Throughout this period, far-right parties such as the Northern League had little support in the region. As recently as 2014, it barely scratched 3 percent of the vote in the province of Grosseto.
But this century-old tradition has now come to an abrupt end. In Arcidosso, where I have spent a part of every summer for the past dozen years, the Northern League took 39 percent of the vote in Sunday’s European elections. In Castel del Piano, a beautiful hilltop town I can see out of my kitchen window, it surged to 41 percent. In Seggiano, a picturesque village I look at from my garden, it got 48 percent.
The cumulative impact of these right-wing-populist victories in Tuscany, in Italy as a whole, and throughout Europe is evident in the overall composition of the European Parliament. While the center-right European People’s Party (EPP) has long enjoyed the loudest voice in Brussels, its influence will now be rivaled by the far right. If you add up the different factions of right-wing populists, they now outnumber the EPP. If this is what it looks like when the populist wave crests, then I suppose we’ve all become used to living underwater.
It’s tempting to imagine that some of the progressive parties that are now in the ascendant across Europe might be able to stem the right-wing tide. As they have shed the radicalism of their founding period, the Greens have, for example, become ever more popular in Germany. Five years ago, they took 11 percent of the vote, finishing third. This time around, they doubled their share of the vote, comfortably taking second place. For the first time in history, they have beaten Germany’s Social Democrats in a nationwide election. And Germany’s Greens are part of a wider trend: Their sister parties also posted significant gains in France, Portugal, and the United Kingdom. Meanwhile, liberal parties, which tend to pursue more pro-market policies but have similar views on many social issues, performed strongly in Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, and parts of Scandinavia.
But while they have proved very powerful in urban centers and among the highly educated, these parties struggle elsewhere. Young students in Berlin and London feel seen by Germany’s Greens and Britain’s Liberal Democrats. But a huge cultural and economic gulf separates these parties from the older workers in Wolverhampton, the middle-aged electricians in Gelsenkirchen, and the young shop assistants in Arcidosso who once favored traditional left-wing parties. Despite the success of the Greens, the left across Europe now captures a smaller share of the vote than it did five years ago. (In 2014, the three left-wing factions in the European Parliament held 293 seats between them; now their share has shrunk to 260.)
Thinking of those hills and valleys of Tuscany I love so deeply, and of the locals who have always been so kind and welcoming to me and my friends, I cannot help but hope that they will soon come to regret their support for Salvini’s demagoguery. But I also fear that none of the parties that are currently on the political menu in Italy, or in other parts of Europe, is doing very much to lure them back.
Traditional parties have disappointed too many people, too many times. The Greens and the liberals speak a different language, directed at a different audience. For now, only Salvini directly addresses the disenchanted voters of the Monte Amiata. Unless that changes, he may be able to count on their support for many years to come.