Foreign-policy buffs who spent Sunday night watching the Oscars were missing out on a far more compelling competition: the Italian parliamentary elections which, with nearly as much pageantry, delivered over half of the vote to Euroskeptic populist parties. One of them, the Five Star Movement, which was founded by former comedian Beppe Grillo, won about 32 percent of the vote. Another, the far-right League, won 17.4. It ran in alliance with former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia, and is now the senior party in the bloc, which controls 36 percent of the vote.
Both factions are locked in competition to form a government, which means that any policy changes resulting from the election could be a long time coming. Even so, the fact remains that a majority of Italians have now come out against the European Union. That is worrying news for those who hoped that European integration, set back by Brexit, was finally back on track after the defeat of nationalists in the Netherlands at the polls in March 2017, the election of Emmanuel Macron in France two months later, and the return to power (but barely) of the establishment-minded Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany in September.
In fact, it was just days ago that Europe watchers were breathing a sigh of relief that Merkel had finally negotiated a grand coalition government between her center-right Christian Democratic Union and the left-leaning Social Democratic party, or GroKo for short. GroKo has touted its intention to reform the EU to bring it closer together after Brexit (the first chapter of the initial coalition agreement was called “A New Beginning for Europe”).
Of course, the reason Germany has been without a new government for so long is that, although Merkel’s CDU won a plurality of the votes, the CDU and SPD both saw their vote share in the Bundestag dwindle as the Alternative for Germany (AfD) rocketed from being unrepresented in the body to its third-largest party. With the nationalist AfD in the wings, and with Merkel weaker than she has been in years, GroKo can hardly expect to push major reforms now.
There’s been a lot of European schadenfreude over Britain’s Brexit woes, and it’s certainly true that Theresa May’s government has struggled to find its footing. But the European project is not exactly in rude health. A little humility is in order all around.