Legislative in Italy: "The right is unable to exist without Berlusconi"

Home"TO THE ONE"Legislative in Italy: "The right is unable to exist without Berlusconi"
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Législatives en Italie : «La droite est incapable d'exister sans Berlusconi»
At 81, Silvio Berlusconi is still at the head of a right-wing coalition likely to win the next Italian elections. - Photo credits: Andrew Medichini / AP

FIGAROVOX / INTERVIEW - In Italy, little or nothing seems to have changed: both voters and politicians are aging, and stagnation seems to be the rule everywhere. While a wind of discontent travels the peninsula, Silvio Berlusconi reassures: Christophe Bouillaud draws up an inventory of fixtures at one month of elections.


A graduate of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Christophe Bouillaud is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Institute of Political Studies in Grenoble since 1999 and an Associate Professor of Social Sciences. He is a specialist in Italian politics.


The Italian legislative elections will take place on 4 March. In what state is Italian politics today? What will be the key topics of this election?

What best characterizes Italian politics today is stagnation. Nothing has really changed since the 2013 elections, which were marked by the rise of the 5 Stars Movement (M5S), the great novelty of the last ten years: political life has since been divided between three forces, the right united around Silvio Berlusconi, the less and less united left around the Democratic Party (PD), and finally the M5S which is isolated by doctrine.

As far as the issues are concerned, if we put aside the great question of the control of migration, which has animated the debates in Italy and elsewhere in Europe since autumn 2015, and which largely explains the rise of the right in polls, they revolve mainly around a demand for redistribution of income: the main topics that interest the Italian electorate to believe the political offer of the parties concern the tax cuts, for example the introduction of a flat -tax (a single proportional tax on income) supported by the right, or the policies of redistribution of wealth through the creation of a minimum income. Indeed, as there is no question of too much discussing the place of Italy in the Euro zone, a subject that would worry voters too much, Italian politicians in general are cruelly lacking a real economic strategy for the peninsula; otherwise, everyone, especially oppositions certainly, promises to shave gratis. Even the Catholic Church is offended by it: it should not be said that candidates cradle voters of illusions that are not fundable in the state.

In fact, oppositions all seem to multiply unfunded promises. This is a response to the fact that, for a large part of the population, Italy has never really emerged from the ten years of crisis it has experienced since 2007, and of all the problems that ensue from it. unemployment, decline in industrial production ...). An Italian economist recently calculated a real unemployment rate of Italians at 30%, counting part-time work or the unemployed who became inactive in addition to the unemployed in the sense of the ILO. A study of the ECB saw him around 18% - against 9 to 11% according to the official figure.

Oppositions all seem to multiply unfunded promises.

The standard of living of many Italians, especially in the south of the country, has really dropped since 2007, and the policies are therefore focused on this general headwind in the face of these difficult times. They want to answer each one in their own way: the left, congratulating themselves on having finally introduced a minimum income in Italy; the M5S by proposing the very popular establishment of a decent living income for all; as for Silvio Berlusconi, it targets older people by offering them a pension floor.

Exactly, about Berlusconi: he was thought dead, permanently buried under the mountain of judicial affairs in which he is involved or even condemned. How can he envisage a political return, even though he is ineligible?

In fact, he never left politics! He always remained at the head of his party, Forza Italia. According to opinion polls, which now give it more than 15%, its capacity to bring together the moderate voters of the Italian right remains intact, and above all, nobody has succeeded to replace it. Today, the alliance of right-wing parties is credited with 36 to 37% of voting intentions, which is already enough to obtain a relative majority in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, but it creates uncertainty: the coalition will Berlusconi manage to have a sufficient majority to govern? Indeed, the new electoral law "Rosatellum" encourages the formation of broad coalitions, which favors the two major historical parties (PD and FI) to the detriment of the M5S. Thanks to this mixed electoral system which mixes a high proportional proportion (61% of the seats) with a majority vote (37% of the seats, the remaining 2% is for elected officials abroad), while offering the voter only one ballot for the two elections, unlike the German electoral system, a coalition that exceeds 40% of the vote can almost certainly hope to have an absolute majority of seats in both Houses. The coalition on the right is not very far from this threshold, and the increase in its voting intentions is essentially due to the rise of FI. Silvio Berlusconi's presence in the media is provoking his historic electorate.

The presence of Sivlio Berlusconi in the media is provoking his historic electorate.

