Italian elections – an expat exercise

26. February 2018

by Elisabetta Vitello

How does a young Italian expat like me stay informed about what is going on in his/her country? I must confess that I haven’t always done a good job, preferring to read international newspapers where, I thought, I could find more unbiased information, as opposed to the national Italian news. In doing so, I sometimes missed out on some Italian drama (without regrets) and focused more on world politics and international affairs. But in light of the next parliamentary elections of 4 March, I decided to make an effort to follow the national news in a systematic way, to be able to exercise my voting right and duty in an informed manner. The exercise consisted of watching 30 minutes of an Italian broadcast news in the morning and reading at least two articles about Italian politics published by the main national newspapers. After two months, you might think that I felt very prepared, that I had analysed the different policies proposed by the running parties and, on these grounds, was able to develop an informed choice. Not quite.  The main themes discussed in the Italian media were politicians’ personal scandals, the internal fights of the coalitions and the populist chants against migration.

Not willing to give up immediately, I decided I needed to act without intermediaries.  I therefore read the parties’ electoral programs, where I was sure I could find all the information necessary to make up my mind. For those who are not familiar with Italian politics, the main parties are:

  • Democratic Party (PD), which forms the backbone of the centre-left coalition, together with other smaller parties such as +Europa, Lista Insieme and Civica Popolare. They are traditionally pro-Europe and have a liberal attitude towards migration.
  • Forza Italia (FI), the party of Silvio Berlusconi, who decided to get back into politics and form a centre-right coalition with the Northern League, the euro-sceptic and anti-immigration party and Brothers of Italy, a nationalist-conservative party.
  • Five Star Movement (M5S), the anti-establishment party advocating for direct democracy and fights against corruption and strongly critical of the EU.
  • Free and Equal (LEU), a party recently created by the most left-wing dissidents of the PD who were dissatisfied with the centrist and liberal policies proposed by the ex-prime minister and current head of the PD Matteo Renzi.

With great surprise, I discovered that the parties’ proposals are quite similar, even though they are presented as being far apart. For instance, they all want to reduce taxes in different ways: the centre-right coalition proposes a flat tax of around 20% that would reward the richer classes and allegedly help reduce tax evasion, while the leftist LEU wants to make the contribution system more progressive to help the poorest citizens and actively engage against tax elusion with vaguely defined reforms.  My forecast is that none of these expansionary measures will be passed. All the parties declare that they could find ways to stop tax evasion and therefore unlock resources now hidden but none of them can explain well how.

Another interesting example concerns the fight against poverty. Virtually all the parties want to introduce a sort of universal basic income under different names (except for the PD that, more realistically, supports the minimum wage). The M5S’s programme even mentions introducing a type of “flexicurity”, a labour policy successfully implemented by the Northern countries, which sustains citizens whenever they are unemployed but at the same time gives them incentives to actively look for work.  Besides the fact that flexicurity and basic income are two very different policies, in my opinion this sentence is contradicted by two other proposals:  cut taxes and abolish the labour reform passed by the previous government. In fact, flexicurity requires a higher tax burden and, as the name suggest, more flexibility in the labour market, which was already partially introduced by the above mentioned reform.

All the politicians agree on the need for investing in digitalisation and green technologies but many disagree on one topic which is the source of outstanding animosity: how to deal with migration. The centre-right coalition based its campaign on the promise to “send them all home” while the M5S wants to send back all undocumented migrants and institute local commissions to determine whether the newcomers have the right to stay or not.  The centre-left coalition and LEU think alike on this matter: they aim to improve the reception system and put forward the greatly discussed law of ius soli which would grant Italian citizenship to second-generation migrants.

As a young Italian living abroad, I am somewhat disillusioned by the politics of my home country, considering that populist, nationalist and racist parties gained such a strong support and public exposure in the last few years. I did not need to read all the electoral programmes (even though I am very happy I did) to know that I will always endorse political entities with competent candidates that support policies conducive to economic growth, social inclusion and, most importantly, more integration at the European level.

This time I will vote from France, keeping in mind that the European Union is my home and that I have never been discriminated in another country, thus I believe none should experience intolerance in mine.