Rethinking Europe

Italy: Another Downer for the Populist Wave in Europe

Beppe Grillo’s Five Stars movement loses some of its lustre.

Beppe Grillo (Credit: Giuseppe Favia - Wikimedia)

Takeaways


  • Beppe Grillo's radical Five Stars movement suffered a heavy setback in Sunday’s Italian elections.
  • Last year, the Five Stars badly botched their attempt to run Rome after winning a local election there.
  • European anti-establishment parties have lost some momentum recently.
  • Various EU countries' young generations clearly see their future in Europe and the EU, not outside.

With all the attention so firmly focused on the French parliamentary elections, one could be forgiven for overlooking the Italian elections.

True, Italians just voted in local elections this past Sunday, but the outcome could be significant in a Europe-wide context.

Beppe Grillo deflated

The reason for this assessment is that Beppe Grillo’s radical Five Stars movement suffered a heavy setback, according to early results and exit polls.

Significantly, Beppe Grillo’s movement failed to make it into the second round in almost all major cities (including Grillo’s home town of Genoa!) and the roughly 1,000 smaller municipalities that were at stake.

A European theme?

Maybe, just maybe, the wave of rationality that has manifested itself throughout this year’s spate of elections in various European countries – a year that was supposed to bring a populist upsurge – has also had its effect on Italy.

Most of the run-off battles on 25 June will be fought between local coalitions of the center-right and center-left. The center-right leads in Genoa, Verona, Lecce and Padova, while center-left candidates won the first round in Palermo and L’Aquila.

Incapable of governing

Last year, the Five Stars badly botched their attempt to run the City of Rome after winning a local election there. In addition, the recent intra-party spat around the introduction of a new electoral law may also have caused some voters to turn away from a party that is asking for a Euro referendum.

While Five Stars are running neck-and-neck with the staunchly pro-euro center-left Democrats in national opinion polls with support close to 30% each, the local results suggest that Five Stars may fare less well in actual elections than in the polls.

Is Europe becoming cool again?

Other European anti-establishment parties (Wilders in the Netherlands, Le Pen and Front National in France, UKIP in the UK) have also lost some momentum recently. Of course, partial local elections are no reliable guide to national votes.

What does matter, however, as evidenced by the British election last week and the support for Macron’s movement in France, the various EU countries’ young generations clearly see their future in Europe and the EU, not outside.

Italy still on the edge

Whether or not the risk of early national elections in Italy this autumn has really evaporated remains unclear.

The trouble that Beppe Grillo now faces inside his own ranks may work to stabilize the Italian situation.

While cast as a movement for significant change, as long as the Five Stars are disoriented and internally divided, it is unlikely that they will be able to take the country out of the euro — even if the Five Stars were to end up as part of a government eventually.

Tags: , , , ,

About Holger Schmieding

Holger Schmieding is chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London. [United Kingdom] Follow him @Berenberg_Econ

Responses to “Italy: Another Downer for the Populist Wave in Europe”