This is Berlusconi's "asset Berlusconi" himself as usual for ages. In addition, Berlusconi succeeded in reconstituting in 2018 his alliance of the rights, which means that he has been at the head of the same coalition since ... 1994! In addition to Forza Italia, his party, and the League of the North, directed since 2013 by Matteo Salvini, two mid-sized parties, he has allied himself again with a small party that I would call "post-neo-fascist", which makes 5%: Brothers of Italy, directed by Giorgia Meloni. Finally, a small list of tiny parties closes the left wing of the right-wing coalition, the debris of right-wing Christian Democrats or disgraced former FIs. Opposite, on the other hand, the left has experienced a major split with a radical branch, named Libres et Égaux, which broke away from the PD of Matteo Renzi and his small centrist allies, thus increasing Berlusconi's chances of success. . As for the M5S, it has lost its novelty today, and it ended up becoming a party "like the others", including recently from the point of view of its statutory organization, without falling much in the polls, since it stays a little below 30%. Its behavior in the polls is all the more astonishing that the major media speak almost to highlight the weaknesses, inconsistencies, inexperience of its leaders. The M5S-bashing perhaps indicates to some voters that there lies the only opposition ...

How are voters divided among these three competing political forces?

I would like to describe broadly the political distribution of the Italians as a "Y", whose younger base is seduced by the populism of the M5S, and the two branches represent the left / right bipartition of an older electorate. .

The M5S attracts indeed rather young Italians, who belong for the most part to the world of work: workers, employees, teachers, etc., it is about voters concerned about the rise of unemployment and precariousness, the high level taxes (especially for the self-employed), or uncertainty about the amount of retirement pensions in the future. There is also a strong regional component in that this party seems to have to maintain itself in all the very impoverished parts of the country (the South and the islands).

The big traditional parties of right and left share rather the very large pool of older people (over 50), according to classic dividing lines. These seniors are now the main electoral class because of the aging of the population, but also a greater participation in polls (probably also correlated to a greater religious practice among seniors than among the younger generations). There is therefore an effect of symmetry: in Italy, neither voters nor political parties have been renewed - with the exception of the M5S, but which gathers, according to polls, a large minority.

The "Cavaliere" keeps repeating that "without him, it is chaos". From the soaring of the M5S to the fall of Renzi in opinion, did not the facts prove him right?

No, I do not think so. The last five years have proven that Italian politics can do without him ... He actually brings in nothing but his eternal problems with the judges. Where Berlusconi is really right, however, is that the center-right is unable to exist without him: no other leader of the moderate right is able to replace him, because Berlusconi made sure to soap it up. board to all his possible successors. He had them all to wear. Forza Italia is still not really a party, in the sense that this movement is not crossed by any democratic dialectic within it. Any decision that emanates from it is made by the prince who created it, not militants or second-rate politicians: there is no real internal elections, nor real congresses. And even though this party has been a member of the EPP in Europe since 1998, this anomaly has lasted for twenty years: the party and its leader are confused, all the dissidents of the line of S. Berlusconi are condemned to leave eventually the party and to become political ectoplasms for lack of any connection to the Italian electorate in general, which weakens much the foundations of the moderate right Italian, while the other right-wing parties, the League and the post tradition As a fascist, they knew how to reform themselves and change their governing bodies ...

Berlusconi made sure to soap the board to all his successors.

The old housewife in the south of the country, who today represents the hard core of FI's electorate, according to the opinion polls, has only confidence in Silvio Berlusconi and not in his various lieutenants. This is a rare situation in Western Europe, where the main party of the right has not known how to become institutionalized. Moreover, one of the reasons for Berlusconi's return to the Italian political scene is that his departure implied in fact the death of FI, and therefore the domination of the right wing of Italian politics by the formed duo. by the radicalized Northern League on the far right under the ultra-populist leadership of Matteo Salvini and the post-neo-fascists. Merkel and Juncker understood that, that's why suddenly Silvio Berlusconi seems so nice again ... A bulwark against populism according to them ... But, remember, the PD could have continued to govern without it being chaos.

Your findings seem very bitter. Can not we imagine a shift of the center of gravity to the right, that is to say that other parties remove Forza Italia the leadership of the coalition?

It seems very unlikely to me in the short term at least, because Berlusconi is about to win the internal "derby" to the Italian right. Matteo Salvini, the leader of a Northern League, which has become an Italian "national" league by imitating our FN or the Austrian FPÖ, may well outbid every day on all the issues of interest to the right-wing electorate. always afraid to the moderate electorate without finally succeeding to gather all the edgy of the country. I doubt that the "southerners" vote en masse for him. The electoral base of S. Berlusconi remains very solid: he managed to seduce the moderates, including housewives in the South of the country, retired and taped on their TV.

The atmosphere is deleterious and Italy is in the grip of a wave of nervousness.

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As a personal matter, I therefore have little hope today given the political situation in Italy. The atmosphere is deleterious for lack of a clear perspective for the future other than the continuation of stagnation in progress, and we easily perceive a wave of irritation that has gradually taken hold of all layers of society. Perhaps, moreover, that it ends up rubbing on me too ... by dint of observing for twenty years the decline more and more obvious of a pluralistic yet democratic society like Italy. The return of Berlusconi is a symbol of senescence in every way.


Source: ©  Legislative in Italy: "The right is unable to exist without Berlusconi"

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