The Italian general elections on Sunday ended up as a triumph for Italy’s populist parties. The Northern League and Five Star Movement (M5S) were the major winners. Both parties campaigned on anti-establishment, anti-immigration, and anti-European Union platforms. A new government has yet to be formed and it could be some time yet before that happens. However, that government will almost assuredly be staunchly anti-European Union in sentiment, as well as in deed.
Italy has long been considered to be one of the economic problem children of the European Union, along with Greece, Portugal, and Spain. The growing debt and economic vulnerability of of the Southern European EU members brought about an era of austerity from Lisbon to Athens. Austerity was more than enough for Southern European nations to contend with. But then came the European migrant crisis which saw continuous waves of African, and Middle Eastern migrants washing up on Southern European shorelines.
Italy was arguably the hardest hit. Austerity, and the migrant crisis combined to bring about a political shift in Italy. In recent years, voters have moved away from mainstream political parties, and tossed their lot in with populist parties that are opposed to essentially everything that the European Union supports. Brussels, and Rome appear to be fated towards a clash down the road and the EU is not waiting for the new government to form before it fires the first shot.
Yesterday, the European Commission urged Italy to increase economic reforms. The nation’s recovery from the 2008 crisis continues, yet at a sluggish pace. The commission also cited ‘excessive economic imbalances’ present in Italy. To be fair, the commission’s report also pointed to Cyprus and Croatia as having similar problems, yet their inclusion serves to highlight the fact that the EU’s southern flank is becoming increasingly vulnerable.
This increases the scrutiny which will be placed on Rome in the coming months. The new Italian government will not be as receptive and compliant to EU ‘economic suggestions’ as Greece and Alex Tsipras’ government was in 2015. More to the point, Rome will not submit itself to the wishes of Brussels, and the veiled threats of Angela Merkel like Athens did. The EU feels it would be in its best interests to have a stake in determining Italy’s economic policies for the foreseeable future. How far Brussels is willing to go to keep its influence alive remains to be seen?
What will Italy’s reaction be to increased EU bullying? An Italexit could have severe consequences for Brussels and signal the final nail in the coffin for the great European Experiment.