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‘Markets will teach Italy to vote for the right thing’: EU official’s comment causes uproar

Senior Italian politicians on Tuesday called for EU budget commissioner Gunther Oettinger to resign over an "absurd" comment in which he voiced the hope that the country's poor economic situation will keep populist parties out of government.

'Markets will teach Italy to vote for the right thing': EU official's comment causes uproar
EU budget commissioner Gunther Oettinger. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

Italy is facing the likely prospect of fresh elections after President Sergio Mattarella on Sunday blocked a cabinet proposed by the anti-immigrant League and their allies, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S). The chaotic developments have spooked investors, who fear another election could see an even better result for the populist, eurosceptic parties.

In an interview with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, EU commissioner Oettinger said here had been a “noticeable downturn” in government bonds, banks' market values and in Italy's economy in general, which “the government formation may be responsible for”.

“I can only hope,” he added, “that this will play a role in the election campaign, in the sense of sending a signal to voters not to hand power to populists on the right and left.” His argument was picked up by a journalist in a comment which Oettinger then retweeted: “The markets will teach Italy to vote for the right thing.”

Far-right League leader Matteo Salvini immediately pounced upon the message. “It's crazy, in Brussels they have no shame,” Salvini tweeted.

“'The markets will teach Italy how to vote.' That sounds like a threat to me! I'm not afraid,” he continued, before calling on Oettinger to resign “this afternoon” in a Facebook video.

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Even the country's pro-European Democratic Party (PD) had strong words for Oettinger. “No one can tell Italians how to vote, not least the markets. Italy must be respected,” said Maurizio Martina, interim leader of the PD. Outgoing Minister of Economic Development, Carlo Calenda, also from the PD, called for “an apology or resignation” of the EU commissioner.

Five Star leader, Luigi Di Maio, also weighed into the debate. “'The markets will teach you to vote.' The words of the European Commissioner, Mr. Oettinger, are absurd,” said Di Maio.

“These people treat Italy like a summer colony where they come to spend their holidays. But in a few months a government of change will be born and in Europe we will finally be respected.”

European officials were quick to distance themselves from the remark. European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas labelled the comment “unwise”. 

“It is the Italians and only the Italians who will decide on the future of their country. Nobody else,” he said.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker assured Tuesday that Italy's “fate does not lie” in the financial markets' hands and that Rome will pursue its pro-EU path no matter which party is in power. 

READ ALSO: What does Italy's constitution have to say about its political crisis?


Photo; Patrick Herzog/AFP

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

EXPLAINED: Why does Italy have so many political parties?

As more than a hundred political parties register ahead of Italy's upcoming election, here's why and a look at the ones you need to know about.

EXPLAINED: Why does Italy have so many political parties?

Italy is gearing up for an early general election on September 25th, and so far the number of different parties and alliances in the running can seem overwhelming.

While they won’t all be approved, a total of 101 political parties and movements submitted their symbols and leaders’ names to the Italian interior ministry on Sunday.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

Meanwhile, parties are busy forging electoral alliances that include up to eight or nine members.

It may look chaotic, but a large number of small parties and numerous complex alliances is standard in Italy’s electoral system.

Here’s a look at why, how it all works, and which of the parties to watch. And we’ll try to keep it brief.

How many political parties are there exactly?

It’s not yet known for sure how many of the 101 political parties and movements which submitted their symbols and leaders’ names to the Italian interior ministry for approval on Sunday.

But not all of these submissions will be approved, and those who do go forward will need to collect the 36,750 signatures necessary for their candidates to stand for seats in the lower house of parliament, and a separate 19,500 to get onto the ballot for the Senate.

The parties also now have until August 22nd officially register their candidate lists, or liste elettorali.

These lists of prospective MPs are seen as vitally important, and as such are reported on in detail by Italian media: all of these names will feature on the ballot, and voters have the option to name up to three individuals they want to support.

Each list is headed by the party leader, who would then be their choice for prime minister. But some – usually smaller – parties choose to link their lists together under one leader’s name.

Ok, so which of these parties do I need to know about?

At this stage, it’s safe to say quite a few of the 101 parties and movements mentioned earlier are not serious contenders.

The number of parties you’ll actually need to know about in order to follow the election race is much smaller (although it’s still more than the two or three some of us are used to following in our home countries).

