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30 May 2018updated 24 Jun 2021 12:21pm

In the next Italian election, nothing is guaranteed

Lega Nord’s Matteo Salvini may struggle to do as well next time, when his opposition to the euro will be front and centre.

By Stephen Bush

If you’ve ever made a mistake at work, don’t worry: at least you’ve never helped trigger the first exit from the Eurozone.

Deutsche Welle journalist Bernd Thomas Riegert’s paraphrase of EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger’s thoughts on Italy – “The markets will teach the Italians to vote for the right thing.” – has gone halfway round the world before Oettinger’s actual words – “My concern and expectation is that the coming weeks will show that the development of the markets, government bonds and the economy of Italy will be so far-reaching that this will be a possible signal to voters not to vote for populists on the right or left.” – have got its boots on.

While Oettinger’s remarks may have been less punchy than the précis, it is hard to argue that Riegert’s summary wasn’t accurate. Adding to the problem, Oettinger has form, saying back in 2013 that Italy was “ungovernable”. It’s the best backdrop that Lega Nord and Matteo Salvini could hope to have as Italy gears up for another election.

But a good backdrop is no guarantee that Salvini will get what he wants. Part of Lega’s success in the election of March 2018 was in downplaying their longstanding opposition to the Euro. It may be difficult to do as well next time when his opposition to the single currency will be front and centre, though it hasn’t stopped Lega rising in the polls since the row burst out into the open.

He will face different opponents this time too. One of the more bizarre features of the last election was that the centre-left Democrats had the man who was, at the time, the most popular politician in the country, Paolo Gentiloni, as prime minister, and the man who is still the least popular politician in the country, Matteo Renzi, as their candidate for prime minister. Renzi has since left the stage and whoever emerges as his successor will surely be worth a percentage point or two as far as the Democrats are concerned. Silvio Berlusconi has had his ban on running for elected office revoked which means that Forza Italia, Lega Nord’s nominal coalition partners in the last election, go into this one with a clear prime minister designate as opposed to the uncertainty that swirled around who Forza Italia actually wanted to lead the country.

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Of course, the Democrats could end up with a worse candidate than Renzi, and Berlusconi’s full-fat return could backfire on Forza Italia. But it’s worth noting that as much as some within the European Commission seem to want to write Salvini’s leaflets for him, nothing about the next Italian election is guaranteed. 

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