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Italian Elections: Rejection of Austerity

There are two clear messages from the polls in Italy. Those political parties or movements that campaigned strongly against austerity won most of the votes. Second, when politics is deaf to popular demands, the risk is that the political space will be occupied by populist forces, often dangerous.

The European press basically used one word to summarise the outcome of the recent Italian parliamentary elections: instability (again). Italy “plunges into instability”; a “dramatic anti-austerity vote” leaves the south European country with a hung parliament and a “political stalemate”. In a dispatch from Frankfurt (the seat of the European Central Bank, or ECB), the Reuters news agency regretted that the perspective of “a durable, reform-minded government in Rome” was now slim (28 February 2013). This raises a “danger of contagion” across other vulnerable European countries, the German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said (27 February). Italy being one of the biggest economies of the continent (at $2.19 trillion, its gross domestic product (GDP) remains larger, at market exchange rates, than India’s $1.85 trillion), the larger European countries with 57 million inhabitants, a founding member of the European Union and, more important here, one of the founders of the euro as a single currency back in 1990, the Italian political uncertainty poses a danger for the entire “eurozone”, as many commentators noted.

In the weekend after the elections, The Economist titled its story, just as the results were coming in, “A Dangerous Mess”. Two months ago, when the Italian premier Mario Monti stepped down, The Economist opined that “the coming elections will be above all a test of the maturity and realism of the Italian voters”. Clearly, to borrow the language of the British magazine, the Italian voters did not pass the “test of maturity” that the European markets were expecting. Undiplomatically, the German social-democratic leader Peer Steinbrueck said what many across Europe must have thought – and The Economist splashed on its cover – that the Italians massively voted for “two clowns”, referring to the former premier Silvio Berlusconi and a new face, the actual comedian Beppe Grillo, who together made up more than half of the popular vote.

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