Emilia-Romagna, a wealthy region in northern Italy that counts Bologna, one of Italy’s main education and cultural centres, as its capital has been a stronghold of the country’s Communist party since the end of the Second World War.
Since the start of the global financial crisis more than a decade ago, the far-left’s unchallenging hold on the region, much like in other left-leaning parts of Europe, has been waning as austerity measures and unchecked illegal immigration has fostered an increasingly Eurosceptic anti-establishment wave that has taken hold in debt-ridden countries like Italy.
The leader of Italy’s conservative Lega party, Matteo Salvini, who was deputy prime minister in a shaky coalition government until August 2019 when he resigned after clashing with other members of the government, had hoped to wrestle Emilia-Romagna away from the left. The elections results, however, saw the centre-left Democratic party breath a sigh of relief as their incumbent candidate, Stefano Bonaccini, defeat Lega’s Lucia Borgonzoni.
Despite the setback, Lega is gaining ground both nationally and in traditionally leftist bastion like Emilia-Romagna and is putting increasing pressure on Italy’s national government, a still-fragile coalition between the Democratic Party and the the populist, left-leaning 5-Star Movement that formed after Lega pulled out of its aforementioned fractious alliance with 5-Star last summer.
Salvini has said that he will continue to push for snap elections to replace what he says is a government that doesn’t represent a majority of voters.
Following the election, Silvia Piccinini, a regional parliamentarian for the 5-Star Movement, spoke with New Europe about how the anti-establishment party is viewing the results of the regional vote and where she sees her party heading amid continued political uncertainty in the current coalition government of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte after 5-Star’s leader, Luigi Di Maio, stepped down as the party’s head in late January.
Federico Grandesso (FG): Where do you see the 5-Star Movement headed in the immediate future?
Silvia Piccinini (SP): It is important for us, right now, to go on supporting our priorities and the objectives of our programmes. The name of the new leader can be decided later. In our movement, we have lots of good candidates that could replace Di Maio and bring our movement closer to the future that we’re working for. Even though we’re in the opposition, we have won several political battles. Our role now will be that of a watchdog on the policies carried out by the majority. After that, we want to put our proposals on the table and challenge them on the objectives. So far, I have heard a lot of promises during the electoral campaign. Some of the them are good and some aren’t. We agree with the idea of strengthening the rail roads and we support the ideas related to environmental sustainability. We are ready to cooperate.
FG: Why do you think Lega was defeated in Emilia-Romagna’s regional elections?
SP: This is a defeat of a way to do politics that we totally reject. We don’t like to ring bells like Salvini did in Bologna and we are against a political movement that, during the electoral campaing, was spreading hate. All these inappropriate initiatives are only dragging down the political debate and we are against that.
FG: The so-called ‘Sardines Movement’ (an independent initiative from Bologna that called on citizens to create homemade placards of the eponymous fish to symbolise solidarity, pacifism, and opposition to divisive and violent politics) is a recent and spontaneous national popular movement that has changed the electoral campaign. What influence do you think they had in the vote?
SP: I respect the Sardines because they are a movement born in the country’s squares and amongst the people. Unfortunately, I see that they pointlessly criticise our movement. In the previous mandate we had very good result and I am still waiting for their proposals. I have even heard them saying that a vote for the 5-Star Movement is useless. After that episode, I had quickly list all of the results that we achieved while still being in the opposition. I did later hear the Sardines talking about different themes and programmes, but this is the problem with politics, it is difficult to understand where exactly they want go. During the campaign, I unfortunately didn’t hear any political proposal from them. When they put forward some concrete plan, we’ll be happy to listen to them.
Establishment party feels emboldened by the results
Shortly after the centre-left Democratic Party candidate in Emilia-Romagna, Stefano Bonaccini, had his victory confirmed, he spoke with New Europe about what his victory meant for the region and for Italy as a whole.
Stefano Bonaccini (SB): This is a demonstration that it is possible to build a centre-left coalition without fighting and that we can enlarge our scope of the civic movements that took the responsibility to try to govern. We have to have the ambition to imagine, this is the message that is coming from the Sardines movement. Lots of citizens don’t like a political campaign based on rage, hate, and shouting. From this result we learned that, on the contrary, people want a calmer political debate that is able to respect each adversary. It was important then to see how the content of the political proposal was important for the electorate. I didn’t like when the media shows where you say something and the day after you say exactly the opposite. We tried to build up a campaign that talked about concrete themes like healthcare, labour, enterprise, environment, culture, and sport. Anyone who had the goal to transform this electoral battle from Bonaccini vs Bergonzoni to Bonaccini vs Salvini lost.
FG: What will be your first order of business once you take office?
SB: I want to build very quickly, in around one month, the regional government. Our region can’t lose time because Emilia-Romagna needs to be run better. For me it isn’t enough to be the president of the region. We will, if asked, give a helping hand at the national level as well. I have to say that some good ideas have come from our region for the entire country in the past.
FG: What role do you think the Sardines played in the vote?
SB: The Sardines arrived only few weeks ago in the political arena. They were a highly positive element firstly because they showed that not only Matteo Salvini could fill public squares. They also demonstrated that there were a lot of people, more than expected, who wanted to take part in the electoral debate. We need a political party with leaders that are able to answer to normal citizens when they go to a cafe.
FG: Do you think these regional elections give an indication about the future of the country’s national government?
SB: I don’t know if the national government is stronger now, but what I hope for is that they could reduce the level of arguments among the different political forces. They should spend more time trying to work together on unifying elements like public health care, where the executive has allocated €4 billion from the budget. In simple terms, the country needs to grow. And now, thanks to a governmental measure, 400,000 citizens from my region will have a higher salary. From this, it is important to again finance an “Industry 4.0” plan. We have to jointly support the economy with sustainability and I will try to create a job pact together with a climate deal.
FG: Salvini invested a lot on security issues during the electoral campaign, but the results seem to indicate that this was a mistake. What are your thoughts about this strategy?
SB: Security is, of course, important. But we have also to know the limits of our responsibilities and those of the law enforcement agencies that have the right tools to deal with the security situation in an appropriate way.