ROME—Anyone who’s spent more than a vacation in Italy knows it’s a country with deep reserves of discontent, economic stagnation, and political dysfunction. So the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement, which promises universal basic income and says it wants to clean up politics, and the right-wing League party, which made immigration and economic anxiety central issues, had plenty of anger to tap into ahead of Sunday’s national elections. And then they became the biggest winners, with more than half of the electorate between them.
Meanwhile, the center-left Democratic Party, which has governed Italy respectably well since 2013, had the worst showing in the party’s history, with around 18 percent of the vote. This came on the watch of Matteo Renzi, the former prime minister, who has gone from rising star to one of the most polarizing and despised politicians in the country.
The people have spoken. But what are they saying? There are two main ways to read the results, and both have major consequences for Europe. One—and this is entirely new—is that one of the three pillar countries of the European Union now effectively has a euroskeptical majority in parliament; both Five Star and the League have called for rewriting treaties with Europe to give Italy more sovereignty. (Although it’s a big question whether they would team up to form a government; the election results have produced a hung parliament.) The second is that voters are punishing Italy’s governing elites—Renzi’s Democratic Party, but also Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party—for overseeing the country’s decline.