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It has been a volatile year in Italian politics, with the government of Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni struggling to save face after a failed referendum last December pushed Matteo Renzi out of office.

The Democratic Party has been in a state of disarray after its leader, Matteo Renzi, failed to secure enough votes to amend the constitution in a politically charged referendum on 4 December. A little more than 59% of Italians voted against the proposed changes, which would have streamlined government and allowed Renzi to implement much needed reforms.

Gentiloni replaced Renzi about a week after the referendum. Since then, the timing of the next parliamentary election has been up in the air.

The next election must be held no later than 20 May 2018, which is roughly 70 days from the expiration of the current five-year parliamentary term on 15 March 2018. Despite repeated discussion about a new electoral law, Italy’s lower house has been unable to agree on an exact date. This has led to political instability inside the Eurozone’s third-largest economy

It’s almost impossible to separate Italy’s upcoming election from the recent vote in Germany, where the far-right AfD party secured third place. In the process, AfD becomes the first overtly nationalist party to enter the Bundestag in over 60 years.

Although right-wing populism is spreading throughout Europe, it is in Italy where it stands the best chance of succeeding. Italy’s Five Star Movement has emerged as one of the country’s most popular parties as Italians grow increasingly frustrated with EU policies.

Five Star recently named Luigi Di Maio as its leader. The 31-year old has sought to reassure voters about Italy’s future in the EU. Rather than rally members against Brussels, Di Maio said his party seeks to remain in the pan-European framework.

“We want to stay in the EU and discuss some of the rules which are suffocating and damaging our economy” Di Maio said in early September, as quoted by Bloomberg Politics. “And the money we’re giving the EU budget every year must be one of the themes to put forward to the other countries.”

Investors are frantically trying to size up the potential of a Five Star victory next year, and what it could mean for the EU. Despite Di Maio’s assurance, Five Star is still considered an anti-EU party whose platform is similar to Germany’s AfD and France’s National Front.

Most public opinion polls give the Five Star roughly 28% of the vote, just ahead of the ruling Democratic Party.

 

[1] Giada Zampano (6 June 2017). “Italian parliament sets early election in motion.” Politico.

[2] John Follain (4 September 2017). “Populist Hopeful Shunned by Italian Elite on Shores of Lake Como.” Bloomberg.

[3] Gavin Jones (23 September 2017). “Italy’s 5-Star names youthful new leader as election nears.” Reuters.

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