The role of the Northern League in transforming the Italian political system: from economic federalism to ethnic politics and back
Cavatorta, Francesco (2001) The role of the Northern League in transforming the Italian political system: from economic federalism to ethnic politics and back. Contemporary Politics, 7 (1). pp. 27-40. ISSN 1469-3631
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Until the early 1990s, Italy displayed a stable party system, where newcomers found it particularly difficult to challenge the overwhelming influence of the traditional parties: Christian Democrats (DC), Socialist Party (PSI), and Communist Party (PCI). New political formations managed to emerge, but they were largely unable to sustain their electoral success over a long period of time and failed to establish themselves as credible alternatives. The appearance of the Northern League (NL) in the late 1980s was also treated as temporary disaffection of sectors of the electorate from traditional politics. However, this proved not to be the case and the NL went on to become a very central player in the political system.
This article examines the conditions for the emergence of the Northern League and its long lasting impact on Italian politics. The Northern League is partly responsible for major changes that occurred in Italy over the last decade and while its electoral fortunes have somewhat declined in recent years, the issues it brought to prominence are today very much central in political debates. The article argues that the NL, far from being a single-issue party, has a clear vision of what Italy in the new millennium should look like. Moreover, the article argues that this vision is similar to the one held by a number of right-wing parties in Western Europe such as Haider’s Freedom Party. Accordingly, the NL has abandoned its pro-independence position and has entered again into a political and electoral alliance with the centre-right Berlusconi-led coalition. This coalition is the favourite to win the 2001 national election and the NL is likely to hold once again a number of key ministerial posts. The presence of the Northern League in the new government will certainly accelerate the pace of decentralising reforms. The initial goal of federalism will probably be achieved after the NL went through a stage of profound radicalisation within which it flirted will independence. The failure of the Padanian project conceived in ethnic terms has brought the NL back to its roots and it is likely that Italy will soon be a federal state.
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