You’ve probably heard of at least some of Italy’s biggest political parties: Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy, or FdI); Partito Democratico (Democratic party, PD); Lega (the League); Forza Italia; Viva Italia; and Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement, or M5S).

READ ALSO: Who can vote in Italy’s elections?

As well as these, some relatively small parties that you may never have heard of are also likely to be decisive in the outcome of the election, if not in the formation of the next government.

That includes groupings of several parties that have joined the large right- and left-wing alliances.

What are these alliances?

Electoral alliances between two, three or more parties are vital, because the way Italy’s political system works means it’s almost impossible for one single party to take enough of the vote to rule alone.

Italy essentially has a multi-party system – in contrast to the two-party system in countries like the US and UK – designed after the second world war (and Italy’s Fascist era) to prevent any one party from being in complete control.

Image: Demopolis

So parties must team up and form these alliances with similar parties to fight elections. Then, they often have to join forces with yet more parties or alliances to form a government – often, these coalition partners are from a different part of the political spectrum.

As a result, Italy has had a long series of fractious governments made up of numerous parties with vastly differing viewpoints (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, don’t tend to last very long).

Here’s a look at the three main electoral alliances in the running this time around, and the parties within them, as well as a few other contenders you may hear about in the news:

  • Centre-right

The so-called centre-right or ‘centrodestra’ alliance is led by the hard-right Brothers of Italy, the biggest party in Italy according to the latest opinion polls, along with the populist League, led by Matteo Salvini, and Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative Forza Italia

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

These three heavyweights, predicted to take around 45 percent of the vote between them, have now been joined by a grouping of smaller, more moderate parties – a coalition within a coalition, if you will – who are running under one list.

This list is named Noi Moderati (‘we moderates’), and is made up of the following small parties: UDC, Coraggio Italia, Noi con Italia and Italia nel centro. 

Altogether, the ‘centrodestra’ alliance is essentially the same one that came close to winning the last election in 2018.

  • Centre-left

On the other side of the ring sits Italy’s second-largest party: the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which is polling just behind FdI but hasn’t formed similar powerful alliances that would make it a credible challenge to a right-wing landslide.

The centre-left alliance, called the PD-IDP, is made up of four different lists, or groupings of similar small parties:

    • Democrats and Progressives (PD along with Article 1 and Socialists)
    • Più Europa (a grouping of small pro-European parties)
    • L’Alleanza Verdi e Sinistra (Greens and Italian Left, an alliance known as AVS)
    • Impegno Civico (IC leader Luigi Di Maio is heading a list including candidates from two other small parties: Centro Democratico and Psdi, the Italian Democratic Socialist Party.)

All these parties together are currently expected to take around 32-34 percent of the vote.

  • ‘Third pole’

After breaking an agreement to ally with PD, centrist party Azione formed a pact with Matteo Renzi’s Italia Viva to create a third alliance, which they called “a third pole” and described as a “pragmatic alternative to the bi-populism of the right and left”.

The two are currently running together along with a smaller party, Lista Civica Nazionale.

The so-called A-IV alliance is currently polling at five percent.

  • Five Star Movement

Now led by former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, the populist Five Star Movement is the only major party running alone.

The party is significantly diminished since it shot to power on the protest vote in 2018. 

After several years of hemorrhaging support and recently splitting as former leader Di Maio left to form his own party, Impegno Civico (which is running as part of the centre-left coalition), M5S is expected to take around ten percent of the vote – sharply down from 32 percent in the 2018 elections.

Who else is out there?

There are currently dozens of new and unaffiliated parties out there, though very few are likely to reach the number of signatures needed for their list to appear on the ballot.

In theory, some of the more notable smaller parties and movements could take a small share of the vote each – though it’s unlikely to be enough for them to obtain representation in parliament.

The better-known of these parties include single-issue parties like Italexit (Eurosceptic), which is currently polling at three percent.

There’s also the Partito Gay (campaigning for LGBTQ rights) as well as anti-establishment groups such as the Movimento Gilet Arancioni (Orange Vests Movement), while many of Italy’s most prominent politicians, such as current health minister Roberto Speranza, also lead their own small parties.

Find all the latest news on Italy’s election race here.

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