. The 2013 election should have been a cakewalk for the centre-left coalition: Berlusconi and the PdL were both badly weakened in 2012, Berlusconi’s own uncertainty about his candidacy in 2013 (he originally announced he would not run in October, but changed his mind two months later and the Lega – which had been a powerful and influential junior ally in Berlusconi’s last government – saw its high support evaporate after the Lega’s longtime leader Umberto Bossi was implicated in damaging corruption scandals. However, the centre-left coalition’s candidate – elected in an open primary in late 2012 – was Pier Luigi Bersani, a competent administrator but a very bland, unexciting and dull campaigner. The centre-left was victorious, but with a majority of less than 1% over Berlusconi’s PdL-Lega coalition (29.5% to 29.1% in the Chamber election), whose strong performance – despite major loses from 2008 – was one of the main surprises of the election. Although Berlusconi didn’t work for everybody, his populist anti-austerity and soft Eurosceptic message allowed him to roar back with a strong result and another near-win. The other momentous event from the polls was the remarkable result won by the Five Star Movement (M5S), a radical anti-system/anti-establishment populist party led by Genoan comedian Beppe Grillo, who won 25.5% in its first election. Mario Monti’s centre-right, liberal and pro-austerity alliance (with the UDC and Fini’s FLI) did poorly (10.5%).

Beppe Grillo’s M5S (founded in 2009) is often lumped with other populist and Eurosceptic parties in Europe, but the M5S is an extremely peculiar party which is quite unlike the traditional right-wing populist party or the radical left (SYRIZA types). The movement – it refuses the pejorative ‘party’ label – was born from and remains centered on Beppe Grillo’s very popular website/blog, and the M5S places a large amount of emphasis on ‘internet direct democracy’ – it often asks its loyal activists to vote on major issues (policy, strategy, candidates, party discipline) online and the M5S’ leaders have used social media to reach out to their supporters and organize Grillo’s large public meetings. With the internet forming the M5S’ backbone and considering the importance it plays in organizing and mobilizing its dedicated online activists, the M5S has some similarities with the Pirate movement in the rest of Europe. Ideologically, the M5S is primarily a populist anti-establishment movement – a rather radical one at that. Grillo grew in popularity for his foul-mouthed tirades against Italy’s corrupt ‘parasitic’ political ‘caste’ (la casta, which enjoys famously generous benefits and conditions) and calls for the destruction of the ‘rotten’ political system and its replacement by vaguely-defined direct democracy. Grillo strongly opposes the public financing of parties (the M5S itself has refused its public funding and its parliamentarians have restituted parts of their wages to help pay off the debt or promote small businesses). Like Berlusconi, Grillo enjoys provocative statements – he said that politicians were worse than the mafia and issued a tongue-in-cheek call on terrorists to blow up Parliament – and theatrical politics – he swam across the Strait of Messina to Sicily during the campaign for the Sicilian regional elections in October 2012. Grillo was successful because, in times of hardship, his radical anti-system message resonated well: most Italians do perceive their politicians (and oftentimes rightly so) as corrupt, selfish, self-absorbed, incompetent or stale hacks and careerists.

Given the centrality of the populist rhetoric, it is hard to define the M5S ideologically. Originally, the M5S was on the left or far-left: the party’s “five stars” refer to public water, public transportation, development, connectivity (internet freedom) and the environment. The M5S supports ‘degrowth’, a radical green and anti-consumerist ideology who argue for lower production and consumption because overconsumption has caused environmental issues and social inequality. As a result, the M5S has been hostile to large infrastructure projects (the Strait of Messina bridge and the Lyon-Turin high speed rail in the Val di Susa) and strongly supportive of clean energies and public transportation. The movement has also taken more left-wing stances on same-sex marriage, internet accessibility, public services. On the other hand, Grillo himself has adopted tough stances on immigration: he opposes jus soli and in October 2013, he attacked the efforts of two M5S parliamentarians to repeal the Bossi-Fini law which criminalized illegal immigration; however, in early 2014, Grillo was defeated by his own supporters on the issue – in an online vote, M5S activists voted in favour of efforts to repeal the law (which has since been repealed with the left’s support). On economic matters, the M5S does not fit traditional ideologies: it is against monopolies and anti-tax, but also anti-austerity and generally opposed to the power of big businesses and corporations (private or public). Grillo opposes the Euro and has lamented the ‘lovely old days’ of the lira when Italy could devalue its currency by 40-50%. (you can download the M5S’ platform in English here)

Grillo is a highly controversial figure. To his critics, Grillo is an irresponsible and dangerous demagogue who runs his party with an iron-fist (to many, direct democracy is but a façade and Grillo and his éminence grise/guru Roberto Casaleggio run the show). Indeed, since the party gained prominence in the 2012 local elections, several M5S members and elected officials have been expelled from the party (after being pilloried by Grillo on his blog) for going against the party line on various issues (for example, appearing on TV shows when Grillo strictly prohibited M5S members from doing so).

Because of Italy’s notoriously horrible (former) electoral law, Bersani’s coalition won an absolute majority in the lower house – the Chamber of Deputies – by virtue of having won the most votes nationally and being entitled to a majority bonus granting the largest coalition an absolute majority. But since the Senate has such bonuses apply only regionally, Bersani’s coalition fell short of an absolute majority in the upper house – with 123 seats to Berlusconi’s 117 and Grillo’s 54. Under Italian ‘perfect bicameralism’, a government requires the confidence of both houses; but from the results, it was clear that Bersani would not be able to govern (even in coalition with Monti’s amenable centrist coalition) unless he allied himself with Berlusconi (which would defeat the left’s entire raison-d’etre since 1994) or convincing some Grillists to support him. Bersani unsuccessfully tried to convince the M5S or parts thereof to back him in a stopgap coalition committed to constitutional, electoral and political reform. Grillo and Casaleggio, neither of whom are elected, strongly opposed Bersani’s overtures and blocked the M5S from allying with Bersani.

In April 2013, when it came time for Parliament and delegates from regional councils to elect Italy’s ceremonial President, the political crisis and infighting on the left boiled over to create utter chaos. The PD unwisely allied itself with Berlusconi and the centre on a common presidential candidate, but this alliance (and the candidate – Franco Marini, an 80-year old former trade unionist and technocrat) incensed the PD’s ally to the left (Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom or SEL) and Bersani’s rival within the PD, Florence mayor Matteo Renzi. The alliance failed to elect Marini due to defections on the left. On a fourth ballot, the PD and the SEL supported Romano Prodi, a former centre-left Prime Minister and respected senior politician, but Prodi fell far short of the required votes because his candidacy was likely an underhanded ploy by Massimo D’Alema (and perhaps Renzi) to scuttle Bersani. An unprecedented last-ditch exit route was found prior to the six ballot: the left, right and centre convinced incumbent President Giorgio Napolitano, due to retire like all his predecessors before him, to run for reelection (and win) as a solution to the crisis. In return, Napolitano compelled the left and the right to form a grand coalition led by Enrico Letta, a 47-year old centrist from the PD.

Letta formed a coalition with Berlusconi’s PdL Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (SC) party, the PD and independents. Angelino Alfano, then seen as Berlusconi’s dauphin, became Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior and the PdL had four other ministers (Infrastructure and Transports; Health; Agriculture, Food and Forestry; Constitutional Reforms). The opposition was led by the fiery M5S, the Lega Nord and the SEL. Letta’s government quickly found itself undermined by both the PD and the PdL. The former was setting up for a leadership crisis after Bersani’s resignation in the wake of the presidential election chaos, and Matteo Renzi – hardly enamoured by Letta – was the favourite to win the PD’s leadership in December 2013. Berlusconi understood that he held the government hostage, and would grudgingly tolerate it as long as it served his own interest. For example, he managed to get Letta’s government to scrap the IMU, the property tax on primary residences which Berlusconi had successfully campaigned against in February. Later, in May-July, Alfano got into hot water when the wife of an exiled Kazakh political dissident was unceremoniously arrested by Italian authorities and deported to Kazakhstan. Alfano was widely suspected of having intervened in the operation (because Berlusconi is a good friend of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Italy’s main oil firm (ENI) has an 17% stake in a Kazakh oil field). Berlusconi stepped in to prevent Alfano from getting into any sort of trouble, and it worked: the PD (minus a few Renzi allies) voted against a M5S-SEL motion of no-confidence in Alfano.

Economically, Letta’s government main priority was to restore investor confidence in Italy and reorient economic and fiscal policies in a ‘pro-growth’ and ‘pro-jobs’ direction in the midst of prolonged recession and rising unemployment. The government promised to cut employers’ welfare contributions, tax breaks for energy-saving home improvements, expand a guarantee fund for small and medium enterprises and it said it would consider benefits for families and children. Once in office, the government sped up payments of €40 billion in public administration debts, approved tax incentives for employers to employ young workers and began working on a privatization program. For some, Letta’s government has been insufficiently bold in tackling vested interests and promoting competition, largely because both the PdL and PD are tied to special interests and have little interest in disturbing that.

