Italy’s ruling Democratic Party (PD) is as divided as France’s Socialist Party, and the Social Democrats (SPD) in Germany. Since 2013, the party has been split between so-called reformists-realists, represented by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, and a minority that advocated for a more traditional version of social democracy, complete with a strong agenda for economic redistribution – a split that has now become common in Europe.
When Renzi was defeated in the December 2016 referendum for key constitutional reform, a number of left-wing critics started voicing their displeasure with the way the PD was running the country’s affairs and later threatened to go their own way.
By December of last year, these critics consolidated their political platform into a new movement led by the President of the Senate and former anti-Mafia prosecutor Pietro Grasso known as Liberi e Uguali, or Free and Equal.
Elisa Simoni is a now former member of parliament for Liberi e Uguali after failing to be re-elected. New Europe’s Ilia Roubanis spoke with her about her impressions of the March 4 elections.
1) What was the biggest surprise in these elections? Who is the big winner in your view?
The Italian elections did not present any major surprises. The President of the Italian Senate and Leader of Liberi e Uguali, Pietro Grasso, recognised that the low voter turnout has a political significance. Our party tried to rally its voters from the ranks of the disinterested electorate, but M5S (Luigi di Maio‘s 5-Star Movement) did a much better job.
2) Do you feel Sunday was a defeat for progressive forces in Italy or a broader warning for Europe?
I think that the only useful vote is the one that builds hope and expresses in parliament the needs and demands of the electorate. When half of Italy fails to go to the polls, half of Italy says they cannot entrust a political party with their hopes. That is a problem that is perhaps not unique just to Italy.
As for the implicit issue of whether our party reduced the collective power of the left, it is clear that our voters would not vote for the Democratic Party. PD did not lose voters because of the split with the Liberi e Uguali Alliance; the center-left lost the left wing vote because it failed to offer left-wing policies. That is the warning.
3) Given the size and significance of Italy, what do you feel will be the consequences for the balance of power in Europe?
The fragmentation of the left reflects its inability to represent a working class that no longer identifies as such, not only in Italy but elsewhere in Europe. In fact, what we would call “working class” seems to be rallying behind an anti-immigration vote. As in Austria, blue-collar people in Italy feel threatened by mass migration, while they also perceive a surging political, social, economic, and a cultural gap with the elites.
In any event, I do not believe that there is a social majority in Italy that would advocate an exit from the EU or even a referendum to exit the eurozone. However, some parties who have previously been open to a referendum on the euro are important indicators of the overall mood of the country.
4) What will be the main objective of the opposition?
We need to do more than preaching to the converted and recover the vote that has abandoned the PD and LeU or who simply failed to show up. We need to build a new home for those who do not feel represented. To meet these objectives, we need to build a new left-wing alternative.