Salvini wins over Italy as Five Star Movement falls apart

Deputy premier and Interior minister Matteo Salvini in the press conference to comment the provisional outcomes of the vote. [LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE]

After just one year in government, the balance of power between Italy’s two ruling parties has been turned around: Lega doubled its score from last year’s 17.35% to 33.6%, while  the Five Star Movement crumbled from 32.68% to 16.70%.

“People have given us the mission to put the rights to work and to healthcare at the heart of the European debate,” Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini told the press around 1:00 am, in what was the first comment by an Italian politician after the EU election results were announced.

In the distant contest opposing him to the anti-system Five Star Movement, the far-right Interior minister came out as the indisputable winner, as voters rewarded his hardline economic and migration policies.

For the first time ever, Lega became the first party in Italy, confirming the nation-wide rise of a regional party that finds its roots in the country’s separatist north. Lega got only 6.15% of votes at the last EU elections.

With an expected 28 or 29 seats in the hemicycle, Lega could become the biggest single national party delegation in the new European Parliament, together with the German CDU of Chancellor Angela Merkel and the UK’s Brexit Party of Nigel Farage.

After such a clear-cut electoral victory, Lega immediately claimed the right to nominate Italy’s next European Commissioner in Brussels. “For sure, we will ask for an ‘economic’ portfolio – so agriculture, competition or energy,” Salvini commented during a late night TV show.

The far-right leader also promised not to dissolve his ruling coalition with the Five Star Movement or to reshuffle the Italian government after the election.

“At the national level, nothing will change. My word is worth more than some votes,” Salvini said, adding that his enemy was the centre-left Democratic Party, not the Five Star Movement.

It is not sure however that the European election won’t have an effect on the stability of the Italian government.

PD overtaking

In what could be their darkest election night yet, the Five Star Movement was overtaken by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which came out ahead the anti-establishment party, at 23.5%.

Five Star politicians avoided questions from the press in the aftermath of the election, with party leader Luigi Di Maio only releasing a brief statement for the media.

“We were penalised because of the low turnout in Southern Italy. Now heads down and let’s work,” he said.

For its part, the Democratic Party celebrated a good electoral performance that partly compensated for their terrible result registered at last year’s general election in Italy.

Party leader Nicola Zingaretti welcomed the first projections, saying: “The vote gives us a new political challenge to build an alternative to Matteo Salvini, who comes out as the true leader of the government,” he said.

The Democratic Party became the second largest Italian party in the European Parliament, bringing an expected 18 seats to the assembly’s Socialists and Democrats group – just one seat less than the successful Spanish delegation.

A new centre-right coalition?

Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party was another winner in the toss-up with the far-right Fratelli d’Italia, which recently joined the conservative ECR group in the European Parliament.

The gap between the two former Lega partners is roughly 2 percentage points but Fratelli d’Italia recorded the second-best growth rate after Lega compared to the 2018 general election, while the EPP-affiliated Forza Italia is in free-fall.

Both parties renewed their call to revive the centre-right alliance with Lega, as an alternative to the current coalition between Lega and the Five Star Movement.

In other results for Italy, the Liberal +Europa party failed to pass the electoral threshold of 4%, leaving Italian liberals without any representation in the European Parliament.

Voter turnout in Italy was slightly down compared to the last EU election, standing at 56.10%, down 2.6 points from 2014.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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