In the meantime, attention turned to Berlusconi’s judicial travails. Il cavaliere‘s innumerable run-ins with the law is nothing new; the business magnate has been indicted on charges of tax fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, bribery, false accounting, violation of antitrust laws, libel, defamation and under-age prostitution. However, until August 2013, Berlusconi had never been convicted of anything – he was acquitted, cases dragged on exceeding the statute of limitations, aptly passed amnesty laws to save himself or changed the law to legalize the alleged offences. In October 2012, an appeals court in Milan confirmed a lower court judgement in late 2012 which had found Berlusconi guilty in the ‘Mediaset’ case, where he and his media giant company (Mediaset) were accused of tax evasion and tax fraud for illicit trade (and false accounting) of movie rights between Mediaset and secret fictive foreign companies in tax havens. The appeals court sentenced him to four years in prison and a five-year ban from holding public office. Berlusconi appealed the case to the Court of Cassation, Italy’s highest appeals court. Much to Berlusconi’s chagrin, the Court of Cassation proved exceptionally quick at issuing a decision on the case – on August 1 2013. The court confirmed the lower courts’ verdict, with a four year prison sentence but asked the Milanese appeals court to review the length of the ban from public office. A 2006 amnesty law, ironically voted by the left to reduce prison overcrowding, automatically commuted Berlusconi’s jail sentence to one year and since he is over 70 and not a repeat offender, he will not serve any jail time: he was given a choice between house arrest or community service, opting for the former. The Legge Severino, adopted in December 2012 by the Monti government, bans any politician convicted to over two years’ imprisonment from holding or running for public office for six years and supersedes the October 2013 judgement of the Milanese appeals court, which shortened Berlusconi’s ban from public office to two years

On June 24, a penal court in Milan had found Berlusconi guilty of child prostitution and abuse of power in the world-famous Rubygate case, where Berlusconi is accused of paying for sex with nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, who was a minor at the time (in 2010) and abusing his powers to have her released from police detention in 2010 (on the pretext that she was Hosni Mubarak’s niece). The court sentenced Berlusconi to seven years in prison and a lifetime ban from public office, but he will appeal the decision. The Appeals Court is set to rule in July 2014. Berlusconi is still involved in three other ongoing cases. A trial on the bribery of a centre-left senator in 2006 to topple Prodi’s government will open next year; in March 2013, he was sentenced to a year in jail in the ‘Unipol’ case (confidential wiretaps by Il Giornale, a newspaper owned by Berlusconi’s brother, on conversations between a former Governor of the Bank of Italy and a centre-left politician); the Constitutional Court is set to rule on a defamation case concerning Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate (famous for his corruption-busting work during the 1990s Mani Pulite operations) and the former leader of the Italia dei Valori (IdV) party. Berlusconi, in 2008, had accused Di Pietro of obtaining his degree only with the complicity of the secret services. In 2010, a court in Viterbo acquitted Berlusconi because parliamentary immunity bans any prosecution against words spoken in the exercise of a parliamentary mandate; however, a higher court overturned the decision in 2012.

Berlusconi now faced the threat of expulsion from the Senate. A defense organization sprung up around the embattled leader, who argued – again – that he was the target of a political witch-hunt by ‘red’ judges and complained that the ordeal was taking a toll on him (unable to sleep, lost 11kg and that he was psychologically tormented). Berlusconi’s closest allies pleaded that he be granted agibilità politica (political freedom) through a pardon by President Napolitano or Letta’s intervention. The PD knew that Berlusconi would condition his support for the government to his agibilità politica, but it also knew that intervening in Berlusconi’s favour would be the last straw for the left’s supporters. Meanwhile, Berlusconi announced that the PdL would be disbanding and that Forza Italia would return. Posters in major Italian cities announced that il cavaliere was ancora in campo per l’Italia (‘still in the field for Italy’).

However, the Berlusconian right began showing public cracks in September 2013. That month, while a Senate committee began debating Berlusconi’s expulsion (decadenza), Berlusconi huffed and puffed and, on September 28, ordered the PdL’s ministers to resign from Letta’s cabinet. The pretext was the government’s decision to raise the VAT by 1%, but nearly everybody saw through that – the real reason was that Berlusconi was threatening to pull the plug on Letta over his judicial travails and upcoming expulsion vote. Letta called for a confidence vote on October 2, in the run-up to which Berlusconi continued breathing fire and attacking the government. However, when the vote came, Berlusconi did a double-face and the PdL joined the left and centre in voting for Letta, who won the Senate’s confidence easily 235 to 70. It appears that Berlusconi twisted and turned in agonizing indecision, facing an extremely rare internal revolt. Indeed, all but one of the PdL ministers – who obeyed Berlusconi’s original order – shortly thereafter said it was perhaps a bad decision. One of them was Alfano, who led the doves (colombe) in the PdL – moderates (ex-DC and ex-Socialists) and ministers who placed political stability over Berlusconi’s personal interests. The doves faced the hawks (falchi) and loyalists (lealisti), hardline supporters of Berlusconi who came from the party’s right-wing liberals (Giancarlo Galan, Daniele Capezzone), hard-right (Daniela Santanchè) or camarilla (Raffaele Fitto, Mara Carfagna, Renata Polverini). The hawks-loyalists lost, the doves won and Berlusconi, to save face at the last minute, went with them. It was a shocking twist from Alfano, a Sicilian Christian democrat who had been a subservient justice minister between 2008 and 2011 (passing laws to save his boss from prosecution) and been groomed as Berlusconi’s loyal successor and political ‘son’ (despite Berlusconi publicly insulting him).

On October 4, the Senate committee voted to recommend Berlusconi’s expulsion, sending the matter to the Senate as a whole, and at the end of the month the rules committee called for it to be a public vote (in a private vote, Berlusconi may have tried to bribe PD lawmakers as he had in the past).

Still undeterred, Berlusconi pressed on with the transformation of the PdL into Forza Italia. On November 16, Berlusconi dissolved the PdL into a new Forza Italia. However, one day prior, the ‘doves’ led by Angelino Alfano announced that they would not dissolve into Forza Italia and formed their own party, the New Centre-Right (Nuovo Centrodestra, NCD). The NCD includes all five centre-right ministers in the Letta government, the former Lombardian regional president Roberto Formigoni and his allies, members of the Catholic lay movement Comunione e Liberazione, former members of the DC who joined the centre-right from various post-DC Christian democratic parties (Carlo Giovannardi, in the UDC until 2008), former members of the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), Renato Schifani – the former President of the Senate and architect of an unconstitutional immunity law in 2004 and the incumbent regional president of Calabria Giuseppe Scopelliti. Today, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia has 69 deputies and 58 senators against 28 deputies and 33 senators for the NCD.

On November 26, as the government was preparing to pass the 2014 budget, Forza Italia withdrew its support from the government and, the next day, voted against the budget which nevertheless passed the Senate 162 to 115, with the NCD’s support. That same day, the Senate finally voted on Berlusconi’sdecadenza under the Legge Severino by public ballot. Berlusconi’s supporters, symbolically dressed in black in the Senate or rallied in front of Berlusconi’s Roman residence, desperately tried to delay the vote or have it held by secret ballot. Berlusconi warned the PD and M5S senators from voting against him, so that they were not later “ashamed in front of their children”, he also insisted on a re-trial, claiming new evidence and witnesses. All to no avail, as the Senate voted 192 to 113 to expel Berlusconi from their ranks. The PD, M5S, SEL, SC, UDC and two small centre-left groups voted in favour, while Forza Italia, the Lega Nord, the NCD and a centre-right autonomist group voted against. The NCD in doing so signaled that their split was not as much against Berlusconi himself as against Berlusconi’s political strategy, which makes the Alfano dissidence different from Gianfranco Fini’s very public split with his former ally in 2010. Indeed, Alfano said that he was still Berlusconian – but “in a different way”.

On December 8, the PD held its long-awaited leadership election. Matteo Renzi, the 39-year old mayor of Florence, who had lost the 2012 centre-left primaries to Bersani, was the favourite. Unlike Bersani, Renzi comes from a PPI (one of the DC’s successor parties) background and joined the PD from the centrist Daisy. Renzi made in name in politics, as president of the province of Florence between 2005 and 2009 and as mayor of Florence since 2009, as a ‘scrapper’ (rottamatore) who took on the political elites (within his own party) and reducing waste, mismanagement and the size of the local public administrations. Despite being only in his first time as mayor and fairly new to politics, he made a name for himself largely by being a competent municipal administrator and his populist/anti-establishment persona which is popular in Italy. Ideologically, Renzi is on the party’s right and challenges the traditional ‘dogma’ of the centre-left (which is nevertheless very moderate in practice). In 2012, Renzi proposed tax cuts for employees, a €100 increase in employees’ net salary paid for by a 15% cut in the costs of public administration, financial support and credit for SMEs, labour market flexibility (flexicurity) along the Scandinavian/Danish model, financial incentives for foreign investors, cracking down on tax evasion and civil unions for homosexual couples. A ‘straight-talker’, he also took strong stances against corruption – abolishing public subsidies to parties (abolished recently by Letta, responding to a M5S demand), reducing the number of parliamentarians, greater accountability of public officials to their constituent (he favours a French electoral system) and constitutional reform to reduce the Senate’s powers. He is often compared to (and accepts such comparisons himself) to Tony Blair and his New Labour.

In 2012, Renzi’s anti-establishment and reformist ‘Third Way’ policy proposals  worried some left-wing voters and he won only 39.1% in the second round of the primary against Bersani, the PD’s leader and candidate of the traditional ‘old guard’ and PD establishment. However, after the 2013 election debacle, the PD was ready for a shake-up with Renzi. In the open primaries which attracted 2.8 million voters, Renzi won 67.6% against 18.2% for Gianni Cuperlo (the oldest establishment candidate, with a PCI background and backed by Bersani/D’Alema and the ‘Young Turks’ on the left) and 14.2% for Pippo Civati (a young anti-establishment candidate from the left, who supported an alliance with the SEL and M5S and had opposed Letta’s government).

