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POLITICS

An introduction to Italy’s small political parties

One of the distinctive features of the Italian political landscape is the large number of parties, some of them encompassing a wide range of ideologies and some focusing on a single issue or region.

An introduction to Italy's small political parties
Italy's Chamber of Deputies, the Lower House of Parliament. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The smallest among them are often referred to as 'shrubs' or 'minnows' and come from all sides of the political spectrum.

But since the Second World War, no single party has ever earned enough votes to govern alone, making coalitions the norm – which means the small parties can have a decisive impact when it comes to forming alliances.

Here's a look at some of Italy's smaller parties and who their strongest allies are.

Brothers of Italy (FdI)

 

This rightwing party is part of Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right alliance, along with Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the Northern League.

Led by Giorgia Meloni, the party's full name is Brothers of Italy-National Alliance: its founding members belonged to the National Alliance, the successor of Italy's Fascist party. However, they came from the more liberal faction of the party and it was originally created in 2012 in order to oppose Mario Monti, allying with Silvio Berlusconi in elections to increase his support among the right.

Its views are national-conservative, and 'Brothers of Italy' is a reference to the first line of Italy's national anthem. The party has taken an anti-euro stance, siding with Marine Le Pen in this year's French elections, which she ultimately lost.

The party obtained two percent of the votes and nine seats in Italy's Lower House of Parliament in the 2013 election, though it performed better in the local elections later that year.


Giorgia Meloni addresses the media. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

 

Free and Equal (LeU)

The newest kid on the political block is an alliance created in December 2017 by Senate president and former anti-mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso. It includes ex-Democratic Party (PD) members who left due to disagreements with party leader Matteo Renzi, and is made up of the Italian Left, Democratic and Progressive Movement (both described in more detail below) as well as Possible, a small leftwing party founded in 2015.

Democratic and Progressive Movement (MDP)

In 2017, a group of rebels within the Democratic Party who were opposed to party leader Matteo Renzi broke away to form the MDP, and were joined by some politicians of the Italian Left. In their opening manifesto, they said they aimed to “begin a centre-left renewal”, though the group supports Paolo Gentiloni's government.


Roberto Speranza, leader of the MPD. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Italian Left (SI)

Another newbie on the political scene, the Italian Left was only formed as a full party in February 2017, made up of the former Left Ecology Freedom party as well as politicians who broke away from the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement, some local groups and youth organizations.

Popular Alternative (AP) 

Only founded in March 2017, the AP is a descendant of the New Centre Right, which split off from the People of Freedom (PdL) just before that party became Forza Italia. It sounds confusing (and it is!) but gives some idea of how common breakaway parties and changes in name (and ideology) are on the Italian political scene. 

READ ALSO: Italy's political system – six key things to know

The AP is led by Angelino Alfano, who was secretary of the Silvio Berlusconi-led PdL until 2013 and widely expected to eventually take over from the media magnate. Alfano was Justice Minister under Berlusconi and has held the offices of Interior Minister and Foreign Minister since he struck out on his own. Currently, the AP has 21 deputies (of a total of 630) and 21 senators (of 315).

The AP's ideology has its roots in Christian democracy, and Alfano has been a conservative voice in recent governments on issues such as gay rights, adoption, and surrogacy, which he controversially called for to be treated “like a sex crime”

However, Alfano threw the party's future into doubt when he announced in December he would not be running in the 2018 election, a blow to the PD, as the AP is part of its current government and would have been a likely ally.


Angelino Alfano. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Direction Italy (DI)

Formed in January 2017, Direction Italy is a centre-right party combining conservative and liberal stances. It was preceded by the Conservatives and Reformists, which split off from Forza Italia. Both parties were led by Raffaele Fitto who opposed FI's alliance with the Democratic Party under the Nazareno Pact

Liberal Popular Alliance (ALA)

The centre-right ALA is another offshoot of Berlusconi's Forza Italia. It is led by Denis Verdini, a former banker who broke away from FI to support Matteo Renzi's government.

Christian Revolution (RC)

Though the RC only has one deputy (its leader, Gianfranco Rotondi), it is affiliated with Forza Italia. As the name would suggest, the party is strongly influenced by Catholic teaching.

Civic Choice (SC)

Civic Choice was founded by former economist Mario Monti, who led a technocrat government appointed in 2011 to help Italy in the wake of the financial crisis. Despite never having held an elected office, when he left government Monti set up Civic Choice in order to seek re-election as PM as part of a centrist coalition – however, the coalition ended up coming fourth. The party now has seven deputies and its president is Mariano Rabino.


Mario Monti. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP

Union of the Centre (UdC)

The party's full name, Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, gives an insight into its ideology, which is centrist but leaning more to the right, and based on Christian democracy. On issues such as abortion, gay rights, and euthanasia the party is extremely conservative.

It has taken part in different alliances, most often with Forza Italia but also with the Democratic Party and Alfano's Popular Alternative. In the 2013 elections, it gained 1.8 percent of the vote – a significant drop from previous years when it received over five percent – but has performed more strongly in southern regions.

