Over the past few years, Europe has looked time and again to Italy as something of a bellwether for political and social changes. First there was the national election in 2018 that brought to power an unlikely coalition between the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the far-right League, and that scared many into thinking that such populist parties could end up taking charge across the continent. More recently – under the current ruling coalition, between the centre-left Democratic party and the M5S – Italy’s position as the initial epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Europe led many to observe, and take note, of its measures to contain the virus.
The results of a constitutional referendum and regional elections, both announced this week, should once again encourage people in other nations to watch closely. Long a mainstay of the M5S agenda, the referendum saw almost 70 per cent of Italians vote in favour of a drastic cut of more than a third of elected representatives in Italy’s two parliamentary chambers. The resounding result seems to confirm the theory that populism is thriving in the country. But the regional election results show a more nuanced picture: the M5S haemorrhaged votes and the League failed to find success in key areas, while the Democratic party held areas it feared it might lose.
In the first election since the pandemic, Italians have backed a government that, arguably, has been competent in steering the country through the past year. Pundits have speculated for a while about whether coronavirus would spell the end of populism across Europe. To find out whether this really is a tide-turning moment or just a temporary blip, to keep Italy in your sights.