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In Italy, Anti-Migrant Populist Wins Big


Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini arrives for a press conference at the League's headquarters, in Milan, Italy, May 27, 2019.

The big winner in Italy’s vote in the European elections was Matteo Salvini's anti-migrant League party, which took one-third of the Italian vote, strengthening his grip on government. His coalition partner, the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, was the big loser. After just one year in government, the result turned around the balance of power between the two ruling parties, but Salvini immediately pledged not to dissolve the ruling coalition.

Salvini was quick to thank Italians after the results of Sunday’s vote in the European elections showed him ahead by far. His victory came as no surprise as his party quickly emerged as the undisputable winner and first party in Italy, garnering more than 34% of the vote. His coalition partner, the 5-Star Movement, took half that number.

It was a sensational result for a regional party that garnered just 6% of the vote in the last EU election five years ago. The party managed to extend its reach all over the country. Salvini’s strong anti-immigration stance and rhetoric on the need to stem the tide of desperate people who will only end up involved in crime convinced many Italians he is what Italy needs today.

For many years, hundreds of thousands of migrants had been arriving on Italian shores until last year, when Salvini adopted his “Italian ports are closed” policy. The League did particularly well in Italian centers known as migrant hot spots. In Lampedusa, the tiny island known for being one of the first ports of call for migrants, the League party garnered 45% of the vote.

Pope Francis Monday warned against the rise of intolerance and racism in his message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The pope spoke of the fear that exists in many societies against migrants.

Salvini, even after the vote, made it clear he would not change the existing coalition government. He pledged to get back down to work immediately and not dissolve the ruling coalition or reshuffle the government.

Luigi di Maio, leader of the 5-Star Movement, issued a brief statement blaming his party’s poor showing on low voter turnout, adding “now heads down and let’s work.” But voter turnout in Italy was only slightly down from the last EU elections.

Speaking at League headquarters in Milan during the night, Salvini said, “A new Europe is born.”

He said, “Not only is the League the first party in Italy, but Marine Le Pen is the first party in France, Nigel Farage is the first party in Britain. So Italy, France, Britain: it’s a sign of a Europe that is changing."

Salvini said he was proud that — in his words — “The League is taking part in this new European Renaissance.” With the League possibly obtaining the largest number of seats by a single party in the new European parliament, Salvini said his party would be pushing for an ‘economic’ portfolio — agriculture, competition or energy — for the next EU commissioner.

But the Italian leader's exultation is tempered by results elsewhere in Europe, where populists made only modest gains. They won just under a quarter of seats in the European parliament — far lower than the one-third that nationalists on the continent had hoped to get.

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