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Italy

Yearbook 2017

2017 ItalyItaly. The regional elections in Sicily in November aroused strong fears and expectations before the impending parliamentary elections in spring 2018. The result was a resounding victory for right-wing populists, and a stinging defeat for the ruling Socialist Democratic Party (PD). According to Countryaah.com, the election result led to the 81-year-old former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi now taking up the political scene again. With the right-wing coalition in first place in the elections in Sicily and the establishment-critical Five-Star Movement in second place, the ruling party became the big loser.

The election loss came despite the country's economy being in better condition than for many years. Growth was significantly greater than expected and it also brightened in the labor market. In addition, the state succeeded in rescuing three of the country's distressed banks, thereby alleviating the world's concern for the financial sector in the eurozone's third largest economy.

2017 Italy

But Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni and his finance minister, the internationally renowned economist Pier Carlo Padoan, do not appear to reap the rewards of economic success. During the year, the ruling party also lost land in prosperous and traditionally red regions of central Italy, such as Tuscany. The reason is believed to be the hundreds of thousands of migrants who have reached Italy across the Mediterranean from Libya in recent years.

The widespread concern over migration did not appear to have subsided, despite the fact that the number of migrants crossing the sea decreased drastically in the second half of the year following a very large influx in the first six months. The reversal came in late summer after Italy's interior minister visited Libya and made a series of more or less controversial deals with the country's chaotic leadership. An agreement with the government recognized by the UN in the capital Tripoli meant that Italy offered cooperation with the Libyan coastguard and made patrol boats available. Italy must also have made deals with clan leaders in the southern parts of Libya to stop them smuggling human trafficking operations into the Sahara desert.

To the extent that the right turn of the Italian electorate is due to migration policy, the result of the government's actions does not appear to have reached the public consciousness of judging the success of the anti-xenophobic party Lega Nord, which achieved good results in former red regions in central Italy during the year.

Most indicate that the right bloc that won the important regional elections in Sicily in November will be cemented in a tripartite coalition ahead of the 2018 parliamentary elections. The three parties, in addition to Lega Nord, are Silvio Berlusconi's party Forza Italia (Heja Italy) and the nationalist Italy's brothers with roots in neo-fascism.

During the year, it seems unlikely that Silvio Berlusconi is back on the political scene. Berlusconi was forced to resign as prime minister in 2011, after Italy was plunged into a financial crisis that posed a threat to the entire euro zone. Subsequently, the 81-year-old media billionaire has been investigated for corruption crimes, underwent extensive cardiac surgery and performed community service after being convicted of tax offenses. The verdict means that Berlusconi cannot stand in political elections himself. However, he is a party leader for Forza Italia and is thus considered to have a considerable influence in the new right-wing bloc.

The party that came second after the right-wing coalition in the November elections in Sicily was the Five Star Movement (M5S). The party emerged eight years ago as a wild movement fueled by comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo. The colorful founder is still included as a figurehead, but in the fall a formal party leader was appointed for the 2018 parliamentary elections. By Italian standards, Luigi Di Maio, with his more than 30 years, is extremely young at the post, but the party also appeals mainly to young voters. M5S preferably communicates via the internet and has made the contempt for the institutions a brand. However, this year's election of a formal party leader is one of many signs that the movement is turning into something similar to a regular party.

The sigh of relief that went through the corridors of Brussels after the elections in the Netherlands and Germany, where the extreme parties received less support than expected, was followed by concerns during the year that a large and important EU country like Italy could soon be ruled by populists.

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