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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

Where do Italy’s main parties stand on environmental issues?

With climate and environmental concerns growing in Italy, here’s an overview of what the major political parties say on the subject in their election programmes.

Where do Italy’s main parties stand on environmental issues?
Italy shut all its nuclear power plants after the Chernobyl disaster, but the right-wing bloc pledges a return to nuclear energy if it wins the coming election. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Ahead of the general elections on September 25th, the climate crisis and environmental issues are increasingly high priorities for voters in Italy as elsewhere – particularly following a summer of destructive extreme weather events across Europe.

The environment was cited as the second-biggest concern among voters aged 18-25 in one recent poll by SWG, just four percentage points behind the issue of ‘prospects for young people’.

And according to the latest poll by CISE-ICCP, 82 percent of voters overall regard the battle against climate change as a political priority. 

Italy’s political class, which has never stood out for its attentiveness to climate issues, seems to have finally caught up with the times: all major parties included environment-related pledges in their election manifestos, mainly focused on means of energy production.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: Italy records ‘five times’ more extreme weather events in ten years

Expectedly though, not all factions give the same amount of importance to the subject.

Climate experts analysing the manifestos said the widespread inclusion of green policies is “one of the novelties of this electoral campaign”, but noted most programmes are “weak on detail”.

To give you an idea of who’s saying what, here’s an overview of Italy’s four main parties’ election pledges.

Wind farms in Israel.

Renewables or nuclear? Italy’s main parties have set out their energy and environmental pledges ahead of the 2022 elections.. Photo by Jalaa MAREY / AFP

Right-wing coalition 

Firstly, the alliance everyone’s talking about and the likely winners of the elections: Brothers of Italy, the League and Forza Italia have made reintroducing nuclear energy a cornerstone of the environmental and energy policy, mentioned near the end of their joint manifesto

Despite the fact that the Italian public has never taken kindly to nuclear power – having previously rejected it in 1987 and 2011 – the right, and in particular the League, appears to want to give it another shot.

The programme proposes Italy should begin producing “clean and safe nuclear energy”, without giving any explanation as to what this might look like.

The League’s own manifesto mentions plans to build “a national nuclear energy industry” centred around “last-generation nuclear reactors”.

“Italy is the only one of the big countries in the world that says no to nuclear power out of ideology, not science,” League leader Matteo Salvini said during election campaigning on August 9th.

Italy’s four former nuclear power plants, active before the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, have long been decommissioned and election pledges don’t mention the costs associated with the construction and maintenance of new plants.

Though both Brothers of Italy and the League have historically opposed Europe-wide plans to reduce gas emissions, the coalition now says it is committed to ensuring that the country “makes good on the international agreements to oppose climate change” – a change of heart which might not seem genuine to many.

The manifesto also suggests further investment in renewable energy and the domestic exploration and production of natural gas, as well as investment in hydrogen and waste-to-energy plants.

Democratic Party (PD)

On the other side of the political spectrum, Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party (PD) was among those which experts said addressed environmental issues more thoroughly in its manifesto.

The PD  rejects nuclear energy as a viable alternative, given that the “timeframe and existing technologies are not compatible with a significant reduction in emissions by 2030”.

The party instead plans on significantly increasing the amount of renewable energy produced in the country, for example through the introduction of financial incentives for businesses which score highly in environmental ratings.

READ ALSO: ‘By a substantial margin’: How summer 2022 was Europe’s hottest on record

Barcelona's Enagas regasification plant.

Italy’s Democratic Party regards regasification plants as a ‘temporary solution’, which should be abandoned by 2050. Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP

The party also pledges to follow the EU’s FitFor55 project’s guidelines, which seek to decrease gas emissions by at least 55 percent across member states by 2030. 

In the same vein, PD’s programme regards regasification plants (plants converting liquefied natural gas to methane gas) only as a “temporary solution”.

The outgoing government plans to install two such plants off Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, despite local protests.

PD says the use of these plants should be abandoned “long before 2050, so as to avoid interfering with the ecological transition” (i.e. the planned phasing out of the use of fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy sources).  

The party also plans on implementing a nationwide water-saving scheme that it says would prevent waste and mitigate the consequences of future droughts.

Five-Star Movement (M5S)

The Five-Star Movement, led by former premier Giuseppe Conte, has made environmental issues a priority since its foundation back in 2009 – the superbonus for construction works increasing a property’s energy efficiency was introduced by the second Conte government in 2020.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the party’s programme dedicates 30 of its 245 pages (just over 12 percent) to environmental policies.

Their energy plan includes a substantial reduction in the national energy demand, an increase in renewable energy (especially ‘green’ hydrogen) and the “decarbonisation of existing manufacturing sectors”.

READ ALSO: ‘A code red’: Will Europeans change their habits after climate crisis ‘reality check’?

