Populism rising in Europe: Lessons for Ukraine

Taras Semeniuk
18:40, 08 March 2018
World
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Opinion

The latest Italian elections outcome came as a surprise for all racers. Some saw an unexpected failure, while some enjoyed striking success. For example, Silvio Berlusconi was convinced that his Forza Italia would receive at least 25% of the popular vote but saw a mere 15%. Berlusconi's satellite Mateo Salvini, leader of the Northern League secured an unexpected 19% support allowing him to nominate a prime minister from the alliance of right-wing forces. But will Brussels agree to the idea that Italy will be presented by Vladimir Putin's friend?

Another surprise was 32% for the Five Star Movement (M5S) founded by a comedian and blogger Beppe Grillo, who advocates the principles of direct democracy and review of relations with the EU. Grillo was even heard speaking in favor of a globally unrecognized referendum in the Ukrainian Crime ...

It is worth noting that Italy was actually divided

All these parties have repeatedly spoken up promoting a review of sanctions policy against Russia and promised to pedal the issue once they came to power. But it is unlikely that these words will turn into real action. That's because in matters of sanctions, Brussels even managed to "bend" Hungarians, who has consistently supported easing policies toward Russia.

It is worth noting that Italy was actually divided. The South has most voted for M5S populists due to the crisis and poverty. Grillo vowed radical reforms in the economy and lifting taxes. The country's North and Center, on the other hand, cast their votes for the "alliance of the right" – Forza Italia, the Northern League, and the Brothers of Italy.

The leftists, represented by the Democratic Party, failed the election with 19% of the vote and have already announced their retreat to the opposition. Therefore, coalition talks will be conducted by "pro-Putin populists": the right-wing forces and M5S. Experts don't rule out possible re-election amid low chances for an actual union of the two camps.

Ukraine should already start developing productive communication with representatives of the winner parties

However, there are several important conclusions regarding Ukraine in the context of Italy's elections.  First, it should be remembered that the demand for populists is now prevailing across the EU. The latest elections in Italy are a great example… This is the answer to both the economic and bureaucratic crises, high taxes, and failure to adequately address the influx of migrants.

Secondly, the right-wing forces and M5S share a positive attitude to the Kremlin's policies. Therefore, if said parties form a government, Italy's rhetoric on defending Russia in the EU will intensify.

Thirdly, Ukraine should already start developing productive communication with representatives of the winner parties.

Finally, although Italy still chairs the OSCE, new political forces are unlikely to drastically affect the organization's operations as the monitoring mission's policies are approved by all member states.

Taras Semeniuk is a Ukrainian political analyst

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