Italy’s election is a political risk for the EU, economic commissioner warns

The upcoming general election in Italy is one of the "political risks" facing the European Union, according to the European Commissioner for Economic Affairs, Pierre Moscovici.

Italy's election is a political risk for the EU, economic commissioner warns
European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Moscovici began his remarks at a Paris press conference by saying he “has faith” in Italy's economic recovery.

He acknowledged the high level of public debt in the Mediterranean nation and said that further reforms were needed, but praised the measures which have already been introduced and have led to a slight fall in debt levels.

“Italy is like a cat; it always lands on its feet,” he quipped. The country last August posted its best annual economic growth figures since 2011.

However, the commissioner went on to say that the uncertain outcome of the Italian general election scheduled for March 4th posed a “political risk” for the EU.

“What majority will emerge from the vote? What programme? What commitment to Europe?” Moscovici said.

Both the Five Star Movement (M5S), which is currently leading polls, and the Northern League, a junior ally in a centre-right coalition, have long called for a referendum on euro membership, though both have toned down their anti-EU stances in the run-up to the election.
But of the major parties, only the ruling Democratic Party, weakened from internal rifts and splits over the past year, is firmly pro-EU. And even that party is taking an ever stronger line in calling for reforms. 

At Tuesday's press conference, Moscovici also touched on recent comments from Attilio Fontana, a centre-right-backed candidate running to be president of Lombardy, who on Sunday spoke of the need to protect “our white race” from migration. Fontana later said the phrase was a “slip of the tongue” and that he had meant to say “our history and our society”.

The EU commissioner described the remark as “scandalous” and urged voters to tackle “illiberal, racist, extremist parties”.



Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.