Centrists for Europe (CpE)

Formed by politicians breaking away from the UdC earlier this year, this is another centrist party based on Christian democracy. The breakaway happened after the UdC became increasingly critical of Renzi's government and moved slightly to the political right. 

Italy of Values (IdV)

Founded by a former prosecutor in Italy's biggest ever corruption case and now run by a magistrate, Italy of Values positions itself in the centre. It has a populist ideology, aimed at giving a voice back to the people and tackling corruption in politics, and its members and supporters also include figures from the far left. In 2013, it won 2.25 and 1.79 percent of the vote in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate respectively, but performs most strongly in the south.

READ ALSO: What is Italy's ruling Democratic Party?

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MIGRANT CRISIS

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers met in Brussels on Friday to discuss the latest migrant crisis – a move that was precipitated by Italy's controversial clash with France over the handling of refugees.

EU ministers hold crisis talks after migrant ship row between Italy and France

European interior ministers gathered for crisis talks on Friday as an ugly row between Paris and Rome over how to handle would-be refugees forced a EU migration reform back onto their agenda.

New arrival numbers haven’t yet hit the levels of 2015 and 2016, but European capitals are concerned about new pressure on sea routes from North Africa and overland through the western Balkans.

And now, with winter temperatures descending in eastern Europe and Ukrainian cities facing power cuts under Russian bombardment, the European Union is braced for many more war refugees.

The bloc has been struggling for years to agree and implement a new policy for sharing responsibility for migrants and asylum seekers, but a new dispute has brought the issue to the fore.

READ ALSO: Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

Earlier this month, Italy’s new government under far-right leader Georgia Meloni refused to allow a Norwegian-flagged NGO ship to dock with 234 migrants rescued from the Mediterranean.

The Ocean Viking eventually continued on to France, where authorities reacted with fury to Rome’s stance, suspending an earlier deal to take in 3,500 asylum seekers stranded in Italy.

The row undermined the EU’s stop-gap interim solution to the problem, and Paris called Friday’s extraordinary meeting of interior ministers from the 27 member states.

Migrants in Lampedusa, Italy

Earlier this month, France suspended a deal by which it would take as many as 3,500 refugees stranded in Italy. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Complaints from Mediterranean countries closer to North African shores like Italy and Greece that they were shouldering too much responsibility for migrants led to the previous plan.

A dozen EU members agreed to take on 8,000 asylum seekers – with France and Germany taking 3,500 each – but so far just 117 relocations have taken place.

‘Nothing new’

After Italy refused responsibility for the Ocean Viking, France has declared that it no longer wants to not only allow ships to arrive from Italian waters but also take in thousands of other migrants.

On Monday, in a bid to revive the mechanism, the European Commission unveiled another action plan to better regulate arrivals on the central Mediterranean route.

“Obviously the meeting was set up following the spat between Italy and France over the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking,” a European diplomat said.

“The action plan that was shared with member states is perfectly fine, but contains nothing new, so it isn’t going to solve the migration issue.”

Stephanie Pope, an expert on migration for the aid agency Oxfam, dubbed Brussels’ plan “just another reshuffle of old ideas that do not work”. 

“It is a waste of time,” she said.

The plan would see a closer coordination between EU national authorities and humanitarian NGOs on rescues of migrants whose make-shift, overcrowded boats are in difficulty.

And it would see Brussels work more closely with Tunisia, Libya and Egypt to try to stop undocumented migrants boarding smuggler vessels in the first place.

READ ALSO: Italy arrests suspected trafficker over deaths of seven migrants

France would like a new framework within which NGO boats could operate – neither a total ban nor a carte blanche to import would-be refugees.

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse the humanitarian charities of operating without respect to national authorities and of effectively encouraging immigration.

Migrants on a boat arriving in Italy

Italy, Greece, Malta and Cyprus often accuse NGOs of operating with disregard to national authorities. Photo by Gianluca CHININEA / AFP

Other member states, including Germany, argue that there can be no limits on humanitarian operations – all seafarers are obliged by the law of the sea to save travellers in danger. 

Ahead of the talks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, warned: “With almost 2,000 people having already died or gone missing so far this year alone, urgent action is needed.”

Grandi welcomed the European Commission’s draft plan for state-led rescues and predictable ports of disembarkation, adding: “While states point fingers and trade blame, lives are lost.”

Border force

While France and Italy argue about high-profile cases of dramatic rescues in the central Mediterranean, other EU capitals are more concerned about land routes through the Balkans.

Almost 130,000 undocumented migrants are estimated to have come to the bloc since the start of the year, an increase of 160 percent, according to the EU border force Frontex.

On Thursday, the Czech, Austrian, Slovak and Hungarian ministers met in Prague ahead of the trip to Brussels to stress that this route accounts for more than half of “illegal arrivals” in the bloc.

Austrian interior minister Gerhard Karner said the EU should finance border protection and give members “a legal tool to return people who come for economic reasons”.

Diplomats said France and Italy would try to dominate the talks with complaints about sea arrivals, while Greece and Cyprus would point fingers at Turkey for allegedly facilitating illegal entries.

Central and eastern countries would focus on the Balkans route and, as one diplomat said, “Hungary and Poland don’t want anything to do with anything in the field of migration.”

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