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Salvini Pulls Rank After Trouncing Five Star in EU Vote

John Follain and Lorenzo Totaro
Salvini Pulls Rank After Trouncing Five Star in EU Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Matteo Salvini wasted no time in asserting his control over Italy’s populist coalition government after a resounding victory in Sunday’s European parliamentary elections.

The deputy premier said the next phase will be focused on cutting taxes -- the priority of his pro-business party, the League -- and insisted he won’t let European Union rules prevent him from delivering fiscal stimulus to the economy.

The League soared ahead of its rivals to win 34% of the vote in Sunday’s ballot, doubling its score from last year’s general election, final results showed. Although party lieutenants have been pressing Salvini to ditch his ally, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, he pledged to forge on with the ruling coalition.

Five Star saw its share of the vote sink to 17% and was pushed into third place by the center-left Democratic Party. Five Star chief Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s other deputy premier, said his party’s senior leadership hasn’t asked him to resign in the wake of the result. Di Maio backs tax cuts and is ready to discuss the League’s plan for a flat tax, he told reporters in Rome on Monday.

Italy’s 10-year yield advanced 2 basis points to 2.574%, the biggest gain in a week. Milan’s benchmark FTSE MIB index rose as much as 1.5%.

Calling Shots

The electoral performance by Salvini, a brash 46-year-old, gives him the clout he needs to start calling the shots in the populist administration.

Salvini said he would work for a 2020 budget, which has to be drawn up in the fall, that will engineer “a positive fiscal shock.” He also pledged a “battle in Europe” against illegal immigration. The League leader threatened during the election campaign to challenge European Union rules on deficits and debt.

“I’m told a letter from the European Commission on the Italian economy is on its way,” Salvini told reporters in Milan. “I think Italians gave me and the government a mandate to completely, calmly and constructively re-discuss the parameters that led to unprecedented job instability, unemployment and anxiety.”

Salvini also set his sights on securing one of the big jobs on the European Commission, with whom he tussled repeatedly over the 2019 budget last year. “We have names” for a post in Brussels, Salvini told La7 television earlier Monday. “We’ll ask for a commissioner for economics and certainly not philosophy: trade, agriculture or competition. And as the League, we’ll have more of a voice.”

All the same, Salvini may struggle to forge the pan-European alliance of 12 nationalist parties he campaigned for, including France’s National Rally and Germany’s Alternative for Germany, as mainstream parties across Europe largely held their ground against the populist assault.

“So much for Salvini’s pan-European ambitions,” said Sofia Ventura, professor of political science at the University of Bologna. “Italy appears to be an exception with populists advancing, but now his hopes of leading an international nationalist pact are looking pretty weak.”

(Updates with Di Maio in fourth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Marco Bertacche.

To contact the reporters on this story: John Follain in Rome at jfollain2@bloomberg.net;Lorenzo Totaro in Rome at ltotaro@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, Jerrold Colten, Ross Larsen

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