M5S openly oppose new gas drilling, waste incinerators and nuclear power, with the last being described as “incompatible with the energy transition” due to “inherent flaws” and “vulnerability”. 

The Amager Bakke waste incinerator in Copenhagen.

The anti-establishment Five-Star Movement strongly opposes waste incinerators, pushing for ‘greener’ waste disposal models. Photo by Ida Guldbaek ARENSTEN / Ritzau SCANPIX / AFP

Italia Viva-Azione (or third pole)

The so-called ‘terzo polo’ (third pole) unites two relatively new centrist parties: Italia Viva (Italy Alive), led by former premier Matteo Renzi, and Azione (Action), led by Carlo Calenda.

In a joint programme, the parties pledge to reduce Italy’s dependence on Russian gas imports through the construction of new regasification plants and a marked increase in the amount of renewable energy produced in the country – no details about what types of renewable sources the coalition refers to are given. 

The third pole also says it is committed to following the EU’s FitFor55 guidelines, i.e. working to reduce Italy’s gas emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030.

Like the right, they express strong support for nuclear power, which they regard as essential to the achieving these emissions targets.

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

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

ANALYSIS: Italy’s hard right set to clash with EU allies over Russia

Italian election winner Giorgia Meloni may at first glance have much in common with ultra-conservative governments in fellow EU nations Poland and Hungary, but experts say that when it comes to real-world policy any alliance could soon run into limits.

ANALYSIS: Italy's hard right set to clash with EU allies over Russia

Reaction to Sunday’s strong result for Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was muted from pillars of EU integration like Paris and Berlin, but Warsaw and Budapest were warm in their congratulations.

“We’ve never had greater need of friends sharing a vision of and a common approach to Europe,” the Hungarian government said, while from Poland came praise for Meloni’s “great victory”.

“Hungary and Poland are more than happy with this election, first because it relieves the pressure on their own countries in the EU, and second because it paves the way for a more united front,” said Yordan Bozhilov, director of the Bulgaria-based Sofia Security Forum think-tank.

READ ALSO: Polish PM hails far-right’s ‘great victory’ in Italian elections

The Italian election follows hard on the heels of a Swedish poll that also produced a surge for the extreme right.

But with the far right in power in one of the EU’s largest countries and founding members, Hungary and Poland could be far less isolated in their battles with Brussels over rule-of-law issues.

What’s more, Rome, Budapest and Warsaw are now set for alignment on social concerns, with anti-Islam, anti-abortion and anti-LGBT positions.

“Together we will defeat the cynical and pampered Eurocrats who are destroying the European Union, breaching treaties, destroying our civilisation and advancing the LGBT agenda!” Poland’s deputy agriculture minister Janusz Kowalski tweeted in a message congratulating Meloni on Monday.

Meloni also shares her prospective allies’ vision of a Christian, white Europe made up of sovereign nations.

EXPLAINED: What’s behind election success for Italy’s far right?

“Hungary and Poland are countries that want to change the EU from within, and they don’t hide it. So far they haven’t succeeded, but there will definitely be an attempt to create a Rome-Budapest-Warsaw axis,” said Tara Varma, director of the Paris office of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

But such parties’ demands have already moderated in recent years from full exit from the EU, “given the absolute cautionary tale that Brexit has been,” she added.

Instead, the axis could become “spoilers, the sand in the gears” in Brussels.

“One step forward, two steps back, they could prevent the EU making progress while continuing to benefit from joint funds,” Varma said.

– Splits over Russia –

 A front based on values could still founder when faced with today’s overriding concern of the war in Ukraine and EU relations with Russia.

While Meloni has so far matched Warsaw in declarations of support for Ukraine and for EU sanctions on Russia over its invasion of its neighbour, Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban – close to President Vladimir Putin – is
opposed.

“At some point, Meloni will have to choose between Poland and Hungary,” Varma predicted.

The Brothers of Italy leader is not expected to bend her position to match those of her junior coalition partners, Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, who are friendlier to Moscow.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

“Regarding foreign policy, as far as we know Meloni backs the sanctions against Russia and Brothers of Italy is closer to Poland’s PiS (governing party) than Hungary’s Fidesz,” said Hungarian analyst Patrik Szicherle.

Meloni has “sent the right messages on Ukraine,” said Martin Quencez of the German Marshall Fund, pointing out Italy’s critical relationship with the US as a reliable NATO ally.

Once elected prime minister, she “has every incentive to have good relations with Brussels, not to enter a pitched battle,” said Paolo Modugno, professor of Italian civilisation at Paris’ Sciences Po university.

Meloni “is very aware of the Italian public’s problems, their fear of inflation and the economic situation. What’s urgent for her is to manage the crisis, not to take ideological risks,” he added.

Analysts suggest that the incoming government’s choice of top ministers, especially in the finance and foreign ministries, will clearly signal how Meloni plans to position herself in Europe.

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