The BBC’s Europe editor, Gavin Hewitt has been looking to Italy ahead of a general election brought 2 months early after Silvio Berlusconi’s party withdrew support for Mario Monti’s technocratic government – voting begins on Sunday. The FT notes that
Strong, stable government will be needed to continue the reform process put in place by Mr Monti’s technocrats, and to argue in Brussels for more growth-oriented policies and a possible relaxation of fiscal deficit targets.
However, the worst-case scenario emerging from these elections is a centre-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democrats unable to reach a majority in the Senate even if supported by Mr Monti’s small group of reform-minded centrists.
Polls indicate that the centre-left will take the lower house, where a majority premium is guaranteed for the largest party or coalition.
But it is a different story in the Senate, where the premium is awarded on a regional basis. A surge by the anti-party and eurosceptic Five Star Movement and a comeback by Mr Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition promising lavish tax cuts could lead to a hung parliament – depending on the outcome in four big regions where the result is too close to call.
Brussels and Berlin would like to see Mr Bersani form an alliance with Mario Monti as part of a governing coalition.
The prime minister, who took over after Mr Berlusconi’s fall in 2011, has proved an awkward candidate. Mr Bersani, speaking in Naples, had a swipe at him saying he never goes onto the streets to meet people, although he did not rule out including him in a future government.
Mr Monti’s problem is that he struggles to convince voters he is on the side of ordinary Italians. A partnership with Mr Bersani would be difficult but the markets might prefer such an arrangement to the alternatives.
One theme in this campaign has been Germany. At rally after rally the Germans get a mention. Mr Berlusconi warns against a German Europe. So do some of the socialists.
Mr Monti claimed Angela Merkel did not want a centre-left victory, only for Berlin to insist she had not expressed a preference. Some German politicians have warned against a Berlusconi victory. The interference is widely resented in Italy.
There is a dangerous, unpredictable mood in Italy and the election result remains uncertain.
Mr Bersani told me the people were “disappointed, disillusioned and angry”. He said the illusions and fairy tales of the right had been stripped away. Perhaps. There is here the feel of a vacuum, of a country which might need a second election relatively soon.
The fear is of Greek-style paralysis in the euro-zone’s third largest economy.