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POLITICS

12 pictures that tell the story of the Italian election campaign

As Italians go to the polls in Sunday's general election, we take a look back at the campaign, and the most striking pictures from the past few months in Italian politics.

12 pictures that tell the story of the Italian election campaign
A nun hands in her voting paper in the Italian election. Photo: AFP

Back in October, Italy's politicians passed a new electoral law, the piece of legislation that made elections possible.

But not everyone was happy, with the Five Star Movement (M5S) arguing that new rules put them at a disadvantage. They held a protest at Rome's Pantheon wearing blindfolds to show how they felt the law affected them. Pictured are party founder Beppe Grillo and Alessandro Di Battista. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Current prime minister Paolo Gentiloni is pictured delivering his end of the year speech on December 28th, before dissolving parliament.

Though seen by many as a 'caretaker PM' when first appointed in late 2016, Gentiloni has spent longer in office than many an Italian prime minister, and may hold onto the job even longer — an outcome that would please many Italians, since the Democratic Party (PD) politician is regularly ranked as Italy's most popular. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

After the dissolution of parliament, it was time for the campaign to start. Here's an M5S supporter holding a poster with a rather disturbing image showing Matteo Renzi and Silvio Berlusconi's faces morphed into one. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

PD leader Matteo Renzi boared a train saying 'Destination Italy' as he kicked off his campaign back in October. Renzi, once known as 'the scrapper' due to his ambition and sweeping reforms, has been relatively quiet through a campaign dominated by the vocal rightwing. Photo: AFP

This image of Matteo Salvini speaking at a League (formerly Northern League) rally sums up the party's rhetoric. The slogan 'prima gli Italiani' (Italians first) echoes US President Donald Trump. The party also dropped the word ‘north' from their official logo in late December, which features the word ‘Lega' (League) and the new slogan ‘Salvini premier'. Salvini has made no secret of his desire to take the top job, something coalition ally Silvio Berlusconi has repeatedly said will not happen. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The Five Star Movement campaigns on an anti-corruption platform and has had its fair share of embarrassments during the campain, including accusations of plagiarizing its election programme from Wikipedia and rival politicians' speeches, and three of its canddiates being kicked out of the party over links to Freemasonry.

But the biggest scandal was the revelation that its members may have pocketed over €1 million which the party had promised to donate to a small business fund. In the picture above, Di Maio is shown taking a closer look at the paperwork with the crew of TV show Le Iene, which revealed the missing million. Photo: Luigi Di Maio/Facebook

Today in Italian politics: Five Star problems, surreal debates, and a Berlusconi burn

Unlike many European countries, Italy doesn't host official TV debates between the party leaders, but there have been a few, often bizarre, discussions between different party leaders, both on Facebook Live and TV shows. The screengrab above is from La7, where Salvini and President of the Lower House Laura Boldrini took part in a surreal meeting, each holding up pieces of paper with hashtags written on them while the other spoke.

Immigration has been one of the most discussed issues of the election, with Berlusconi's coalition calling for a stop to immigration and the deportation of hundreds of thousands of migrants already in the country.

Anti-migrant group CasaPound, which has neofascist roots, has held rallies across the country, many of which have been met with counter-protests from anti-fascist protesters. A minority of the protests on both sides have turned violent, with dozens of arrests.

Pictured above is a CasaPound rally outside Rome's Pantheon. Photo: AFP

A lot of the campaign coverage focussed on the men leading the country's major parties, but there are several women set to play an important part in Sunday's vote. Above is lawyer and acid attack survivor Lucia Annibali, who will run for the first time as a PD candidate. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Immigration was one of the most-discussed issues ahead of the election. In these posters, the slogan 'vote for me' accompanied pictures of migrants living and working in Sicily.

Silvio Berlusconi portrays himself as the caring 'nonno' of Italy, and his grandfatherly instinct was on display at a coalition rally where he wiped the forehead of junior ally Salvini. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The leaders of the centre-right coalition pictured on March 1st — one of the only times they were all together during the entire campaign. A campaign tactic to visit as much of Italy as possible between them, or a sign of rifts within the bloc? It's hard to know for sure. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

 

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ENERGY

What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

After Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Italy on Saturday, many are wondering what consequences the stoppage will have on the country’s energy supplies.

What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

What’s going on?

Over the past three days, Italy has received none of the gas supplies it expected from Russian energy giant Gazprom. 

The impasse officially started last Saturday, when Gazprom announced it would not be able to deliver gas to Italy due to “the impossibility of gas transport through Austria” – Russian gas supplies are delivered to Italy through the Trans Austria Gas pipeline (TAG), which reaches into Italian territory near Tarvisio, Friuli Venezia-Giulia. 

