• Says populist breakthrough threat to post-Brexit reform
The European Union struggled yesterday to absorb the shock of a populist breakthrough in Italy amid fears that the anti-migrant blowback would threaten a post-Brexit reform drive led by France and Germany.
The jolt from Rome came hours after Germany snapped months of political stalemate in Berlin, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel clinching four more years in power on a cautious pledge to help overhaul Europe.
The respite from Germany was short-lived with the advance in Italy of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right anti-migrant eurosceptics. The Eurosceptic, populist Five Star Movement was the biggest single party with a third of the vote. But the anti-immigrant League also said it had been endorsed to run the country as part of a centre-right alliance.
Forming a government could take weeks of negotiation and coalition-building. Former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi has resigned as leader of the governing centre-left Democratic Party, which performed poorly, taking less than 20% of the vote.
He said the party would not join a coalition with “anti-system forces” and would go into opposition. An alliance between the far-right League and ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party is set to win the most seats in the lower house of parliament, but the League has emerged as the senior partner.
Both League leader Matteo Salvini, 44, and Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio, 31, on Monday spoke of their right to govern the country. Despite stating the contrary during the run up to the vote, Five Star has now announced it is open for coalition talks with other parties.
Mr Salvini also said at a press conference that he intended to speak to other parties to gain a parliamentary majority. The gains for populists represent a political earthquake that will send shockwaves to the EU in Brussels, BBC Europe editor Katya Adler says.
Analysts said the EU would now be split between those like French President Emmanuel Macron who say the answer to populism is bolstering Europe and others who will claim that any further EU integration must be abandoned, at least for now.
“You will have people against striking a reform deal, saying that now, especially with this mess in Italy, it is not the right moment for taking up risks,” said Janis A. Emmanouilidis, research director at the European Policy Centre in Brussels.
Meanwhile “there will be others who will say if you look at Italy and the anti-establishment voters fed up with the economic situation and migration, that we simply can’t pretend to go on as we are,” he added.