The day before, incidentally, the Lega Nord held a leadership election of its own. The historic leader of the party, Umberto Bossi, had been forced to resign from his leadership positions in April 2012 following a crazy scandal in which Bossi and his ‘magic circle’ were accused of embezzling the party’s public financing funds and using the money to pay Bossi’s son. The scandal badly hurt the party, which suffered major loses in the February election, and led to Bossi’s replacement by his rival and one-time deputy, Roberto Maroni. Although the Lega still allied (reluctantly and in return for juicy concessions) with Berlusconi in the last election, Maroni and his followers have tended to be far less supportive of the Lega’s traditional ties to the centre-right (Bossi strongly supported the alliance with Berlusconi in the last few years). The leadership battle opposed Umberto Bossi to Matteo Salvini, a MEP. Salvini was supported by Maroni. Salvini won in a landslide, 81.7% to Bossi’s mere 18.3%. His election signaled a return to fundamentals for the Lega Nord: more independence from the centre-right, hardened ‘Padanian’ nationalism/separatism, strong anti-immigration stances and Euroscepticism (Salvini once decried the euro as a crime against humanity).

On December 4, the Constitutional Court two key parts of the electoral law were unconstitutional. The Italian electoral law (known as the Legge Calderoli, or unofficially the legge porcellum – piglet law – or porcata – literally ‘shit’, as described by its own sponsor, Roberto Calderoli) was passed by Berlusconi’s government in 2005 in an unsuccessful attempt to save the right in the 2006 elections. The law, whose effects we witnessed in the February election, guarantee an absolute majority in the Chamber to whichever coalition wins the most votes nationally by granting them 340 seats (55%), even if said coalition wins only 29% as in 2013! In the Senate, however, the majority bonus is applied regionally (but three regions have no majority bonus) so there is no guarantee that the winning coalition will have an absolute majority in the Senate. This means that the winning coalition either lacks a majority in the Senate (2013), has so tenuous of a majority that it makes it vulnerable to any dissent within the often-fractious coalitions (2006) or the majority is strong but still vulnerable to large blocs of dissent within the coalition (in a landslide election like 2008). The Court declared that the majority bonuses in both houses were unconstitutional and also ruled against the closed party lists, which prevent voters from indicating preferences for candidates on a party list.

In January, Renzi wasted no time and negotiated an agreement over a new electoral law with Berlusconi – the two men agreed to adopt a new electoral system which would guarantee strong governing majorities, abolish perfect bicameralism and reduce the cost of politics. Renzi’s alliance with Berlusconi on the electoral law and his announcement of two other priorities (civil unions and a new immigration law) signaled his energy and stamina, but it also made some in the PD uncomfortable about the moral implications of allying with somebody sentenced by a court and created troubles with the PD’s governing partners – the NCD and the centrists – who feared what an agreement between the two major parties over the electoral system would mean for them. The new electoral law, adopted by the Chamber of Deputies in March 2014, will only apply for the Chamber (a constitutional reform to significantly reduce the Senate’s powers and perhaps turn it into a much less powerful regional chamber like the Bundesrat) and is known as the Italicum. It does not make the electoral system any less convoluted: under the new law, closed lists with 3-6 candidates will run in about 120 multi-member constituencies in Italy – either individually or in coalition. A coalition will need to pass a 12% national threshold, individual parties a 8% national threshold and parties within a coalition will need 4.5% nationally. If a coalition/party obtains 37% of the vote nationally, it wins a 15% majority bonus meaning that it may win up to a maximum of 340 seats (there is no majority bonus if a list wins over 340 seats). If no coalition or party wins 37%, a runoff between the top two lists is organized, in which the winning list receives 321 seats with remaining seats attributed to other lists who met the thresholds in the ‘first round’ (as I understand it). The Chamber of Deputies has produced research files simulating the new system on the last three elections, including a runoff in 2013. It also has, in Italian, some handy infographics which clarify things somewhat. The Chamber rejected amendments to alternate men and women on party lists to ensure gender parity.

By February 2014, Letta was increasingly isolated and facing rumours that Renzi was pressuring him to resign in his favour. Letta’s government was criticized, notably by Renzi, for the slow pace of reforms. By February 11-12, Letta pressed Renzi to publicly detail his intentions and tried to appear tough, but unlike in October 2013, he found himself beaten by Renzi. On February 13, the PD executive voted 136-16 in favour of Renzi’s proposal for a new government for a new phase and to speed up reforms. Despite his very public displeasure with what had transpired, Letta had no choice but to hand his government’s regination to Napolitano the next day. On February 17, Renzi was officially tasked with forming a new government, which was sworn in on the 22nd. The Renzi government includes only 16 full ministers (one of the lowest), half of which are women (but if junior ministers and secretaries of state are included, the government remains overwhelmingly male) and has the lowest average age (47) of any Italian government. The government’s junior allies – the NCD, UDC, SC and minor centrist parties – remained in government, and there was little turnover of their ministers – Angelino Alfano remains Minister of the Interior, although he is no longer Deputy Prime Minister. There was significant turnover of PD ministers, with younger pro-Renzi members filling portfolios and women taking some important portfolios (foreign affairs, defense, constitutional reform). The economy portfolio was retained by an independent technocrat.

The very rapid (and, to casual followers of Italian politics, unexpected) succession of events which led to Renzi’s accession to power was received negatively by most Italians, including PD voters with an otherwise good opinion of Renzi. PD supporters felt that Renzi was making an enormous mistake, because of the optics of the situation (making him look like a backstabber, and the very traditional First Republic backroom replacements of governments without elections) and the potential that actually leading government would tarnish Renzi’s star profile. Few predicted that the government will be able to last until the end of the legislature’s term in 2018, as Renzi wishes.

Renzi unveiled his proposal for pro-growth stimulus reforms in March. His landmark initiative is a proposal to cut income taxes on lower income taxpayers, giving them a tax credit of about €80 per month for an overall cost of €10 billion to the state, to be financed by some deficit spending (but Italy has pledged to respect its European commitments), cuts in unproductive spending and administrative reforms, a raise in capital gains taxation and savings from lower interest rates. The government also plans to cut taxes on work, speed up the payment of the debt and a labour reform which would include universal unemployment benefits. These measures are ambitious and greeted with cautious optimism from voters, but the government will need to work with a difficult economic situation: although Italy’s economy should grow in 2014 (+0.6%), the debt is at over 135% of GDP and unemployment remains frustratingly high at 12.6% (far higher for youths).

EP election

The EP election was fairly important, as it was the first nationwide test of public opinion since 2013 (there have been local elections and several regional elections since, though) and the first electoral test for Renzi. EP elections in Italy, like in other countries (notably France), are an opportunity for smaller parties to test their strengths running individually. It was unclear where public opinion really stood, although most polls indicated that the centre-left had a narrow lead over the Berlusconian right coalition and the M5S was moving closer to its 2013 results after dropping off a bit after the election.

The PD renewed its ranks somewhat, once again promoting younger women to top spots on the party’s lists (but in the open-list system, their election is not guaranteed even with a top placement on the list). The PD’s campaign was pro-European and emphasized that ‘Italy was changing course’ and that Europe should follow suit. The party promoted a pro-growth agenda to reduce youth unemployment, grow the economy and build a ‘social Europe’. The PD was associated with the the South Tyrolean People’s Party (SVP), the dominant centre-right party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) whose sole MEP (elected thanks to the threshold exception for linguistic minority parties) sits with the EPP group (the PD sits with the S&D group). The SVP itself was allied with an autonomist party in the neighboring province of the Trentino (the PATT) and the party representing the Slovenian minority (SSK) in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region.

The M5S has been uncompromising in its opposition to the government, and Grillo, leading his movement from outside Parliament, has remained controversial and abrasive. However, the M5S has struggled somewhat since February 2013 (even if it retains solid support). A new party in Parliament, with a caucus heavily made up of first-time, inexperienced novice politicians drawn from different social horizons and drawing on different political traditions and ideologies, it has had a tough time adapting to Parliament – especially how their leadership and many of the parliamentarians themselves consider the Parliament to be a corrupt and illegitimate institution which should, in a perfect world, be abolished and replaced by internet-based direct democracy. Beppe Grillo is an autocratic leader, who is rather intolerant of any dissent or criticism, and doesn’t hesitate to insult any critics – internal or external, politicians or journalists – with crude ad hominem attacks. Grillo just recently allowed his followers to go on TV, which he had until then boycotted. His angry followers often enthusiastically join Grillo’s countless attacks on his ‘enemies’ launched from his blogs. By now, several deputies and even more senators have been expelled or voluntarily left the M5S – from 109 deputies and 54 senators, the M5S is down to 104 and 40 respectively. Most recently, in February 2014, four M5S senators were expelled following an internet vote (in the unique Grillist tradition, expulsions are voted on by M5S’ online activists) for criticizing Grillo’s behaviour during a consultation with Renzi, which Grillo had been forced (by his members) to attend.

The M5S’ European campaign focused on seven points: a referendum on Euro membership, abolition of the Fiscal Compact, adoption of Eurobonds, alliance of Mediterranean countries for a common currency (Euro 2), investments in innovation to be excluded from 3% deficit limit calculations, financing for domestic agricultural activities and abolition of the balanced budget requirements.

Forza Italia – Berlusconi’s party, now centered around the pro-Berlusconi hawks (falchi), loyalists (lealisti) and mediators (moderates) – has remained a significant force, despite Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate in November 2013. Berlusconi is still facing pending trials, most significantly in the Rubygate prostitution case, and is also forbidden from leaving the Italian territory without a judge’s permission (his passport has been seized). Berlusconi announced his intention to run for the EP in May 2014, despite being barred from holding or running for public office. In March 2014, the Court of Cassation confirmed the judicial two-year ban from holding public office, effectively barring Berlusconi from running for the EP. In early May 2014, Berlusconi began serving his one-year community service at a home care centre for elderly dementia patients, where he must work for four hours a week. Some of Berlusconi’s closest allies have also felt the pressure of the judiciary: Marcello Dell’Utri, one of Berlusconi’s oldest allies, was sentenced by the Supreme Court to seven years in jail in 2014 for tax fraud, false accounting and complicity in conspiracy with the Sicilian Mafia. Dell’Utri had fled to Lebanon before the sentence fell, but he has since been arrested by Lebanese authorities and is awaiting extradition to Italy.

