The anti-immigration narrative is granting him even more influence. Since the results of the national election, the Lega has reached around 30% of popular support, overtaking the Five Star Movement.

 

As incredible as it might sound, since the March 2018 national elections, Salvini, the Secretary of the Lega and current Italian Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, has been acting as if he was the majority leader, although his party, with a still impressive 17% of the vote, is only the junior partner in the coalition government. Indeed, its coalition partner, the Five Star Movement (M5S), scored 33% of the vote, while in opposition, the Democratic Party (PD) got 19%.

Deputy-Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior, has been acting as if he was the majority leader, although his party, with a still impressive 17% of the vote, is only the junior partner in the coalition government. Indeed, its coalition partner, the Five Star Movement (M5S), scored 33% of the vote, while in opposition, the Democratic Party (PD) got 19%.

And here came Salvini’s political gamble, which allowed him to acquire more power than the election outcome would have given him. By entering into a political alliance with the M5S, he easily outsmarted them. Being the first political force, the M5S needed the Lega to reach the required 40% and form a coalition government. This condition of necessity made Salvini indispensable to the M5S, granting him seemingly unlimited power.

Profiting from this fortuitous situation, Salvini has been gaining even more influence by pushing the issue of migration (one of his electoral pillars) even harder to the forefront of the country’s political agenda. Certainly, the anti-migration rhetoric is not new to the Lega. Born in the 90s as a regional separatist party, it gained support by fuelling the wealthier Northerners’ discontent about internal economic migration from the South of Italy. Yet, it was only recently that Salvini decided to transform his party into a nationalist platform for the whole of Italy: being involved in an electoral funding scan- dal worth 50 million euros, the Lega needed to reinvent its image and redirect attention to other issues. On the other hand, with for- mer Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi unable to run because of his pending legal charges, Salvini had an opportunity to impose himself as a political alternative for right wing voters. Against this backdrop, the Lega has been building nationwide support by creating common “enemies”: the EU, some unaccommodating member countries’ governments and, above all, migrants

European citizens need to become aware that migration cannot be stopped, but that it can be controlled through a sustainable EU agenda.

Although the number of migrants has reduced over the past years, 45% of Italians still believe that the issue represents a threat to their security. The media have contributed to this perception. In 2017, almost one news item out of two was dedicated to immigration. Building on this, Salvini claimed that Italy has already done too much for migrants. He went so far as to ban NGO vessels rescu- ing refugees in the Mediterranean from the Italian ports. Recent opinion polls on voting intentions show that this narrative pays off. In a couple of months, the Lega almost dou- bled its support, reaching around 30.5% in the opinion polls.

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Next chance: 2019 EP elections

Undoubtedly the European Parliamentary (EP) elections represent the next chance for progressive forces in Italy to overtake the Lega. If Salvini is able to perform exception- ally well at the EP elections, he could rightly claim to represent the first party in Italy and be even more nimble in pushing forward his anti-immigration programme. Now, more than ever, it is time for European progressive political forces to oppose his vitriolic rhetoric with facts.

European citizens need to become aware that migration cannot be stopped, but that it can be controlled through a sustainable EU agenda. Migrants could help Italy and the EU to overcome negative demographic trends and contribute to the sustainability of national welfare systems if legal avenues to the EU for skilled workers are opened.

 

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