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The 2018 Italian general elections were held on 4 March 2018. The date of their holding became known in December last year after Italian President Sergio Matarella dissolved the parliament. The main political battle unfolded between the ruling Democratic Party of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the center-right alliance, created by the former prime minister and leader of "Forza Italia" party Silvio Berlusconi and leader of "Northern League" eurosceptic Matteo Salvini. This political contest was also joined by the populist "Five Stars Movement" Luigi di Maio. The outcome of the parliamentary elections in Italy is of certain significance for Ukraine and the European Union. Italy is the fourth economy in the EU. Now the Italian government is involved in anti-Russian sanctions and is in favor of deepening European integration. If the balance of political forces changes in Italy, then the attitude to Ukraine and further development of the EU could change.
The elections could be called an attempt of the leader of the Democratic Party Matteo Renzi’s political revenge. At the end of 2016, he has voluntarily resigned as a prime minister after the referendum, where more than half of Italian citizens voted against a package of reforms on limiting the powers of the Senate, strengthening the vertical of executive power, and the fight against corruption. Renzi has focuses on resolving socio-economic issues in his election program. Democrats promise to reduce social insurance wages deductions from 33% to 29%, reduce the income tax from 24% to 22% for small and large businesses, and to set monthly fee to the state treasury for independent workers (80 euros). The Democratic Party is going to increase social payments for large families (400 euros per month for three years), raise the minimum pension by 1.5 times to 750 euros. Democrats are guided by the support of pensioners, beneficiaries, and educated urban residents. The leader of the Democrats pays attention to the settlement of the migration crisis. Renzi opposes reception of refugees and offers to provide material assistance to those countries, from which the migrants depart. He believes that the EU should stop allocating money to Poland and Hungary, which refuse to host refugees on their territory as part of the European Commission plan.
The recent polls show that the Democratic Party has a limited resource of support among the population. Up to 26% of Italian voters are ready to vote for them. A significant part of the local population is dissatisfied with the existing social and economic problems. Most of the voters are concerned about the problem of unemployment. As of January 2018, the unemployment rate in Italy reached 11%. Over 2.8 million citizens (out of 60 million) are out of work. About 31.5% of Italian youth are not employed. Last year, the Bank of Italy opened 30 vacancies for young professionals, and 80,000 applicants have sent their CVs. Italy's public debt is 120% of GDP. There is a crisis in the banking sector. More than 15% of loans issued were never returned. The discontent of the Italians concerns the too high tax burden - over 42% of GDP (more than in the US and Germany). At the same time, the state spends large amounts of money on maintaining the bureaucracy. Italy has set one of the world highest salaries for government officials (144 thousand euros per year). Italians are concerned about the migration crisis. Despite the fact that in the second half of 2017, the influx of refugees into Italy through the Mediterranean Sea fell by 70%, the fate of 130 thousand people who are in temporary hubs has not yet been determined. Italy continues serving as a transit country for people from African countries who seek for the political asylum in the EU.
The situation of the Democrats is complicated by the fact that potential partners in the coalition from the center-left camp are weak in the political arena. The center-left pro-European parties "More Europe", "Together," and "Civic Choice" are supported by only 28% of Italian citizens. Not all the center-leftists want to enter into an alliance with Renzi’s party. The leader of the "More Europe" party Emma Bonino does not want to form a coalition with the Democratic Party because of the reluctance of the acting authorities to grant Italian citizenship to the children of migrants born in Italy. The position of the Democrats was weakened by the recent party split. A part of the deputies left the Democratic Party and formed the left-centrist party "Free and Equal" led by Senate Chairman Pietro Grasso. It looks like this party is trying simply to take the votes from the Democrats and to please the Italian youth. Grasso promised to introduce free education in Italian universities.
The informal leader of the center-right camp is the 81-year-old Silvio Berlusconi. Unlike Renzi, he managed to agree in advance on an alliance with the center-right parties "League of the North" journalist Matteo Salvini, "Brothers of Italy" former minister for youth affairs (in the Berlusconi government) Giorgia Meloni and "Us with Italy" Maurizio Lupi. In total, these political forces are supported by 37% of voters (individually these parties have less support than Democrats). Center-rightists manipulate populist slogans and play on anti-migrant moods of the electorate. In the event of coming to power, they promise to start mass deportations of illegal migrants, enter checkpoints at the borders, and expel all refugees who do not have grounds in Italy. Berlusconi and Salvini proposed to introduce a 15-23% single income tax rate, to exempt poor Italians from taxes. "Forward, Italy" promises to raise the minimum pension to 1000 euros, and the "League of the North" promised to lower the retirement age.