There is increasing speculation that Berlusconi is preparing a dynastic succession. Marina Berlusconi, his eldest daughter (at 47) and president of the Fininvest holding company, is often cited by the media and Berlusconians alike as the preferred heir, but she does not appear interested. Her younger brother, Pier Silvio, vice-president of Mediaset, is more discrete and denies any political ambition even if he is said to be brilliant. Barbara Berlusconi, the eldest (29) of three children with his ex-wife Veronica Lario, now has a position on the board of AC Milan but is not usually seen as a future politician.

Forza Italia ran a populist, Eurosceptic and anti-German campaign. Berlusconi, his usual self, said that “for Germans, the concentration camps never existed” and continued babbling about the President (who didn’t pardon him) and the judges (who took a political decision). The party ran in coalition with smaller parties: whatever is left of UDEUR (the party of venal and corrupt incumbent MEP Clemente Mastella who was formerly allied with the centre-left until he pulled the plug on Prodi’s cabinet in 2008), the Grande Sud (a southern ‘regionalist’ party made up of three regional parties in Sicily, Campania and Apulia largely made up of PdL or MPA dissidents) and The Populars of Italy Tomorrow (an empty shell of pro-Berlusconi UDC dissidents in the south).

Under Matteo Salvini, the Lega Nord has regained some lost support and the party has been reoriented on a more anti-EU and anti-immigration platform. For example, under Salvini, the Lega, whose MEPs sat with the UKIP’s EFD group in the last EP, allied himself with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and Heinz-Christian Strache in the EAF; for the EP elections, the Lega Nord dropped the traditional word ‘Padania’ at the bottom of the logo in favour of the slogan ‘Basta €uro’ or ‘enough Euro’. The Lega ran in coalition with Die Freiheitlichen, a right-wing populist German party which is the second-largest party in the German-speaking province of Bolzano (Südtirol/South Tyrol) and the Movement for Autonomies (MPA), the Sicilian-based party of former regional president Raffaele Lombardo. Matteo Salvini was the party’s top candidate in every region, something which is legal and somewhat commonplace in Italy (in 2009, Berlusconi was the PdL’s top candidate in all EP constituencies despite being the sitting Prime Minister, and Umberto Bossi also topped all the Lega’s lists that year).

On the right, the new Brothers of Italy (FdI), a national conservative party founded by PdL members in December 2012, ran independently. The FdI emerged in late 2012, largely founded by ex-AN members of the PdL who had come from the AN’s moderate pro-Berlusconi ‘liberal conservative’ faction. Although they were somewhat critical of Berlusconi, the FdI received Berlusconi’s blessing as he hoped that it would create an outlet for right-wing and nationalist voters who were a bit queasy with him but could nevertheless be brought to still support him indirectly. The party joined the centre-right coalition in the 2013 election, but opposed the Letta government. Under the leadership of Giorgia Meloni, the FdI has shifted towards the right, making a clear bid to reclaim the identity of the former AN (whose members are divided between Forza Italia, the FdI and various small hard-right parties) but also informally associating with Marine Le Pen at the pan-EU level (although there is no formal alliance, unlike in the case of the Lega). The former mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, a former fascist who was defeated for reelection in 2013, has since endorsed the party. The FdI successfully won the right to rename itself ‘Brothers of Italy-National Alliance’ and use the logo of the old AN in its logo. The FdI’s appropriation of the AN identity has irked smaller parties with roots in the old party, notably Francesco Storace’s La Destra, a hard-right splinter of the AN (from 2007) now allied with Berlusconi. Giorgia Meloni was the FdI’s top candidate in every constituency.

Angelino Alfano’s NCD, for its first election, ran in alliance with Pier Ferdinando Casini’s Christian democratic Union of the Centre (UDC), which had found itself obliterated in the 2013 election (1.8%) when it ran in coalition with Mario Monti. The alliance is unsurprising: the NCD and UDC are both likely too weak to win more than 4% on their own, both are junior allies in the Renzi government, the UDC has been looking (unsuccessfully) to build a new centre-right/centrist coalition (often seen as a neo-DC) with Berlusconian dissidents (first Fini, now Alfano) and both the NCD and UDC are ideologically very similar (most of the NCD’s members are ex-DC southerners, and the NCD is effectively a Christian democratic/social conservative party similar to the UDC). Both Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the NDC-UDC are part of the EPP, but given Berlusconi’s new anti-EU (and anti-Merkel) populist campaigns, the NCD-UDC fits in much more nicely in the EPP mainstream while Berlusconi is a bit of an Orbán in the EPP. Two NCD cabinet ministers were top candidates: Maurizio Lupi (transports) in the Northwest and Beatrice Lorenzin (health) in the Centre.

Mario Monti’s hastily assembled and fractious party for the 2013 elections, the Civic Choice (SC), had managed to win 8.3% of the vote in the 2013 election (in the process, decimating Casini’s UDC and killing Fini’s FLI) but the SC has since collapsed. Monti lost control over his party, and in response to the growing tensions between him and other SC members, decided to resign as the SC’s president in October 2013. The party then split between the pro-Monti liberals, who supported a centrist strategy (anti-Berlusconi but also anti-UDC) and were liberal reformists and the Christian democrats, including Mario Mauro, who were open to alliances with Berlusconi and close to the UDC. The party was pretty equally divided between both wings, but the liberals took control of the SC and have since aligned it even closer to the PD-led centre-left alliance and the Renzi cabinet. The Christian democrats split off and created Populars for Italy (PpI), which formed a common group with the UDC in Parliament (Per l’Italia). The PpI-UDC group has 10 senators (7 for the SC) and 18 deputies (27 for the SC).

The SC participated in a common liberal list for the EP elections, European Choice (SE) with the smaller Democratic Centre (CD), the neoliberal/libertarian Act to Stop the Decline and other tiny parties. The SE affiliated with the ALDE at the pan-European level (although one MEP who supported the SE, ex-AN member Cristiana Muscardini, sat with the ECR) and was endorsed by ALDE presidential candidate Guy Verhofstadt and former Italian Prime Minister and President of the EU Commission Romano Prodi.

On the left, several communists and ecosocialist/radical left parties in opposition to the government formed a common alliance, L’Altra Europa con Tsipras, to support the GUE/NGL presidential candidacy of Greek SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras. Although launched by independent left-wing intellectuals, the partisan base of the alliance was formed by Nichi Vendola’s Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) – the only party of the radical left with seats in Parliament (3% in 2013 in alliance with the PD), the moribund Communist Refoundation Party (PRC), Antonio Ingroia’s anti-corruption movement (Ingroia, a leftist magistrate, was the top candidate of the leftist Civil Revolution alliance in 2013 with the PRC, Greens, Italian Communists and IdV, but won only 2.3% and has since collapsed), the Italian Pirates (seemingly a very tiny party) and the South Tyrolean Greens (already allied with the SEL in 2013). The SEL, which did fairly poorly in 2013, saw its support increase somewhat in the early days of the Letta government but it has since struggled. Nichi Vendola is less active in national politics and the SEL has been hurt by internal divisions, as a few parliamentarians have left the caucus to cautiously support Renzi (encouraged by his tax policies) while the SEL leadership remains firmly in the opposition. The Other Europe with Tsipras led an anti-austerity but pro-European leftist campaign and hovered around the 4% threshold for most of the campaign.

The weak and irrelevant Italian Greens ran a separate list, Greens Italy-European Greens – an alliance of the old moribund Federation of the Greens and the new Greens Italy, a party founded in 2013 by environmentalists from leftist and rightist parties (PD, MSI-AN, PdL, FLI, Radicals) and led by prominent Italian Green leader and former MEP Monica Frassoni.

Italy of Values (IdV), an anti-corruption party formerly led by famous Milanese magistrate Antonio Di Pietro (who is Berlusconi’s bête noire), won 8% in the 2009 EP elections at the peak of the IdV’s success as part of the centre-left coalition with the PD. Since 2009, however, the IdV has collapsed due to significant infighting between Di Pietro’s centrist/moderate leadership and the far-left direction supported by Luigi de Magistris, a former prosecutor and mayor of Naples. de Magistris’s supporters left the party, but IdV was left badly beaten and further worn out by corruption allegations and the M5S’ growth as a more forceful and radical anti-establishment protest option. Di Pietro has since left the party’s leadership and the IdV appears to be quasi-defunct. The IdV’s MEP sat with the ALDE, although the IdV was an Italian oddity with its anti-corruption populist politics and hardly your usual EU liberal party.

