Italian Elections Spark New Concerns over EU's Future

By Kylie Cumback 

In June 2016, the United Kingdom shocked the European Union by holding a referendum vote to leave the European Union—it is scheduled to leave in May of 2019.[1] The referendum was passed because citizens felt that the European Union was stifling business and sovereignty in the UK. [2] Additionally, the voters wanted to take back control of immigration.[3]

Since Brexit, the European Union’s Future has been up in the air, as member nations began to favor national economic health over the economic health of the EU. On March 4th, Italy held elections for the 630 Lower House seats and the 315 Senate seats—its first election under a new electoral regime which promised to produce a centrist government.

The Five Star Party won 32% of the vote—the biggest single party win of the night. The Right-Wing Coalition, a cluster of right-wing candidates, won 37% of the vote. The League, another right-wing group, won 18 percent of the vote. In the weeks since the election, it appears that populist right-wing parties are banding together. On March 24, the far-right group, the League and the Five Star Party agreed on the two parliamentary speakers.[4] This could mean that the two parties form a governing alliance—something that was uncertain in the aftermath of the March 5 election—as no party had won enough seats to form a ruling party.[5] The groups agreed upon Roberto Fico and Elisabetta Casellati for the lower house and Senate speaker positions, respectively.[6] In the immediate aftermath of the election, many feared Five Star would be unwilling to strike deals with other groups, however, its partnership with the league showed that it could be flexible.

So how did this election spark concerns over Italy’s membership in the EU? The right-wing parties, despite several differences, typically unite against mass migration, youth unemployment, and a lagging economy.[7] In the weeks leading up to the March 4th elections, the League threatened exit from the European Union over the issues with immigration.[8]  The anti-migrant sentiment was exacerbated by the gruesome murder of an 18-year-old Italian woman by an African migrant and the retaliatory shooting rampage by a neo-fascist, which claimed the lives of six migrants.[9]  

Current EU rules state that the financial responsibility for the non-European migrants will fall to the nation in which the migrants first land.[10] Clearly, this rule is a heavy financial burden on Italy, which already faces economic troubles. [11] In 2017 over 119,000 migrants arrived in Italy—down from 181,000 migrants at the height of the migration crisis.[12]

Despite failed populist attempts in France, Austria, and the Netherlands, the overwhelming support for right-wing sentiment in Italy re-ignited fears that Italy or other nations would leave the Union.[13] The right-wing parties have taken an “Italy-First” approach in the past two decades—this means looking at EU membership as a “cost-benefit” decision.[14] This attitude toward membership has minimized Italy’s influence on policy decisions. The health of the EU membership is measured by the EU Cohesion Monitor, an index that indicates the willingness to cooperate within the EU—it assesses 32 factors relating to micro and macro measurements of economy and society.[15] According to one analysis, Italy’s Cohesion Monitor indicate that Italy is following in Britain’s steps. Italy currently ranks 23rd out of 28 countries on individual cohesion—down 13 places since 2007.[16]

While many things are still up in the air for Italy’s political future as a new prime minister has yet to be selected, a few things remain certain: the European Union, likely led by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, will have to re-evaluate the policy platform of the European Union.[17] The health of the European Union will be in jeopardy as long as the tension between populism and bolstering the EU exists—especially with Italy’s current economic and migrant struggles.[18] For now, all eyes will be on Italy’s 2019 budget which will be passed sometime this fall, its passage will give insight into how the new populist government in Italy will govern the people and if it really will put “Italy-First.”


[1] Alex Hunt & Brian Wheeler, Brexit: All You Need to Know About the UK Leaving the EU, BBC (Mar. 19, 2018),

[2] Id.

[3] id.

[4] Stephanie Kirchgaessener, Italy: Five Star and League Parties Likely to Form Governing Alliance, The Guardian (Mar. 25, 2018),

[5][5] Id.

[6] Crispian Balmer, Italian Parties Reach Deal on Parliamentary Speakers, Reuters (March 24, 2018),

[7] Adam Shaw, Italian Election Could See Right-Wing Populists Rise to Power, Fox News (Mar. 3, 2018),

[8] Isla Binnie, Italy’s Northern League Dangles EU Exit in Election Campaign, Reuters (Feb. 13, 2018),

[9] Shaw, supra note 7.

[10] Binne, supra note 8.

[11] Id.

[12] Holly Ellyatt, Italy’s ‘Emergency’ Immigration Crisis Could be a Swing Factor in Election, CNBC (Feb. 27, 2018),

[13] Katya Adler, Italy Election: Populist Gains Send Shockwaves to Brussels, BBC (Mar. 5, 2018),

[14] Josef Janning, Italy: Following Britain Towards the Exit?, European Council on Foreign Relations (Mar. 2, 2018),

[15]  Id.

[16] Id.

[17] AFP, What Does Italy’s Election Result Mean for the EU?, The Local (Mar. 5, 2018),

[18] Id.

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