READ ALSO: Russia suspends gas to Italy after ‘problem’ in Austria

Though Gazprom originally attributed the problem to Austrian gas grid operators refusing to confirm “transport nominations”, Austria’s energy regulator E-Control said that the Russian energy mammoth had failed to comply with new contractual agreements whose introduction had been “known to all market actors for months”. 

Additional information about the incident only emerged on Monday, when Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italy’s national energy provider ENI, said that supplies had been suspended after Gazprom failed to pay a 20-million-euro guarantee to Austrian gas carrier Gas Connect. 

Descalzi also added that ENI was ready to step in and deposit the guarantee itself in order to unblock deliveries to Italy.

Logo of Italian energy regulator ENI.

Italian energy regulator ENI said it was ready to pay Austrian gas carriers a 20-million-euro guarantee to unblock deliveries. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

READ ALSO: Italy’s ENI ready to pay guarantee to unblock Russian gas

At the time of writing, however, no agreement between ENI, Gas Connect and Gazprom has yet been reached, with the stoppage expected to continue until Wednesday at the very least.

What would an indefinite stoppage mean for Italy’s upcoming winter season?

Though energy giant ENI appears to be confident that a compromise between all the involved parties will be reached shortly, the “indefinite shutdown” of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in early September is somewhat of a menacing precedent. 

After fears of a long-term supply suspension cropped up over the weekend, outgoing Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani publicly reassured Italians that “barring any catastrophic events, Italy will have the whole of winter covered”.

It isn’t yet clear what exactly Cingolani meant by “catastrophic”, but the latest available data seem to suggest that Italy wouldn’t have to resort to emergency measures, chiefly gas rationing, should Gazprom halt deliveries indefinitely. 

Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani.

Outgoing Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani said that, “barring any catastrophic events”, Italy will have enough gas supplies for the winter. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

In 2021, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Italy received around 20 billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year, which accounted for about 40 percent of the country’s annual gas imports. 

But, thanks to the supply diversification strategy carried out by outgoing PM Mario Draghi and his cabinet over the past few months, Russian gas currently accounts for, in the words of ENI’s CEO Claudio Descalzi, only “about nine to 10 percent” of Italian gas imports.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Draghi criticises Germany over latest energy plan

Granted, Italy still receives (or, given the current diplomatic deadlock, expects to receive) a non-negligible total of 20 million cubic metres of Russian gas per day. But, should supply lines between Rome and Moscow be shut off until further notice, Italy could fall back on existing gas stocks to meet winter consumption demands. 

Last Wednesday, Cingolani announced that the country had already filled up 90 percent of its national gas stocks – Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas – and the government was now working to bring that number up by an additional two or three percentage points.

These supplies, Cingolani said, are set to give Italy “greater flexibility” with respect to potential “spikes in winter consumption”.

Gas storage station in Loenhout, Belgium.

Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

Finally, Italy is expected to receive an additional four billion cubic metres of gas from North Europe over the winter months – deliveries which will be complemented by the first shipments of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) from Egypt.

Both of these developments are expected to further reinforce Italy’s position in the energy market for the cold season.

What about the long-term consequences of an indefinite stoppage?

An indefinite shut-off of Russian gas supplies would effectively anticipate Italy’s independence from Moscow by nearly two years – Draghi’s plan has always been to wean the country off Russian gas by autumn 2024.

However, the Italian government’s strategy is (or, perhaps, was, as a new government is about to be formed) centred around a gradual phasing out of Russian supplies. As such, although not immediately problematic, a ‘cold-turkey’ scenario might create supply issues for Italy at some point during 2023.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How much are energy prices rising in Italy this autumn?

Granted, Algeria, whose supplies currently make up 36 percent of Italy’s national demand, is expected to ramp up gas exports and provide Rome with nine billion cubic metres of gas in 2023.

But, even when combined with LNG supplies from several African partners – these should add up to a total of four billion cubic metres of gas in 2023 – there’s a risk that Algerian gas might not be able to replace Russian gas on its own.

An employee works at the Tunisian Sergaz company, that controls the Tunisian segment of the Trans-Mediterranean (Transmed) pipeline, through which natural gas flows from Algeria to Italy.

Algerian gas supplies, which reach Italy through the Trans-Med pipeline (pictured above), might not be enough to replace Russian gas in 2023. Photo by Fethi BELAID / AFP

Therefore, should an indefinite shut-off be the ultimate outcome of the current diplomatic incident between ENI, Austria’s Gas Connect and Russia’s Gazprom, Italy, this time in the person of new PM Giorgia Meloni, might have to close deals with other suppliers or ask existing suppliers to ramp up production. 

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