Results

Turnout: 57.22% (-7.83%)
MEPs: 73 (+1)
Electoral system: Limited preferential list PR (up to 3 preferences), 4% national threshold (50,000 vote threshold for linguistic minority parties allied with a national party), five constituencies (Northeast Italy, Northwest Italy, Central Italy, Southern Italy, Insular Italy)

PD (S&D) 40.81% (+14.69%) winning 31 seats (+10)
M5S (EFD) 21.15% (+21.15%) winning 17 seats (+17)
Forza Italia (EPP) 16.81% (-18.45%) winning 13 seats (-16)
Lega Nord (EAF) 6.15% (-4.06%) winning 5 seats (-4)
NCD-UDC (EPP) 4.38% (-2.13%) winning 3 seats (-2)
L’Altra Europa con Tsipras (GUE/NGL) 4.03% (-2.49%) winning 3 seats (+3)
Fratelli d’Italia-AN 3.66% (+3.66%) winning 0 seats (±0)
European Greens-Green Italy (G-EFA) 0.91% (+0.91%) winning 0 seats (±0)
Scelta Europea (ALDE) 0.72% (+0.72%) winning 0 seats (±0)
IdV (ALDE) 0.66% (-7.34%) winning 0 seats (-7)
SVP (EPP) 0.5% (+0.03%) winning 1 seat (±0)
Io Cambio-MAIE 0.18% (-0.05%) winning 0 seats (±0)

Italy 2014 - EP

In the EP elections, Matteo Renzi’s PD won an unexpectedly massive victory with 40.81% of the vote, the largest percentage share of the vote for an Italian party nationally since 1958 and the PD’s best result in any national election. Despite significantly lower turnout (-18%), the PD also won more votes (11.2 million votes) than in the 2013 general election (8.6 million votes in the Chamber). Electing 31 MEPs to Brussels, the PD is now the largest single national party in the EP and in the S&D group (ahead of the German SPD). The PD’s landslide was totally unexpected: the last public polls before the legal polling blackout during the last two weeks of the campaign showed the PD leading the M5S by about 6-10 points (the PD beat the M5S by nearly 20, and all polls showed the PD at 30-33%) and there were apparently well-founded rumours during the blackout that the M5S was polling closer to the PD in the final stretch (Grillo notably attracted a much larger crowd at his big rally in the Piazza San Giovanni in Rome than Renzi did a few minutes away at the Piazza del Popolo). Many were taken aback by the PD’s success, notably Grillo who had been characteristically virulent and hyperbolic in the days preceding the vote (saying that if the M5S won, ‘the system would fall’). For Renzi, the PD’s victory is not just pleasing information – it provides him with much-needed democratic legitimacy from the Italian electorate. Grillo and Berlusconi never failed to remind their listeners that Renzi took office without any popular mandate and therefore lacked democratic legitimacy. In a major boost for Renzi’s standing as Prime Minister, he can now fall back on the PD’s landslide victory to strengthen his leadership.

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

Gains and loses (raw votes) since 2013 election (own work)

He has already used his new weight in the PD to his own advantage: a PD senator who was proving a thorn in the side in a Senate committee was turfed from the committee and chose to ‘auto-exclude’ himself from the PD.

The M5S did poorly, with only 21.2% of the vote and suffering major loses from the party’s record 2013 result, falling from 8.7 million votes and 25.6% to only 5.8 million votes. It was a very poor performance for Grillo, who had made the EP election about Renzi and forcing Renzi to enter the fray personally to defend the PD – Grillo attacked Renzi’s tax measures (his ‘€80 charity’) and was certain that the M5S’ tremendous activist base and mobilizing capacity in the piazze would certainly translate into strong support. Immediately after the election, Grillo tried to spin the M5S’ poor performance by noting that it was Italy’s second largest party and attacked retirees (the M5S’ weakest demographic, by far) for ‘not wanting change and not preoccupying themselves with the faith of their grandkids’. He promised that while the M5S did not vinciamo noi (we win [now]) it will vinciamo poi (win [later]). However, the M5S and Grillo proved more pragmatic and reasonable as the immediate furor died down. An internal party document leaked by the media blamed a ‘destructive energy’, a ‘disturbing message, unreassuring and unrealiable’ campaign and lamented the M5S’ decision to ignore TV shows in a country where 15-20 million inform themselves through television. Grillo, on June 15, said that his party was ‘serious’ and open to talking to the government over the electoral reform (for which the M5S has published its alternative to the Renzi-Berlusconi Italicum, with preferential PR in a single round).

Which group the M5S would fit in in the new EP was always a major mystery, because of the M5S’ ideological peculiarity compared to other parties in the EU, even ‘fellow’ populist movements. Although some assumed that given the little obvious links with existing groups, Grillo would prefer to have his MEPs sit as non-inscrits, it would seem that the advantages which accrue to MEPs aligned with a EP group convinced Grillo to push for the M5S’ membership in a parliamentary group. By virtue of the M5S’ rather leftist views on many issues, many presumed that the Greens-EFA or even GUE/NGL groups would be the most likely candidates, but Grillo instead decided to meet with UKIP leader Nigel Farage although the M5S still opened talks with the G-EFA as well. It soon became clear that Grillo’s sympathies leaned strongly towards Farage and the UKIP’s EFD group, which led the G-EFA to reject M5S’ advances in early June. ALDE also rejected working with the M5S, although I doubt that ever was a serious possibility. On June 12, the M5S finally held an online referendum for its members to decide on the M5S’ group membership in the new EP – the choices were between EFD, the ECR and non-inscrit status, although the cards were heavily stacked in favour of EFD. In a low turnout vote, 78% of M5S supporters voted for the EFD – the anti-EU, Eurosceptic, anti-establishment rhetoric of Farage and his colleagues and the EFD’s status as a fairly ‘loose’ group likely heavily pushed the M5S’ supporters towards them (over a ECR group which is far more ‘establishment’, as Farage pointed out in a video recorded for M5S supporters). Likely as a result of the entrance of the 17 new Grillist MEPs, the EFD group renamed itself ‘Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy’ or EFDD.

Berlusconi did even worse: with only 16.8%, it is an absolute disaster for Forza Italia – its 4.6 million votes on May 25 a far cry from the 7.3 million won by the PdL in 2013. It is worth pointing out that Berlusconi was not a candidate (he still has an ability to draw out additional votes which his party itself is unable to get out in local or regional elections) and the party likely put less effort into these elections than it would in a general election (and it was a bit sidelined in the media with a focus on a Renzi-Grillo battle), but it’s still a very poor result for the party given that Berlusconi still took centre-stage in the Forza Italia campaign. Berlusconi downplayed the results by blaming the low turnout – 57.2% is very high turnout for a EP election in a country where voting is not mandatory, but it is quite low compared to past EP elections in Italy and all other types of elections in a country with a high-turnout tradition. He regretted not winning over 20%, but, of course, there’s no questions asked about his leadership. Berlusconi remains a major political player and a force to be reckoned with in Italian politics, to the displeasure of many EU countries and Italians.

The Lega Nord won 6.2%, a small but significant improvement from the Lega’s disastrous 2013 results (4.1%) and a gain in raw votes as well (up to 1.68 million). However, it is down from the Lega’s record-high performance in the last EP election, when it had won over 3 million votes and 10.2% (electing 9 MEPs). Matteo Salvini has managed to slowly lift the Lega’s fortunes after the 2012-2013 disaster, although it’s still a tough spell for the party. The Lega scored minor gains outside of ‘Padania’ with its primarily anti-immigration/Eurosceptic creed, but it remains – obviously – a northern regionalist party in terms of support.

On the centre-right, the NCD-UDC alliance won 4.4%, down 2.1% on the UDC’s performance alone in 2009 and still a fairly weak showing for Alfano’s new party (and another terrible result for a UDC which appears in terminal condition since 2013). As with past Berlusconian splinters – Fini’s FLI in 2010-2013 (reminder: for all the talk of Fini replacing Berlusconi as the leader of the right, the FLI ended with 0 seats in Parliament and less than 0.5% in 2013) – the Italian right-wing electorate still prefers Berlusconi to any ‘polished’ or ‘moderate’ dissident. Berlusconi is a polarizing figure, with a majority of Italian voters having no time for him but who still commands the often quite motivated support of millions of Italians through his charisma and stamina after 20 years in the political arena. Unsurprisingly, it looks quite unlikely that Alfano will succeed in his goal of preparing the field for Berlusconi’s retirement/death and the realignment of the right which will naturally ensue – in a general election with the new electoral law, a NCD-UDC coalition which wins 4% will not have any seats! The only thing which Alfano could say to spin the poor result was that he remained one of the main pillars of the government – a silent call for Renzi not to get carried away and forget about his increasingly minor allies?

Fratelli d’Italia-AN was the largest party below the threshold, at 3.7% and just over 1 million votes. It is far from recreating the old AN, but the FdI is up from just below 2% and 666k votes in 2013.

The radical left Tsipras list landed just above the threshold, with 4% and 1.1 million votes; up marginally from the SEL’s 3.2% in 2013 but actually down from the combined result of the parliamentary SEL+extraparliamentary RC in 2013 and the combined result of the proto-SEL coalition and a communist list in the 2009 EP election (3.1% and 3.4% respectively for a total of 6.5% in what was hardly a good year for the Italian radical left). The IdV collapsed to only 0.7% of the vote, as expected.

The other list ‘supporting’ a EC presidential candidate – the pro-Verhofstadt SE, did far worse than expected with only 0.7% of the vote – actually landing behind the Greens list, which won 0.9% (not too shabby considering the miserable state of the green movement in the country). This confirms that, come the next general election, the SC will be the latest short-lived Italian fad party to join the long list of such parties since 1994.

Analysis

The PD’s large victory is the result of a few different factors. Firstly, there was a clear Renzi effect which saw a direct transfer of votes from voters who had backed other parties in 2013 to the PD in 2014 (despite the lower turnout). The effect is the result of significant albeit cautious optimism in Renzi’s new government and his leadership – his energy, youthfulness, frenetic activism and his ability to do something concrete for once (electoral law, tax reform, gender parity). This article (in Italian) by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali shows that the PD was rated as the most credible party, far ahead of the M5S and FI, on nearly all issues – most notably on the economy and employment, although it does seem important to note that on nearly all top issues, a larger number of voters found no party whatsoever to be credible. Nevertheless, the PD had a significant advantage over the M5S and FI on issues which mattered, while FI lacked a single ‘niche issue’ (besides taxes) and the M5S was limited to expertise in its ‘niche issues’ of fighting la casta and the costs of politics. The article also found that voters’ assessments of party credibility mattered most to PD and M5S supporters, while Forza Italia’s supporters voted for Berlusconi’s party for ideological reasons rather than assessments of party credibility on issues (unsurprisingly). The problem for the M5S here is that, by focusing quasi-exclusively on issues such as political corruption and the political system, it fails to appear credible on issues which matter to more Italians.

