Europe anxious about Italy’s future

Anxious times in Italy.
Anxious times in Italy.

ROME — European politicians and markets have reacted anxiously after Italy’s general election produced a stalemate between centre-right and centre-left blocs.

France and Germany urged continued reform, while Spain described the result as a “jump to nowhere”.

Italian markets fell sharply while others in Europe and around the world opened down.

Centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi said fresh elections should be avoided, and called for a period of reflection.

Commentators view this as him hinting at the possibility of considering what would be a very awkward alliance with his opponents on the centre-left.

With all domestic votes counted, Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left bloc won the lower house vote but has failed to secure a majority in the Senate. Control of both houses is needed to govern.

A protest movement led by comedian Beppe Grillo won 25 per cent, but the centrist bloc led by current Prime Minister Mario Monti came a poor fourth, with about 10 per cent.

The horse-trading will now begin. Pier Luigi Bersani has enough votes to dominate the lower house. That is not the case in the Senate. Even if he were to join forces with the former Prime Minister Mario Monti he would not be able to command a majority there.

He may try to operate a minority government but that will clearly be unstable. There may be an attempt to form a wider coalition to govern the country at a time of economic crisis, but it is unlikely to survive the summer.

One unanswered question is whether Beppe Grillo will be open to a deal. Would his movement support, say, a centre-left coalition in exchange for widespread reforms of the political system? We don’t know. Buoyed up by success he has only promised to clear out the political class.

The outcome of the election, which comes amid a deep recession and tough austerity measures, was so close between the two main blocs that the margin of victory given in interior ministry figures was less than one in both houses of parliament.

The winning bloc automatically gets a majority in the lower house, but seats in the Senate depend more on success in individual regions. (BBC)

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