Anti-immigrant parties win big in election

6 Mar 18

ITALY

IMPACT – MEDIUM

What is the change? Italian voters threw out the ruling center-left Democratic Party on Sunday in favor of populist and Eurosceptic parties promoting anti-immigrant policies, with no party reaching the 40-percent threshold required to form a government, and leaving a hung parliament.

What does the change mean? The populist Five Star Movement (5SM), whose leader Luigi Di Maio ran on the slogan of putting “Italians first,” won the largest single-party margin with 31 percent of the vote. The center-right coalition of the far-right, anti-immigrant League (formerly Northern League) and the Forza Italia party of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi won a total of 37 percent (18 percent and 14 percent, respectively), with the League emerging as surprise leader of the coalition. The ruling Democratic Party won only 19 percent of the vote. Both 5SM leader Di Maio and League leader Matteo Salvini, who have both called for mass deportations of undocumented immigrants and a referendum on whether Italy should withdraw from the Eurozone, have claimed the right to head the government.

Background: The election can be seen as a referendum on Italy’s economy, declining job security, rising unemployment and the influx of refugees. Much of the anti-immigrant rhetoric during the campaign was fueled by the refugee crisis. Italy has received about 600,000 refugees since the Mediterranean crisis in 2015, although that number has gone down as tens of thousands of asylum seekers have moved on to other European countries and the number of new arrivals dropped by 75 percent from 2016 to 2017 following a deal between Italy and Libya.

The result confirms that anti-immigrant, nationalist and Eurosceptic sentiments continue to run high in Europe, similar to those that motivated the Brexit movement. A recent Pew Research poll indicated that while a majority of Italians oppose an “Italexit,” 34 percent would vote to leave the EU.

BAL Analysis: Italy’s government will be seated in coming months as the parties negotiate potential power-sharing coalitions. While the anti-immigration rhetoric primarily concerns refugees and is unlikely to affect high-skilled immigrants, the election results do follow populist trends globally in opposing immigration, which directly clashes with the EU’s pro-immigration policies.

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