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League victory in EU vote strains Italian government

“The fuse that will lead to the government's collapse has been lit”, said Italian political experts on Monday following the League's EU election triumph.

League victory in EU vote strains Italian government
Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini arrives to cast his ballot at a polling station in Milan on May 26, 2019, as he votes in European parliamentary elections. Photo: AFP

The success of the eurosceptic, anti-migrant League party at the European elections has raised questions in Italy over the current populist coalition government's future.

The League won more than 34 percent of the Italian vote, compared to just six percent in the 2014 EU elections and 17 percent in the Italian general election last year.

The results confirm the reversal of fortunes of the League and its coalition partner, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), which took 32.5 percent at the general election but took home just 17 percent on Sunday.

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“We can expect a week of frenetic negotiations to see how everyone will reposition themselves,” said Giovanni Orsina, politics professor at Rome's LUISS University.

The League victory and M5S collapse in popularity “is explosive in terms of the consequences for government stability,” political analyst Stefano Folli wrote in the Repubblica daily.

“We're not talking tomorrow, or the day after, but the fuse which will lead to the government's collapse has been lit,” he said.

READ ALSO: How EU elections could lead yet another Italian government to collapse

The League snapped up votes from both the M5S and the opposition, with a hardline stance on migration and a savvy multimedia team bombarding Italians with selfies of leader Matteo Salvini.

The party did particularly well in centres seen as migration “hot spots”, including a town held up as a model of integration.

“A miracle”

Salvini's victory had been widely expected, despite the M5S taking advantage of embarrassing corruption scandals involving the far-right party.

The interior minister sparked an outcry at a rally in the run-up to the vote by holding aloft a rosary seen by many as a gratuitous prop, and calling for the Virgin Mary to carry him to victory.

“Salvini was convinced he could do it. The (corruption) investigations made the League lose five to six points, but then he pulled out his rosary. And perhaps he really did get a miracle,” Marco Valbruzzi from the Istituto Cattaneo research institute said.

Inside a polling station in Milan before the 2019 EU elections. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

M5S head Luigi Di Maio suggested the League had got one over on it because of political attacks which initially went unchallenged.

Salvini – who celebrated by tweeting a photo of himself grinning and holding a sign saying “top party in Italy” – is now likely to try to force the M5S's hand on every plan it has contested since the coalition formed in June 2018.

“I ask for an acceleration on the government programme,” the 46-year-old said, brandishing Roman Catholic rosary beads.

The main questions at stake are a high-speed rail line between the cities of Turin and Lyon in France, and a flat tax proposal.

“Too silent”

“Perhaps we were too silent, too pure at the beginning, and if that was our mistake I take responsibility,” he said Monday.

The results place Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in an increasingly difficult position. The leader agreed upon by Salvini and Di Maio is purportedly independent but was a M5S pick.

Analysts say Salvini may be tempted to break up the coalition and join forces with others on the right.
“I'd say the possibility of autumn elections is over 50 percent, unless there's a very strong alignment of the M5S with the Salvini leadership, which would create enormous tensions within the Movement,” Orsina said.

Italy's small far-right Brothers of Italy (FdI) party took home 6.4 percent of the vote, while billionaire Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia party, a historic ally of the League, pocketed 8.8 percent.

“Salvini may pull the plug if he feels confident enough in getting an outright majority by siding with Brothers of Italy and part of Forza Italia (without Berlusconi),” said Lorenzo Codogno, former chief economist at the Italian Treasury Department.

The centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which won just 18 percent at the general election, took 22.7 percent of the vote, clawing back some votes from M5S.

The Green party, which recorded significant gains in many other European countries, took just 2.29 percent.

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COST OF LIVING

Electricity bills in Italy to rise by 59 percent, warns power regulator

Italy’s power regulator ARERA has warned that households would see prices climb by 59 percent.

Electricity bills in Italy to rise by 59 percent, warns power regulator

Electricity prices are set to climb once again as the average Italian household’s bill is expected to rise by 59 percent in the coming months, said Italian power regulator ARERA (Authority for the Regulation of Energy Networks and Environment) this week.

ARERA said that the gravity of the current energy crisis forced them to adopt “extraordinary measures” in order to stave off a 100-percent increase in the price of electricity bills.

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: Italy’s outgoing PM pledges more help with soaring prices

Despite such efforts, they added, electricity bills are set to rise by 59 percent on average in autumn.

Massimo Ricci, ARERA’s energy department director described the rise as “unprecedented”. 

ARERA also said that, by the end of 2022, the average Italian family will likely have spent a total of €1,322 on electricity bills alone. For the sake of context, the average family’s expenditure on electricity bills sat at €632 euros last year.

As for gas bills, ARERA said that, due to the “introduction of a new calculation method”, new estimates on gas prices would only be published at the start of November. 

Gas bills in Italy have risen by 93 percent over the past two years, according to consumer group Assoutenti. Photo by Ida Marie ODGAARD / Ritzau SCANPIX / AFP

That said, gas bills in Italy have risen by 93 percent over the past two years and the continuing conflict between Russia and Ukraine together with the damage recently suffered by Nord Stream pipelines “threaten to make bills skyrocket,” said consumer group Assoutenti. 

In an attempt to mitigate the ‘sting’ of soaring bills and protect people’s purchasing power, the Italian government has already passed a number of aid measures, with a further aid package, the decreto aiuti ter (third aid decree), currently being on ministers’ table. 

According to the latest available indications, the new package should include additional help for businesses – mostly in the form of tax credit – and a one-time €150 bonus (financial incentive) for workers and pensioners with annual earnings lower than 20,000 euros.

READ ALSO: Portofino mayor offers residents €400 to offset energy bills

Outgoing PM Mario Draghi is also currently working to bring about an EU-wide cap on gas prices. 

Through an official note released on Wednesday, Draghi said that the present energy crisis called for a joint response from the EU, one that would allow countries to “reduce costs for families and businesses and avoid exceptional profits from production companies”.

Soon-to-be new Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, echoed Draghi’s words stating that “no EU member state could come up with effective long-term solutions on their own” and that “a common strategy” was needed. 

As talks over a European price cap continue in Brussels, the outgoing Italian government is also following up on its plans to get the country ready for the upcoming winter season.

On Wednesday, outgoing Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani said that Italy had filled up 90 percent of its gas stocks and had now greater flexibility with respect to potential “spikes in winter consumption”.

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