The results of the European elections have shaken up the political scene in Italy again due to the high degree of electoral volatility. Unusually, in the new dispensation, one party—the Democratic Party—has dominated with a 15% increase in votes compared with the previous election. This is due to the fragmentation of the Right, which is still searching for a new direction after the fall of Berlusconi and to the sui generis nature of Grillo’s non-Party, now struggling with early existential doubts after losing about three million votes in just one year. As a result, the single party now in power, the Democratic Party, has also changed shape under its stronger leadership.

Significant volatility

According to political analysts, half of the vote for the Democratic Party came from other political formations, either from the disillusioned right or from Monti’s Scelta Civica, which previously had won about 11% of the vote and this time managed just 0.7%. This changes not only the cultural but also the social make-up of the party. The Democratic Party now appears to be a large, post-ideological organisation with a mission that stretches across various constituencies. Rather like an “archipelago” party that has to open up to lots of different islands, it is obliged to fuse together a multiplicity of small-scale movements that are fundamentally very different from each other. And none of them is able to impose a single, uniform identity on the others.

Berlusconi can thank Grillo

Despite the massive shift in voting, there are still a number of structural hotspots in a three-party system that reveals a highly asymmetric distribution of electoral preferences. Since approval for the new electoral law (the Italicum) has become more difficult as a guarantee of a two-party configuration, the new balance of power would seem to foreshadow a grand coalition as an unavoidable step forward towards building a government. So long as Grillo remains an outside variable in the political game, Berlusconi might hope to conserve a role for bargaining and posing political threats. These knotty problems of the political crisis in Italy have not yet been solved. Even the electoral campaign overlooked the major European issues and took on a very provincial flavour in terms of the issues on the agenda. The three main leaders don’t have a seat in Parliament and are not candidates for a seat in Brussels, so they are fighting it out via the media—mainly television.

The Italian vote shows a powerful rejection of European policies of austerity and restraint. The pro-government vote (attracted by the story line, the leader’s physical energy and also the tax bonus for employees and lower company tax) is taken as a strong mandate to launch expansionary new policies to promote growth and jobs. Yet this vote is in fact ambiguous as it is pro-government from an internal perspective, but radically anti-government when viewed from a European perspective. In the end, only a change in European policy will help provide effective governance of the crisis in Italy.