According to an IPR analysis, about a quarter of the PD’s vote was cast ‘thinking only about Renzi’ (the rest was cast ‘thinking solely about the party’), which would mean that the Renzi effect was worth 10.8% to the PD, adding that amount to the 30% of votes which went to the PD for traditional partisan reasons – a number which would make sense, given that the PD’s base in normal circumstances seems to be about 30% of the vote or a bit lower. The Renzi effect has had people asking if the election was a victory for the PD or rather a victory for the ‘Party of Renzi’.

Of course, the flip side here is that a vote based on cautious optimism and the temporary credibility of one party over another is very volatile. Indeed, the other main lesson of this election is the confirmation of the extreme volatility of the Italian electorate in recent years. According to a study by Demopolis, only 53% of those who voted in 2013 ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2014 by voting for the same party while 45% of 2013 voters either did not vote or voted for another list. The 2013 election was also quite volatile – only 54% of 2008 voters ‘confirmed’ their vote in 2013 and 39% voted differently or did not vote. With this in mind, the PD’s success in 2014 could prove remarkably short-lived if Renzi and his government don’t live up to expectations.

The other major factor behind the PD’s vote is differential turnout. Geographically, turnout was down from 2013 (-16.5%) in every region and down from 2009 (-7.8%) in all but two regions. As is usually the norm in Italian elections, turnout was lowest in the Mezzogiorno and the islands, with 51.7% turnout in the Southern EP constituency and 42.7% turnout in the Insular EP constituency, compared to 61.8% in Central Italy, 64.5% in Northeast Italy and 66% in Northwest Italy. It is tough to see obvious links between turnout and partisanship geographically, although the central zona ‘rossa’ – the historic left-wing (formerly PCI) strongholds of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Umbria and Marche – saw the highest turnout at 68.2% overall (over 70% in Umbria and Emilia-Romagna) and also the lowest decline in turnout (-12.3%) of any major region (north, south and Red Zone) from the 2013 election.

Exit polls and vote flow analyses, however, showed clear differential turnout in the PD’s favour. The centre-left, in short, was able to mobilize its electorate far better than the M5S or the Berlusconian right, who had many voters sit out the EP elections. Several pollsters and academics have done their own analyses of vote flows compared to the 2013 election, and despite different numbers in the details, the broad picture is similar. Demopolis looked at the 2013 votes of ‘new non-voters’ – those who voted in 2013 but did not vote in 2014 – and found that 34% had voted M5S, 31% had voted PdL, 22% had backed another party and only 13% supported the PD. Looking at it from a different angle, Tecnè reported that 42% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote, compared to 53% of Grillist supporters in 2013 and 50% of PdL voters. SWG had the most complex and detailed vote flow analysis, and found that the M5S lost 2.660 million votes to abstention, the PdL/FI lost 1.750 million and the PD lost only 1.400 million of its 2013 voters to abstention.

Vote flow analysis from 2013 to 2014 in five major Italian cities – Turin, Venice, Parma, Florence and Palermo (source: CISE in ‘Renzi, alta fedeltà e nuovi voti a 360°‘ by Roberto D’Alimonte)

This article published by the Centro Italiano Studi Elettorali calculated voter flows in major cities using election results while another article looked at Milan and Rome in more detail. In all seven cities sampled, the PD’s retention of its 2013 vote was quite extraordinary – ranging from 95% in Florence to 71% in Palermo. Outside Palermo, the the PD did not lose more than 10% of its 2013 vote to abstention – for example, in Milan, only 2% of the PD’s 2013 voters did not vote in 2014. It is even more striking if you compare the PD’s electorate’s behaviour to that of M5S and PdL voters in 2013. In Venice and Palermo, over half of the PdL’s supporters did not vote in 2014, and over 40% did not vote in Rome. In Rome, Milan, Parma and Palermo, over 40% of the M5S’ supporters did not vote in 2014 (and 38% in Florence and 35% in Venice). The radical left – SEL and RC in 2013 – also saw a number of their voters sit out in May 2014, notably in Venice (where 50% and 45% of RC and SEL voters respectively didn’t vote).

The PD’s ability to retain its 2013 electorate so well combined with the demobilization of M5S and Berlusconian supporters from 2013 contributed heavily to the PD’s success. But the PD also gained votes from other parties, given that it not only ‘held’ its 2013 votes it also gained votes from 2014 despite lower turnout (the only other lists who increased their votes from 2013 were the Lega and FdI). The main source of new votes from the PD was, unsurprisingly, Mario Monti’s old SC, which is practically dead. According to SWG, the PD gained 1.270 million votes from the SC – only 170,000 of the SC’s 2013 voters went for the ‘European Choice’ list in this election and 250,000 went for Alfano’s NCD-UDC. 850,000 of the SC’s 2.82 million voters from last year did not vote in 2014. The flow analyses cited above confirm the exit polls: in the seven cities sampled, the PD won between 44% and 60% of the SC’s 2013 voters while another 10-15% went for Alfano. According to SWG, about 1.090 million M5S voters switched to the PD (that’s about 12.5% of M5S supporters from 2013) – again confirmed by flow analysis at the municipal level – in five of the seven cities (not Milan and Rome), the PD won between 6% and 17% of M5S votes. A smaller amount came from the ex-PdL (430,000), again a small transfer corroborated at the local level. The PD also gained smaller number of voters from the radical left (420,000 from ‘other centre-left parties’ in SWG, presumably SEL), the UDC-FLI (110,000) and other centre-right parties in 2013 (90,000). The PD only ceded 350,000 votes to the M5S, 230,000 to the Tsipras list and very small numbers to the right – for a total of 2,050,000 2013 votes lost (largely to abstention) more than compensated by the 4,570,000 votes the PD has gained since 2013 – including 1.14 million from people who hadn’t voted in 2013 but did so in 2014.

Demopolis reported that 66% of the PD’s 2014 voters had already voted PD in 2013 – it gained 13% from the SC, 9% from Grillo, 7% from non-voters and only 5% from the PdL.

The M5S and FI suffered the bulk of their loses to abstention – overall, SWG estimates that the M5S lost 4.56 million votes (and gained 1.66 million) from 2013, while Forza Italia lost 3.69 million and gained only 960,000 votes from 2013. As noted above, a small albeit not totally insignificant percentage of M5S and FI voters from 2013 switched to the PD this year. The M5S lost some votes to the Lega (-240k), FI (-130k), FdI (-130k) and Tsipras (-120k); FI also lost some support to the M5S (-410k), the NCD (-470k), the Lega (-340k) and FdI (-220k). Forza Italia gained very little votes from other parties. The flow analysis in the seven cities found similar results, with local differences – in the north, FI lost up to 6% (in Milan) of its 2013 vote to the Lega Nord; throughout the country, FI lost about 2-5% of its 2013 vote to Alfano’s folks and about 7% to the FdI.

For Tecnè, Grillo and Berlusconi only held 34% of their 2013 vote and lost most heavily to abstention with single-digit loses to the centre-left. IPR’s analysis unwisely focused only on 2013 voters who voted in 2014 and ignored the significant number who didn’t do so.

According to SWG, the Lega Nord lost 500,000 votes – the three-fifths of those votes were lost to abstention – and gained 800,000 votes – +340k from Forza Italia, +240k from the M5S, +140k from other parties and +80k from 2013 non-voters. Interestingly, the vote flow analysis in the cities shows that the Lega’s 2013 electorate may not have been all that loyal – it held only 46% of its 2013 vote in Milan, 43% in Turin and 44% in Venice (although these are three northern cities where the Lega is particularly weak), with a fairly significant number of 2013 Lega voters opting for other parties in the EP election (in Venice, 36% apparently voted PD; in Milan, it shed 18% to FI and 10% to the PD).

The NCD-UDC list, in SWG’s analysis, found 470,000 of its 1.2 million votes from the PdL, 200,000 from the UDC and 250,000 from the Monti SC. It gained a small number of votes from the M5S, and even less from others, the PD and 2013 non-voters. In the Rome and Milan analysis, the study showed that the NCD-UDC’s voters in 2014 had split their votes fairly equally between Monti and Berlusconi in 2013 (in Milan – where it did well – it got 44% from the PdL and 36% from the Monti list, in Rome it got 47% from Monti and 37% from the PdL.

The vote flow analyses reveal, unsurprisingly, that we cannot assume that the Tsipras list simply won the votes of those who had backed the SEL and RC lists in the 2013 election. According to SWG, the Tsipras list gained the most votes (440,000 out of 1.1 million) from the SEL with smaller amounts from the PD (230k), RC (200k) and M5S (120k). This would mean that about 40% of the SEL’s 2013 voters and only 26% of the RC’s 2013 voters went to the Tsipras list this year – a result confirmed municipally, with between 35% and 58% of the SEL’s voters in our seven cities voting Tsipras and between 13% and 31% of RC voters from last years going for Tsipras. The RC’s 2013 voters also went to the M5S in fairly significant numbers (between 12% and 40% across the seven cities) and a good number – up to half in Venice – not voting. The SEL, in contrast, lost mostly to abstention and the PD with only minor leakage to the M5S.

Finally, as noted above, the 2013 SC Monti vote went heavily towards the PD (45% in SWG) – no surprise here – and only 6% per SWG went to the SE list (in the municipal election, the SE polled too poorly for it to be analyzed). Another 250,000 (per SWG, or 8%) went to the NCD-UDC and 850,000 did not turn out (30%).

In Rome and Milan, the FdI’s electorate was largely made up (about 40%) of people who had already voted for the Berlusconian centre-right in 2013 (the analysis linked to above includes 2013 FdI voters with the PdL), but it also drew a significant (but not very large) number from Monti, M5S and the PD.

An Ipsos Italia exit poll also reported similar results in its flow analysis – the tremendous retention of its base by the PD, the heavy loses of nearly all other parties to abstention, the PD gains from the old Monti centre (and some from the SEL+RC) and a fairly good vote retention from the Lega.

