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EU Election, Day 3: Salvini Projected to Lead Lega to its First National Victory in Italy

Looking at Italy’s electoral map in the last European Parliament election in
2014, the country was almost entirely red. The centre-left Democratic Party
(S&D) won 40% of the vote and 31 of Italy’s 73 seats at the European
Parliament. Five years later, the Italian political scene has been flipped
upside-down, and instead it is the right-wing populist Lega (EAPN) set to win
the election, with the Democratic Party’s support cut in half.

The story in this year’s election is without a doubt the meteoric rise of
the Lega party thanks to Matteo Salvini’s decision to move the party away from
its regionalist roots towards a broader right-wing message. Our model gives
Lega 25 MEPs, up from the seven they won in 2014 and, while not quite as high
as the 31 seats won by the Democratic Party in the previous election, it would
be a clear victory nonetheless.

Lega rules Italy in a coalition with the anti-establishment populist Five
Star Movement (EFDD), which came second in 2014 and will probably come second
again this time around. We project they will pick up one more seat, bringing
their total to 18, but there is some volatility involved as Italy has a large
number of seats up for grabs and relatively few parties which are expected to
win the vast majority of these.

The Democratic Party is projected to still score a solid result with 16
seats and some 20% of the vote, but it’s a result that pales in comparison to
their former electoral victories. The same can be said of centre-right Forza
Italia (EPP), still led by the eccentric billionaire Silvio Berlusconi, which
has seen most of its support move to Lega. Forza Italia is projected to win 10
seats, down from the 12 they managed in 2014, which was also an unimpressive
result for the country’s once dominant centre-right party.  As in many
places in Europe, Italy’s establishment will likely suffer a massive hit, with
polls showing support between Forza Italia and the Democratic Party at around
30% while the ruling coalition of right-wing Lega and the Five Star Movement
sits at above 50%.

Europe Elects projects Brothers of Italy will win six seats, improving on the five MEPs it
already has, and on the 3 it won in 2014. For the other minor parties Italy’s
4% electoral threshold will likely be too high to meet, meaning several smaller
parties which currently sit in the European parliament for Italy may lose their
seats. Brothers of Italy has a small risk of missing the threshold but this is
very small. Greater is the chance that the liberal party More Europe (ALDE)
does meet the threshold and enters the EU parliament for the first time. This
new, pro-European party has just a 20% chance of doing so in our model though,
so it would take an impressive result to see them sending any MEPs to

Salvini’s Lega will have a strong role in the new European Parliament, as
Salvini is the founder of the new right-wing populist grouping, the European
Alliance of People and Nations (EAPN), which Europe Elects projects will end up
as the fourth largest group in an increasingly fractured Parliament. The
alliance has been forged with France’s National Rally, the German Alternative
for Germany and many other right-wing parties, many of which have traded their
traditional Euroscepticism for calls to reform Europe into a union of sovereign

However, this election will have consequences not just for European
politics, but for Italian national politics as well. Lega’s popularity has
increased dramatically since entering a coalition government with the Five Star
Movement. Salvini currently serves as Italy’s Interior Minister and has not yet
capitalized on his party’s new popularity, which has surpassed even that of the
Five Star Movement. If the result of this election is favourable enough to
Salvini, he may pull the plug on his coalition with the Five Star Movement in
an attempt to strengthen his domestic position, which would make Lega one of
Europe’s most important parties at both the European and national level.

The Five Star Movement currently is part of the Europe of Freedom and Direct
Democracy (EFCC) group but is trying its hand at transnational politics as
well. It has teamed up with other syncretic parties such as Croatian Živi Zid
and the Polish Kukiz ’15, both of whom claim to practice a form of
post-ideological politics beyond the traditional left-right spectrum. This new
alliance will likely be quite small on the European level, especially compared
to Salvini’s much more formidable right-wing alliance.

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