A few weeks before the event, Jean-Claude Juncker was asked about the coming Italian election. The President of the European Commission could not have been more reassuring: “Whatever the outcome, I am confident that we will have a government that makes sure that Italy remains a central player in Europe,” he said publicly.
Later that same day, speaking privately at a Brussels think tank, Juncker reversed his public position. His real advice was that he and his elite audience needed “to brace ourselves for the worst scenario, and the worst scenario could be no operational government.”
But wait, it gets worse, Juncker specifically told his private audience he feared the effects of the Italian vote on financial markets, which went into a spin as soon as his remarks leaked. In other words, some rich people privy to Juncker’s real opinions got a little bit richer by shorting Italy. A kind of socio-political insider trading.
A fellow official at the European Union told reporters, What Juncker said “was not meant to be said in public.”
This was meant to explain President Juncker’s blunder, but really, it explained the Italian election results, which, by the way, fulfilled perfectly Juncker’s “for-my-friends-only” worst-case prediction.
Italian voters, enraged by a generation or more of politicians who lied to them while greasing the way for the rich and powerful to stay that way only moreso, voted the brand names out. Matteo Renzi, once considered a rising star in European politics, saw his center-left Democratic Party lose more than a quarter of its voters and 100 seats in Parliament. They got 19% of the vote. The worst showing in generations.
Silvio Berlusconi once the most powerful person on the political right is now only the second banana of the right-wing bunch having been displaced by Matteo Salvini.
How did Salvini beat Berlusconi. He rebranded his party, The League, by dropping the Northern from its name, calling it now just The League. And he stopped calling Italy’s southerners lazy and smelly, and campaigned on their hatred of immigrants and the European Union.
Salvini’s party got 17% of the vote, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia got 14%.
Combined, the Salvini/Berlusconi total fell short of the 32.7% that went to the 5-Star Party. This creates two potential problems. It would be practically impossible to form a government without the 5-Stars, but it might also be impossible for anyone else to form a government with them.
It took 6 months for Angela Merkel to form a ruling coalition in Germany. The same job for Italy looks harder, and there is a possibility that there may have to be another election.
Christopher Livesay is an award-winning foreign correspondent and producer based in Rome. His recent work focuses on populism, terrorism, and foreign affairs. He has contributed to the prestigious documentary series PBS FRONTLINE on veteran exploitation in the United States; NPR on underground rock music in Iran; and VICE News on mafia blood feuds in Italy.
Filing for PBS and NPR in 2016, he was among the first reporters on the scene of a powerful earthquake that killed nearly 300 people outside Rome.
Later that year, he was among the first journalists to report from Mosul, as Iraqi special forces fought the Islamic State.
In 2017 he won a United Nations award for his TV reporting on the European migrant crisis.