Largest party by comuni (source: YouTrend)

The PD’s victory changed the demographic makeup of its electorate somewhat. The most remarkable result, noted by most Italian pollsters, was the very marked improvement of the PD with entrepreneurs and self-employed workers – a demographic which had voted heavily for the right in 2008 (68%) and split between the M5S and the right in 2013 (40.2% for Grillo vs. 34.6% for the right and 16.4% for the left). According to Demopolis, the PD now won 33% of their votes and EMG reports that the PD took 30.7% with them against 25.1% for the M5S and 18.5% for FI. Ipsos’ data differentiates between entrepreneurs/managers/liberal professions and self-employed/traders/craftsmens – mixing the traditionally anti-leftist vote of self-employed workers and entrepreneurs with the anti-Berlusconi vote of liberal professions, but the PD won 35.3% with the former category and 30.1% with the latter (vs. 25.6%/31.2% for the M5S and 14.2%/17.8% for FI respectively), confirming a major swing to the Renzi-led PD with self-employed workers and entrepreneurs. According to Ipsos’ more detailed socioprofessional breakdown, the PD did best with pensioners (50.5%), employees/teachers (43.1%), students (41.1%), housewives (38.5%) and workers (35.8%) – more broadly, with public sector dependent employees (42.8%). The M5S did best with the unemployed (32.7% – first ahead of the PD) and workers (30.5%) but very poorly with housewives (15.4%) and pensioners (7.4%). FI did best with housewives (24.3%), the unemployed (20.1%), pensioners (20%) and self-employed traders and small businessmen (17.8%). The Lega Nord, at 8.2%, also did best with self-employed traders and small businessmen, and also performed well with workers (7.1%) and pensioners (6.9%). The NCD-UDC did best with entrepreneurs, managers and liberal professions (6.1%) and students (6%). The Tsipras list won 8% with students and 5.7% with employees and teachers, doing strikingly better with public sector workers than private sector workers (7.1% vs. 3.5%).

There is, as you may have guessed from Grillo’s comments about retirees not voting for their ‘grandchildren’s future’, a huge generational gap in the M5S’ support – nothing surprising for a new and flashy party – the party’s support is highest with younger voters (according to EMG, 32.5% with those 18-34) – or, for Ipsos, particularly middle-aged adults (33.5% with 33-44, 26.6% with those 45-54) – but, at any rate, the M5S’ support with older voters is extremely weak: Ipsos reports only 17.4% for Grillo with those 55 to 64 and 6.4% with those over 65, a result corroborated by EMG and Tecnè. In 2013, according to the CISE, the M5S’ support dropped from 38.4% with the youngest cohort (18-29) to 8.8% with the oldest (65+), a 29.6% gap compared to 12.7% for the PD and 18.5% for the PdL. Again in 2014, the PD and FI’s support both increased with the age of the voter – peaking at 50.2% for the PD and 22.1% for FI with voters over 65. The PD’s age gap is not as wide, because it still retains solid support with younger voters (32.9% with those 18-29 according to EMG, compared to 11.4% for FI), but both it and FI had about half of their 2014 electorate made up of voters older than 55 (compared to only 20% for the M5S). On the left, the Tsipras’ list support was much stronger with younger voters – up to 7.6% with those 18-24, attracting a crowd of well-educated young professionals and especially students (up to 8-9% with students).

The M5S did well with fairly educated voters – only 11% with those without any diploma or only elementary education (but I suppose this educational group is disproportionately old) – although with those who have a high school diploma or middle school education (27.4% and 20.5% respectively in Ipsos) and not with university graduates (17.8%). The PD did best both with university graduates (as did Tsipras) and those with no education (unlike the Tsipras list, but like FI); FI’s support decreased with higher educational achievement.

Ipsos’ exit poll also included interesting data on the ‘media gap’, religiosity and ideology. Unsurprisingly, the M5S did best – by far – with voters who inform themselves mostly through the internet, winning 38.7% against 28.8% for the PD, while M5S support was below national average for all other media sources, although in terms of makeup of its voters, 32% informed themselves mostly through TV (and 31% through the internet, obviously far more than the 15% of all voters who get most of their news online). Unsurprisingly, FI did best – 22% – with voters who inform themselves solely through TV, while PD voters are more likely to read newspapers or inform themselves mostly through TV. Religiosity continues to impact vote choice, although not where one may expect it: the M5S and Tsipras list did significantly better with non-religious voters or lapsed Catholics (27.7% M5S support with those who never attend mass, and they make up a third of the party’s electorate; half of the Tsipras list’s voters never attend mass) while the NCD-UDC’s support was heavily biased towards the most religious voters – half of its voters attend mass weekly. The PD showed no correlation with religiosity, and actually scored major gains since 2009/2013 with weekly mass-goers, winning 43.3% of their votes. Berlusconi’s support with the most religious Catholics has declined significantly from 2009, but he remains strongest with monthly mass-goers (22.9%) and weakest with irreligious voters.

The ideological self-identification of voters offers an interesting portrait of the M5S electorate. While the PD, FI, Lega, NCD-UDC, Tsipras and FdI voters identify neatly with their ideological families – half of the PD and FI’s voters identify as centre-left and centre-right respectively and most of the remainder as left or right – the M5S’ electorate draws from all ideologies. 20% of the M5S’ voters identify as left-wing, but 15% identify as right-wing; overall, 38% identify with the left/centre-left and 32% with the right/centre-right. Compared to all other parties, however, a very large proportion of the M5S’ supporters do not identify with any ideology (they make up 17% of its electorate and the M5S won 53.5% with these voters). Unsurprisingly, Grillo has picked up voters across the spectrum, combining voters who identify with both extreme ends of the ideological spectrum and many voters who do not fit anywhere.

% vote for the PD by comuni (source: YouTrend)

YouTrend has an excellent interactive map of the results. The PD won all but three provinces in the country – FI won the province of Isernia in the southern region of Molise, the Lega Nord was victorious in the Alpine Lombard province of Sondrio while the SVP (allied to the PD) won 48% in South Tyrol (province of Bolzano-Alto Adige/Bozen-Südtirol). The PD did very well in the traditional left-wing zona ‘rossa’ in central Italy, winning 56.4% in Tuscany and 52.5% in Emilia-Romagna. In Matteo Renzi’s home province (and longtime left-wing stronghold) of Florence, the PD won its best national result, 61.8%, up over 17% from the PD’s result in 2013. The M5S’ support was generally similar to its 2013 spread, although it took a much more ‘southern’ orientation in 2014. The Grillists sustained their heaviest loses in central Italy and parts of the north, and help up better in the south – and even improved on the 2013 result by 0.8% in Sardinia (where the PD’s results were mediocre), taking 30.5% on the island (its best national result). In contrast, the M5S won only 16.7% in Tuscany (-7.3%) and 15.7% in Lombardy (-3.9%). Forza Italia also did better in the south and Sicily, although it still won good results in traditionally conservative provinces of the Piedmont and Lombardy. Compared to 2013, the Lega Nord’s biggest rebound came from the Veneto, where the Lega won its best national result (15.2%, compared to 14.6% in Lombardy, the Lega’s other major northern base) – up 4.7% from the 2013 election. Many noted that, in the Veneto region and notably the province of Verona, where the Lega received its third-best result (19.6%), top candidate Matteo Salvini was outpolled by Flavio Tosi, the mayor of Verona and leader of the Liga Veneta. Tosi is a more traditional conservative (keener on the free market and not anti-Euro), who had opposed Umberto Bossi but now seems to be taking his distance from Salvini’s anti-Euro line and alliance with Le Pen. The NCD-UDC list did best in the south – taking 6.6% in the Southern Italy constituency and 7.5% in the Insular constituency, compared to about 3% in the north of the country. The Christian democratic tradition remains strongest in the south, where old clientelistic political traditions remain strongest – although the leadership of both the NCD and UDC, drawn from the old DC, are largely southern (Alfano is Sicilian – the list won 9.1%, its second best result, in Sicily). Tsipras’ support was far less reflective of old Communist support and was instead largely urban (particularly urban areas with a university) – its best provinces (except for South Tyrol, where it was backed by the local Greens, and the Francophone Aosta Valley where no local list ran in 2014) were Florence (6.5%), Bologna (6%), Livorno (6%) and Trieste (5.9%). It also performed above its national result in Milan, Rome, Turin and Pisa. Finally, FdI’s support was strongest in the Lazio (5.6%), a traditional base of the neo-fascist or post-fascist right.

Regional and local elections

Regional and local elections were held alongside the EP elections.

In Piedmont, an early regional election followed the cancellation of the 2010 regional elections by the regional court on account of irregularities (falsification) in signatures for a small list allied with the right. The president of the region, Roberto Cota (Lega Nord), had already been placed under investigation and later indicted (in January 2014) for embezzlement, fraud and illegal financing. He is notably accused of using his expenses to pay for items including green underpants and sex toys. The region, traditionally the major swing region between left and right in northern Italy, had been gained by Cota – backed by Berlusconi’s PdL and the Lega – in 2010, notably due to an early M5S winning 4.1% and allegedly ‘spoiling’ the election for the centre-left incumbent. Piedmont has long been one of Italy’s major industrial heartlands, notably around the regional capital of Turin but also in other towns across the country. Historically, the PCI had strong support with working-class voters in Turin’s suburbs (which welcomed a large population of immigrants from southern Italy) and other industrial centres (Alessandria, Novi Ligure, Vercelli); today, the left has been weakened outside of Turin, but retains strong support in the province of Turin itself. The M5S has been very strong in the Val di Susa region in the province of Turin since 2010, due to its identification with and support of the very strong local movement against the Turin-Lyon high-speed train (TAV).

