Trans-Europe Express: Lega Nord Means Berlusconi

Sent out every Friday at noon, Trans-Europe Express gives you an insider's view of the most important coverage from across the EURACTIV media network, its media partners and much more.

The Lega Nord has won the election. Or so one would be inclined to believe, surveying the stories on Italian politics published since August in the (mostly) UK press. A bit of Brexit projection, perhaps? Not exactly, but it can’t be excluded either.

Unfortunately, as far as the polls go, there is some basis to surmise that the Lega Nord, now ranking third amongst the country’s parties, might very well lead a coalition of centre-right parties to victory in elections expected next May.

Together with a resurgent Forza Italia, the populists surged in local elections in June, taking a number of key cities away from the incumbent Partito Democratico, dampening the electoral prospects of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle.

The key to a centre-right breakthrough has been the recent moderation of both the Lega and Grillo’s party, on matters concerning the EU. They’re now less anti-euro, supposedly, and, in the case of the Lega, less regional, too.

Having witnessed Marine Le Pen’s meltdown in the French elections, both parties have started to appear more centrist, reckoning that with an improving economy and a declining number of migrants reaching the country, they need to sound less extreme.

If right-wing parties are to govern, they have to tack somewhat left.

There is just as much pressure on them to conform to European norms as on successful leftist parties, like Syriza, which was once an anti-austerity party and is now an exemplary executor of neoliberal fiscal policies. Not entirely willingly, of course.

Italians are not stupid, either. Though their economy remains fragile, they would expect that whatever party they’d elect to power would behave somewhat like adults. Brussels may not be perfect but some of the most important EU institutions are led by Italians and Italy reaps some benefits, more than not.

The major problem with a centre-right victory is what little change it will actually bring Italy. Inevitably, any centre-right coalition would find itself dominated by Forza Italia, and the needs of its leader, Silvio Berlusconi, for all that’s meant to suggest.

Few Italian governments since WWII confused national with personal requirements like Il Cavaliere’s did. And it was in coalition with the Lega, remember. Though Italy’s long-running economic crisis was largely blamed on the adoption of the euro, it is equally the responsibility of Berlusconi and his allies during their stints in office.

No shift to the centre will prevent that from happening again under a Lega-led government. The only difference will be the figurehead in charge. Berlusconi will still call the shots, and the country will get stuck with his bill again.

It’s not like Italians don’t know this. But, in the absence of more profound fixes to their economy, they’re just as likely to choose cosmetic over real change.

The Partito Democratico and Cinque Stelle, nevertheless, still lead the polls, albeit with diminished margins. If only they could find it within themselves to sit in coalition together.

It might just be the kick in the pants Italy needs to prevent another disastrous government from office.

The Inside Track

No boundaries. Serbians are realistic where their own lives are concerned. But when it comes to the country’s place in the world, they imagine living in both Russia and the West at the same time.

Tear down this wall. Slovenian officials told EURACTIV.com on Tuesday that border controls imposed by Austria “make no sense”, since the number of migrants trying to cross into the country is almost zero.

Unfinished borders. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković urged Slovenia on Thursday to stop diplomatic “blackmail” over a border issue between the two ex-Yugoslav republics and return to dialogue.

Greece is run by leftists. Athens plans to make country of origin labelling on milk mandatory in 2018, joining the growing trend of more precise food labelling in the EU, which has angered the food industry.

Trans-Europe Express (Balkan remix): Sofia and Athens signed a memorandum of understanding on Wednesday for the construction of a high-speed railway, hoping to attract foreign investment and establish strong links in a region known for antagonism between neighbours.

Bulgarian savings plan. A coalition of green NGOs has called on the European Commission to intervene in Bulgaria after the country’s ruling party announced a proposal that environmentalists said would make justice less affordable.

Europe’s best democracies. At a forum in Slovenia, the foreign ministers of Turkey and Hungary singled out the “populism” and “hypocrisy” in Germany’s televised pre-election debate, in which their countries were criticised by Angela Merkel and Martin Schulz.

Never trust a Westerner. The rhetoric only works in the former Soviet bloc. French President Emmanuel Macron is applying a ‘divide and rule’ strategy against the Visegrád Group, Czech MEP Jan Zahradil told EURACTIV.cz Editor-in-Chief Adéla Denková.

Everything should be Italian. Italy’s ministry of agriculture declared its intention on Monday to include the origin of primary ingredients on the labels of tomato-based products, drawing the expected criticisms from industry for “undermining the EU single market for food”.

Fight the power. Hate speech, racism, anti-Semitism and assaults on LGBT persons are becoming the norm again, and discriminatory violence is skyrocketing across the EU. But Europeans are getting creative in fighting back, writes EURACTIV France’s Marion Candau.

Fake news in German. Blame it on Alternative für Deutschland’s Facebook strategy. Germany’s political parties disagree over whether there should be a new federal ministry overseeing all digital policies after the 24 September election. A surge in far-right voters should make the decision for them.

Going places. The European Accessibility Act is going to the Parliament’s plenary next week. A great deal of focus has been placed on public transport and ways to make it more accessible for disabled persons. Look to Tallinn for examples.