Italian right celebrates rise in historically left-wing Umbria

Italy's right-wing opposition alliance was on Monday celebrating a local election victory in Umbria, a region known as a left-wing “stronghold” for the past 70 years.

Italian right celebrates rise in historically left-wing Umbria
League leader Matteo Salvini speaks in Umbria on October 19th. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Support for the Five Star Movement (M5S) nosedived in the local poll, as did the vote for the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), which has been rocked by a health scandal in the region.

READ ALSO: Italian right hopes to conquer left stronghold in key vote

Right-wing League party leader Matteo Salvini had vowed to wrest Umbria, a hilly region neighbouring Tuscany, from the left in the first of several key region elections he hopes will bring his party back to power.

Salvini said the results of Sunday's vote were “extraordinary”, expressing his “joy and emotion” after the right's candidate Donatella Tesei won with more than 57 percent, compared to 37 percent for the coalition government's candidate.

It was Salvini's anti-immigrant League party that had swept the board, bringing home 37 percent of the vote in a region which has voted left for 70 years.

The former interior minister's campaign trail allies – the smaller, far-right Brothers of Italy, and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right Forza Italia – respectively won 10 percent and 5.8 percent.

The government coalition of M5S and the PD are former enemies who joined forces for the regional vote in a bid to beat Salvini, but came up short.

File photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

The PD won 22 percent, but the M5S took home just 7.4 percent – a poor result which shook the party to its core.

Salvini said the “days are numbered” for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and the PD and M5S leaders, who are accused by the right of having “betrayed” Italians by forming an alliance to prevent Salvini forcing snap elections.

ANALYSIS: How Matteo Salvini lost his gamble to become Italy's PM – for now

“The centre-right has the right and duty to govern the country,” Berlusconi said after the Umbria win, while Brothers of Italy head Giorgia Meloni said “if I was Conte, I'd hand in my resignation faster than light”.

Political analysts had said a poor result for the M5S could spark an internal rebellion within the Movement by those who were against the tie-up with the hated PD on a national level, or those who want their leader Luigi Di Maio gone.

“The implosion or endurance of the M5S worries the PD a lot,” political commentator Ilario Lombardo said in the Stampa daily, warning the fallout from the vote for the Movement would be “deeply wounding”.

The centre-right managed to tap into disillusionment over an economic crisis worsened by a series of earthquakes that struck central Italy in 2016, killing hundreds of people and devastating towns and villages.

The region was already suffering from the economic crisis, which hit historic companies like chocolate maker Perugina hard, while Umbria's biggest factory, the Terni steelworks, has struggled for years and periodically risks closure.

“We always considered the civil pact for Umbria to be a test, but the experiment did not work,” M5S said on Facebook.


It said a tie-up with the PD at other regional votes was now in question but brushed off suggestions the coalition government could be brought down by the Umbria loss.

The Democratic Party acknowledged it had been hampered at the ballot box by a health sector scandal: Umbria governor and PD member Catiuscia Marini quit in April following a probe into competitive exams for the hiring of hospital staff.

Umbria is the latest historically left-leaning region to swing to the right, after mayoral election votes saw the right-wing coalition surge in areas including Ferrara and Forli earlier this year.


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Why Italy is fighting EU plans to limit vehicle emissions

Italy's government is leading a revolt against an EU plan for a green car transition, vowing to protect the automotive industry in a country still strongly attached to the combustion engine - despite the impact of climate change.

Why Italy is fighting EU plans to limit vehicle emissions

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s hard-right coalition, which came into office last October, tried and failed to block EU plans to ban the sale of new cars running on fossil fuels by 2035, which her predecessor Mario Draghi had supported.

But this week the government took the fight to planned ‘Euro 7’ standards on pollutants, joining with seven other EU member states – including France and Poland – to demand Brussels scrap limits due to come into force in July 2025.

READ ALSO: Why electric cars aren’t more popular in Italy

“Italy is showing the way, our positions are more and more widely shared,” claimed Enterprise Minister Adolfo Urso, a fervent proponent of national industry in the face of what he has called an “ideological vision” of climate change.

The EU plan “is clearly wrong and not even useful from an environmental point of view”, added Transport Minister Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right League party, which shares power with Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy.

Salvini led the failed charge against the ban on internal combustion engines, branding it “madness” that would “destroy thousands of jobs for Italian workers” while he claimed it would benefit China, a leader in producing electric vehicles.

Electric car being charged

Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

Federico Spadini from Greenpeace Italy lamented that “environmental and climate questions are always relegated to second place”, blaming a “strong industrial lobby in Italy” in the automobile and energy sectors.

“None of the governments in recent years have been up to the environmental challenge,” he told AFP.

“Unfortunately, Italy is not known in Europe as climate champion. And it’s clear that with Meloni’s government, the situation has deteriorated,” he said.

Low demand

Jobs are a big factor. In 2022, Italy had nearly 270,000 direct or indirect employees in the automotive sector, which accounted for 5.2 percent of GDP.

The European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA) has warned that switching to all electric cars could lead to more than 60,000 job losses in Italy by 2035 for automobile suppliers alone.

READ ALSO: Italians and their cars are inseparable – will this ever change?

“Since Fiat was absorbed by Stellantis in 2021, Italy no longer has a large automobile industry, but it remains big in terms of components, which are all orientated towards traditional engines,” noted Lorenzo Codogno, a former chief economist at the Italian Treasury.

For consumers too, the electric revolution has yet to arrive.

Italy has one of the highest car ownership rates in Europe: ranking fourth behind Liechtenstein, Iceland and Luxembourg with 670 passenger cars per 1,000 inhabitants, according to the latest Eurostat figures from 2020.

But sales of electric cars fell by 26.9 percent in 2022, to just 3.7 percent of the market, against 12.1 percent for the EU average.

Electric cars charge at a hub in central Milan on March 23, 2023. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Subsidies to boost zero emissions vehicles fell flat, while Minister Urso has admitted that on infrastructure, “we are extremely behind”.

Italy has just 36,000 electric charging stations, compared to 90,000 for the Netherlands, a country the fraction of the size of Italy, he revealed.

READ ALSO: These are the most (and least) eco-friendly towns in Italy

“There is no enthusiasm for electric cars in Italy,” Felipe Munoz, an analyst with the automotive data company Jato Dynamics, told AFP.

“The offer is meagre, with just one model manufactured by national carmaker Fiat.”

In addition, “purchasing power is not very high, people cannot afford electric vehicles, which are expensive. So the demand is low, unlike in Nordic countries.”

Gerrit Marx, head of the Italian truck manufacturer Iveco, agrees.

“We risk turning into a big Cuba, with very old cars still driving around for years, because a part of the population will not be able to afford an electric model,” he said.