The left’s candidate was Sergio Chiamparino, the former PD mayor of Turin (2001-2011), supported by the PD, SEL, a civic list, a local centrist party (Moderati), SC and IdV. Roberto Cota did not run, and the right’s candidate was Gilberto Pichetto, a former regional vicepresident and senator from Forza Italia, supported by FI, the Lega and small parties. Davide Bono, an incumbent M5S regional councillor who had already won 4.1% in 2010, ran for the M5S. There were also FdI and NCD-UDC candidates.

Sergio Chiamparino (Centre-left/PD) 47.09% winning 32 seats (10 president’s list, 17 PD, 2 civic list, 1 Moderati, 1 SEL, 1 SC)
Gilberto Pichetto (Centre-right/FI) 22.09% winning 9 seats (6 FI, 2 Lega Nord, 1 president’s list)
Davide Bono (M5S) 21.45% winning 8 seats
Guido Crosetto (FdI-AN) 3.73% winning 1 seat
Enrico Costa (NCD-UDC) 2.98%
Mauro Filingeri (PRC) 1.12%

In the list vote for the regional council, the Lega Nord’s support fell from a strong 16.7% in 2010 to 7.3%. The FI’s result was about 10% lower than the PdL’s 2010 showing, while the PD’s list (36.2%) gained 13% from 2010. Detailed interactive maps are available here.

Abruzzo is a largely mountainous or hilly southern region, traditionally right-leaning, which has become the most affluent region in southern Italy. The right had gained the region from the left in a narrow battle in 2008, an early election which had followed the arrest of the incumbent centre-left president, who had himself gained the region from the right in 2005. The incumbent president, Giovanni Chiodi of Forza Italia, has also been mixed up in corruption scandals. The left’s candidate was Luciano D’Alfonso, a former Christian democratic mayor of Pescara.

Luciano D’Alfonso (Centre-left/PD) 46.26% winning 18 seats (10 PD, 4 civic lists, 1 CD, 1 SEL, 1 IdV, 1 president’s list)
Giovanni Chiodi (Centre-right/FI) 29.26% winning 7 seats (4 FI, 1 NCD-UDC, 1 civic list, 1 president’s list)
Sara Marcozzi (M5S) 21.41% winning 5 seats
Maurizio Acerbo (PRC) 3.07%

The right’s defeats in Piedmont and Abruzzo, along with a (narrow) defeat earlier this year in Sardinia, means that the Italian right only holds the regions of Lombardy, Veneto (both with the Lega Nord), Campania (with FI) and Calabria (with the NCD). The Aosta Valley is led by a local centre-right coalition, excluding the Italian right, because Aostan politics operate in their own cocoon. Since the last regular regional elections in 2010, the left has gained no less than seven regions from the right in early or regularly-scheduled regional elections.

Municipal elections were held alongside the EP elections on May 25, with a runoff on June 8. According to La Repubblica, the centre-left won 164 out of the 243 largest communes which held local elections, against 41 for the centre-right and 24 for civic lists. The M5S won three communes. In terms of provincial capitals, the PD gained 11 and lost 6.

The left gained Pescara (Abruzzo), Bergamo (Lombardy), Cremona (Lombardy), Pavia (Lombardy), Campobasso (Molise), Biella (Piedmont), Verbania (Piedmont), Vercelli (Piedmont), Sassari (Sardinia), Caltanissetta (Sicily) and Prato (Tuscany). The right gained Potenza (Basilicata), Urbino (Marche), Foggia (Apulia), Perugia (Umbria) and Padua (Veneto). The M5S gained Livorno (Tuscany). The left’s defeat in several cities, after its landslide in the EP elections, somewhat mitigated the talk about the PD landslide, and may confirm the theory that the PD’s victory held quasi-exclusively to Renzi and that in a runoff ballot without any Renzi effect, the PD’s performance was far less impressive. Nevertheless, the PD still gained several cities – including large ones such as Bergamo and Pavia – and easily held others such as Florence (with 59.2% in the first round).

Two of the most striking defeats for the left came from Livorno and Padua. Livorno, a major working-class industrial and harbour city in Tuscany, had been governed by the left (the PCI, historically) since 1946 and it is a left-wing stronghold to this day (in the EP election, the PD won 52.7% vs 22.5% for the M5S), with a strong base for the radical left as well. The incumbent PD mayor was retiring this year. In the first round, the M5S candidate placed a distant second with 19% against the centre-left’s 40% and 16.4% for a radical left candidate. In the second round, the M5S candidate won 53.1% against 46.9% for the PD. Between both rounds, turnout dropped from 64.6% to 50.5%, and the PD was particularly hit by demobilization from the EP election (the PD candidate’s raw vote declined from the first round), but the M5S candidate likely won the votes of those who had backed the radical left and maybe the weak centre-right (7.3%) in the first round. In the M5S’ other municipal victories, they have usually come after weak distant second showings in the first round, through the mobilization of all voters who had backed other eliminated candidates in the first round – left or right. For example, in the port city of Civitavecchia (Lazio) – an old PCI stronghold which has drifted right since 1994, where the M5S defeated the centre-left incumbent, the M5S polled 18.3% in the first round to the left’s 26.6% and won 66.6% in the runoff thanks to low turnout (from 72.7% to 52.7%) and support from eliminated centre-right candidates (18.2% and 12.2% in the first round) and the radical left (10.9%).

The left suffered a bad defeat in Perugia (Umbria), where the right overcame a 20-point gap in the second round to win 58%, although turnout fell by 20%. In the southern city of Potenza, an FdI candidate backed only by Mario Mauro’s small Populars, gained the city with 58.5% in a runoff against the left, which had polled 47.8% in the first round against only 16.8% for the FdI (the centre-right and centre won the bulk of the remaining votes). Turnout collapsed from 75.1% to 48.4%.

In Padua, the third largest city in the Veneto, Lega Nord senator Massimo Bitonci, supported by FI and the centre-right, defeated the PD incumbent with 53.5%, with turnout 10 points lower than on May 25. It is interesting to point out that, in the election for city council, the Lega did poorly with only 4.9% (down from 11% in 2009), while the top scoring list on the right was a civic list with 16.7%. On the other hand, the PD did quite well in northern Italy (especially Lombardy). Its most notable victory was in Pavia (Lombardy), where the centre-left candidate defeated FI incumbent Alessandro Cattaneo, a young ambitious politician sometimes described as the centre-right’s Renzi. With turnout nearly 15 points lower, the left overcame a 10-point gap in the first round to win with 53.1% (the right’s support, in terms of vote, fell from the first round).

Although I speculated about a potential ‘Renzi effect’ in the first round and its drop-off in the second round, preliminary research suggests that it may have been the municipal elections which had the greater impact on the EP election than the other way around. A CISE study reports that turnout on May 25 declined by 23.5% from 2013 in communes with no local elections while it fell by just 3.4% in those which did hold municipal elections. The gap in turnout change is greatest in the south, where the difference between the two types of communes is 26.8%, over 10 points more than the region with the second-highest difference. In the south, turnout in local elections was even higher than in the 2013 election!). Additionally, while the PD performed better by an average of 2.5% in communes without local elections than those with, Forza Italia’s support declined less (-3.3%) from 2013 in towns with local elections than those without (where it was about -4.5% lower than in 2013).

The EP elections saw a rather phenomenal showing for Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s centre-left PD, a vote of cautious optimism and confidence in his new government which has gotten off to a solid and energetic start – but also a vote which is more reflective of the pitiful state of the PD’s opponents. The result is quite significant – more significant than a low-turnout EP election would normally be – because it is effectively a popular mandate, indirectly, for a Prime Minister who won that office through backroom wheeling-and-dealing rather than through the polls. That unexpected popular mandate has left the PD’s opponents, particularly Beppe Grillo, quite confused. In polls taken since the EP elections, the PD has suddenly surged into a significant lead over the right and Grillists, averaging about 40-42% against 19-21% for the M5S, 15-16% for Forza Italia and 6-7% for the Lega Nord. Somewhat ironically, the PD’s landslide makes a snap election less likely, because the opposition and the PD’s junior allies have no interest in an election now. It is now a fairly serious possibility that the Parliament elected in 2013, widely seen as an unworkable mess which wouldn’t last two years, may actually serve its full term to 2018. However, Italian politics remain in a fascinating state of flux – nothing here indicates that the PD’s current success will endure for a long time, and nothing indicates that Italian politics are anywhere close to stabilizing at some level.

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Posted on July 8, 2014, in EU Parliament, Italy, Regional and local elections. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Georg Ebner

    Italy is similar to – Japan!: Formerly an anti-communist rule of a big-tent-party with grande theatro (permanent cabinet-reshuffles without any real change), since the early 1990ies rather 2 goverment-parties with high instability.

  2. Georg Ebner

    Grillo may enter la casta in the right moment or not. Important is, that his kind of permanent plebiscite via InterNet is likely to replace the parliaments, which are indeed a relict of medieval feudalism and cannot claim to represent the volonté generale permanemtly&entirely!

  3. Crucial for the Left’s national weakness have been its decent showings in the economically dynamic North. But this has changed now: The South fell further back, but in Lombardy PD is only 0.5% below average (+19%), Veneto&FVG +17%, Piemont +16%.

  4. That “Italicum” will lead to strong leaders, new Duces – unthinkable in Germany&Austria! But such a personalization fits better to France&Italy than the abstract PostWar-system of dominant party-machines with strict ideologies.

  5. That’s weird. I can open them just fine here (Google Chrome)

  6. Strange. They don’t work for me in either Chromium or Firefox … :/ Too bad, would’ve really been interested in their calculations. (You wouldn’t maybe be so nice as to dropbox them for me, if it ain’t too much of a bother?)

  7. Thanks a lot! ^_^

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