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Italian Politics and Europe’s Future

Italy – which stands at the border between Europe's prosperous north and crisis-ridden south, and between an open Europe and one seized by atavistic nationalism – will play a pivotal role in determining whether the EU survives long enough to reform itself. The coalition government that emerges will prove crucial.

NEW YORK – More than ever, the European Union needs unity to assert its values and interests in an age when US global leadership is on the verge of collapse, China is ascendant, and Russia wavers yet again between cooperation and confrontation with the EU. Divided, the EU is a mere helpless spectator to geopolitical upheaval. United, the EU can play a critical global role, as it uniquely combines prosperity, democracy, environmentalism, innovation, and social justice. And whether the EU regains unity of purpose, or instead spirals into disarray, will depend on what happens now in Italy.

Italy’s pivotal role stems from its position at the geographic divide between northern Europe’s prosperity and southern Europe’s crisis, and the intellectual and emotional divide between an open Europe and one trapped again by nationalism, prejudice, and fear. Italy stands also at the political divide, with an insurgent new party, the Five Star Movement (M5S), sharing the political stage with the right-wing, anti-immigrant, and anti-EU League party and the pro-EU but greatly weakened center-left Democratic Party.

The insurgent M5S finished first in the March 4 parliamentary vote with an astounding 33% of the vote, compared to 19% for the Democrats and 17% for the League. The implications of M5S’s strong victory are a topic of heated debate in Italy and around Europe.

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