OP-ED: Italy's General Elections...What's Next?
By Fernando Napolitano, CEO of NeWest Corp
Thirty million Italians cast their vote on September 25. Uncharacteristically, there is a clear winner. Fratelli D’Italia, the right of center party led by Ms. Giorgia Meloni, becomes the largest political party with 26% of the votes, a phenomenal 5-fold increase on the 2018 elections. The center-right coalition Fratelli D’Italia forged with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and the Northern League will enjoy a robust majority in both chambers: about 60% of the seats. The 5-star movement, whose ideologue leader is a stand-up comedian, was halved to 15% from 32% in 2018. Regrettably, citizens continue to desert elections. The rate of abstention was 36% on September 25, compared to 27% in 2018 and 13% in 1994.
Some reactions to this democratic victory were characterized by political hysteria, domestic and international, waving the ghosts of a past link to fascism that is now remote. Even some Italian opinion makers from the left dubbed these comments as useless and anachronistic. Over the last thirty years Ms. Meloni's party has contributed to the wellbeing of Italy’s democracy. Many, including Ms. Meloni, served as Ministers. The Chairperson of the lower house, the third most important institution of the Italian Republic, was the former leader of the same political party. As we argued in the previous column, Italy’s democracy runs no risk and safeguards are in place and work.
The first test for Ms. Meloni will be the appointment of the Chairpersons of both Chambers. While hers was a clear win, the other two political parties, each collecting about 9% of the votes, feel less victorious when compared to their past. However, both are needed to secure a parliamentary majority. Balancing egos, expectations and ambitions will provide a first assessment of the quality of her leadership and the level of political cohesiveness of this center-right coalition.
On October 17, the President of the Republic will start consultations with the newly appointed Chairpersons of the two houses as well as with the political parties. There is a logical expectation that the center-right leaders will propose Ms. Meloni as Prime Minister to-be, and there is a strong likelihood that the President of the Republic will ask Ms. Meloni to lead the formation of the new government. The quality and professionalism of the list of cabinet Ministers will be under severe scrutiny. According to the Italian constitution, the President of the Republic must approve the list proposed by the Prime Minister to-be. As I have noted in the previous article, the last two Presidents of the Republic have been resolute in utilizing this constitutional provision in refusing to approve the ascent to Minister of individuals that they evaluated as unquestionably unqualified for the job. This is particularly true when it comes to the appointment of the Minister of Economy & Finances (MEF).
As Prime Minister the economic challenges starting with the budget law will dominate her agenda. The markets will be watching. Italy’s public debt is 159% of GDP, its yearly debt renewal is, on average, €350 billion.
Meloni inherits an entrenched North-South divide with significant social expectations to create jobs, and of government intervention to ease the cost of energy as winter approaches. The business community seeks stability, predictability and a productive relationship with Europe to secure the continuing stream of the €235 billion of the European Next Generation EU (NGEU) fund that provides financial support to recover from COVID-19. Those NGEU funds are conditional and will be allocated only if Italy implements key structural economic and social reforms up to 2027.
While the notion of ‘hard-right’ fulfils the ambition of catchy headline news, there is hardly any chance that this will actually see the light in domestic or international policy-making. Italy, constitutionally and politically and together with its electorate, belongs to the mature liberal democracies’ club. It is a proud funding member of the European Union, and joined the single currency from its outset. It is historically an ally of the United States and hosts strategic US and NATO military bases on its soil. Furthermore, Forza Italia is a reliable member of the centrist European Popular Party and a critical constituent of the government’s majority in both houses. Ms. Meloni has been resolute in condemning Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and, by and large, is following the seasoned footsteps of the current Prime Minister, Mario Draghi.
It bears repeating that to fear apocalyptic scenarios, to misinform foreign public opinion about non-existent threats of "isms" (fascism, communism, anarchism), or to call-in possible foreign interference in favor of this or that coalition, means not serving one's country as it deserves. Italy does not speak English to the rest of the world. It allows the understanding of Italy to be mediated by others who, we trust in good faith, discuss and suggest what Italy is or should become.
On the other hand, the patronizing of Italy is a temptation and has a long tradition. We should take responsibility for that narrative ourselves, Italian and English, domestic and international, and we should make it meaningful, make it equitable, and make it count.
This column and those that will follow aim to provide authentic and fact-based perspectives
on Italy...Join the conversation. The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Newest Corp. or its affiliates.