Silvio Berlusconi, Matteo Salvini
Berlusconi tries to repeat the success of 1994 during these parliamentary elections. Then, according to the results of the parliamentary elections, the "Forward, Italy" party agreed to form a coalition with the "League of the North", and Berlusconi became the prime minister. However, Berlusconi does not have the right to hold the post of prime minister until 2019 due to judicial restrictions. Salvini also has plans for the prime minister's office, but within the European Union, he has a negative image because of his Eurosceptic and separatist sentiments. At one time, he advocated the creation of Padania state in the north of Italy. "League of the North" is in power in Lombardy and Veneto, which provide 30% of Italy's GDP, and supports the idea of the federalization of Italy. In October 2017, referendums took place in the territory of these regions, and the majority of the local population voted for the expansion of autonomy and reduction if financial allocations to Rome.
Separated place belongs to "Five Star Movement" of Luigi di Maio, supported by about 25% of voters. The "Five Star Movement" adheres to anti-globalism, advocates the introduction of direct democracy through referendums and Internet voting. "Five Star Movement" promises to exempt those who earn less than 10,000 euros a year from paying taxes, to pay a minimum pension and allowances for Italians who live below the poverty line in the amount of 780 euros per month. In terms of migration policy, the populists are close to the center-rightists.
Formally, the "Five Star Movement" refuses to enter into an alliance with any political force. The founder and former party leader, the Italian comedian Beppe Grillo, opposes joining the coalition with the Democratic Party. The party risks to appear in opposition again. The popularity of the "Five Star Movement" has reduced in connection with the ineffective activities of the incumbent mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi. For two years in power, she could not solve the problem of removing garbage from the capital, organize road repairs and cope with the effects of heavy snowfall this winter.
It is difficult enough to say which of the political forces in Italy is more appealing to Ukraine. Many generations of Italian politicians singled out relations with Russia as one of the main priorities of foreign policy. They had purely economic interests. Italy imports natural gas from Russia, which accounts for 35% of the imports of the blue fuel of the Mediterranean country. In the industrial sector of the Russian Federation, about 1 billion dollars of investments of Italian businessmen are concentrated. According to Coldiretti, farmers have lost about 600 million euros because of anti-Russian sanctions. In connection with Russia's counter-sanctions, imports of meat, sausages, fish and seafood, vegetables, fruits, and dairy products from the EU were banned. Italian politicians have to play a greater or lesser degree of the Russian card in order to attract Italian business oriented toward cooperation with Russia, and maneuver on the Ukrainian question.
The leader of the Democrats Matteo Renzi stands for the preservation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our country and assured the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko during his visit to Kyiv in March 2015. However, in December 2015 at a meeting of representatives of the EU member states, Renzi blocked discussion of the issue of toughening sanctions against Russia. He also spoke out against the tightening of anti-Russian sanctions in the fall of 2016, believing that this makes no sense. Then the possibility of introducing new sanctions was considered by the leaders of the EU member states in response to Russia's participation in the bombings of the Syrian city of Aleppo. This double-digit position on the Ukrainian question is connected with the fact that he wants to flip electorate of the center-right and populists, who openly support Putin's policy in Ukraine.
Brussels is interested in Renzi as Italy's prime minister because he stands for strengthening European integration and federalization.
If center-rightists such as "Forward, Italy", "League of the North" or "Five-Star Movements" come to power in Italy, it won’t be profitable for Ukraine. These political forces support the idea of rapprochement with Russia and welcome the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions. Berlusconi is an old friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. They have visited Crimea together. Thus, Berlusconi expressed his solidarity with Russia in the conflict with Ukraine. Salvini supports the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions, justifies the annexation of Crimea. Representatives of the Five-Star Movement emphasize the negative consequences that the policy of anti-Russian sanctions has brought to their country. MP from the "Five Star Movement" Paola Karinelli is convinced that during the anti-Russian sanctions Italy has lost 7 billion euros, and the number of the lost workplaces can reach up to 200 thousand. Italian center-rightists and populists are opponents of the European Union. Salvini advocates the liquidation of supranational bodies of the EU and the return of European integration to the stage of the Common Market, as it was before the 90's. The "Five Star Movement" supports the holding of a referendum on Italy's withdrawal from the Eurozone.
The pre-election race in Italy turned into a field of information battle between Russia and the European Union. The Russian media do not hide that the right-centrist Berlusconi's coming to power in Italy is preferable for Moscow as the result of parliamentary elections. According to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Russia might interfere in Italy's electoral process by promoting parties that oppose anti-Russian sanctions. There are agreements between "United Russia" and the "League of the North" on cooperation in promoting business in Russia-Italy relations, with the "Five Star Movement" - on cooperation in the information sphere. One anonymous source from the national security of Italy informed Business Insider that some local parties are subject to outside influence.
The Italian authorities offered to educate students of 8,000 educational institutions to recognize fake news and to distinguish reliable information from propaganda. In February, Russian Today and Sputnik have published some articles in which Berlusconi was presented as a politician, whose view was shared the Italians, and Salvini was depicted as the leader capable of defending Italy from Germany's open door policy. It is advantageous for Russia that politicians who support its position on the Ukrainian issue and lobby the abolition of anti-Russian sanctions in the European Union come to power in Italy.