As happened in the March 2018 elections, the different elections held to elect the government of the corresponding region will be a very good "test" for the return of the centre-right to power and, above all, to ascertain the public's perception of the first Executive of the 19th legislature, which began in October last year. And the place to "test" this perception is not just any place, but by far the most important region of the country: we are talking about Lombardy, where 16 of the 60 million transalpine citizens live and which for decades has been one of the economic engines of the third largest economy in the Eurozone. The elections will be held in the first half of February, but all the parties have been campaigning for months because everything that happens in Lombardy has a lot of weight in the rest of the country.
The Roman Meloni, president of the Council of Ministers since 22 October, has hardly been affected by the tremendous increase in the cost of living that Italy is suffering, and that is because the country, among the main economies of the European Union, is, together with Germany, one of the countries with the highest percentages of price increases, compared to Spain and France, which are, on the other hand, at the bottom of the list in this area. In addition to easily approving the General State Budget Law (PGE) for the year 2023, the Executive has so far remained fairly compact, showing that the distribution of ministerial portfolios has been skilfully negotiated. Let us not forget that the two weakest parties in the coalition (Forza Italia and the Lega) each have one person occupying a vice-presidency of the Council of Ministers, while this vice-presidency is combined with an important portfolio: Antonio Tajani, Silvio Berlusconi's "right-hand man", is not only deputy prime minister but also head of Foreign Affairs, while Matteo Salvini, the other "vice-premier", heads the Ministry of Infrastructure, not forgetting that, in the case of the latter, his "number two" (Giancarlo Giorgetti) is none other than the Minister of Economy and Finance.
Certainly, Matteo Salvini has the most at stake in this election, since the current president of the Lombardy region (Attilio Fontana) is from his party, and in recent times, beyond Formigoni's short presidency, the tendency has been for the Lega to govern Lombardy, Roberto Maroni, Umberto Bossi's right-hand man since the creation of the Lega and a key representative of the 'Padanian' party in the various centre-right governments of the last two decades, was also president in the last decade.
The truth is that Salvini, at the national level, is weaker than ever: if last September he was not able to reach 9% of the vote (compared to the historic 34% achieved in the European elections of May 2019), now he is at a very low 6.5% of the vote, because the reality is that the formerly "Lega" vote continues to move towards Meloni's Brothers of Italy, which currently has 31% of support at the national level. The Lega is at its lowest ebb since Salvini took control of the party back in December 2013: At this point, not only Meloni's party would receive more votes, but also the Five Star Movement (for which all the leading members of its first era, such as Di Maio, Fico, Bonafede, Spadafora and Toninelli, have proved to be a burden); a Democratic Party (PD), which still has barely a month left to elect a new leader (everything indicates that it will be the governor of Emilia-Romagna, Bonaccini, who will clearly win); and even the Terzo Polo of Renzi and Calenda, which is still 'hunting and capturing' votes from the centre-right.
Fortunately for Salvini, the only man with the strength to take over from him (Giorgetti) is as deep as he is in the Meloni government; he controls the parliamentary groups in both chambers, without which Meloni would be left without "maggioranza" to govern; and, in principle, there should not be elections until September 2027, as the constitution states that the legislature should last a maximum of five years.
Lombardy is a region where the energy problem and the main consequence of it, which is none other than the aforementioned price increase, must be particularly hard hit at the moment. It should be borne in mind that, in addition to being home to 26-27% of the national population, it is populated by numerous factories that require high energy consumption, and it is also one of the coldest areas of the country, as it is not only one of the northernmost regions, but part of it is also very close to the Alps and the Swiss border (one of its main lake areas, "Lago Maggiore", directly borders the Swiss Confederation, to give an example).
Paradoxically, the centre-right does not really have any outstanding candidates for these elections if we consider that it is logical that the head of the list should be a Lombard. Meloni's best man, none other than the former magistrate and now Justice Minister Nordio, is Venetian; Salvini, for his part, knows that Fontana is very "touched" (his management during the hardest months of the "coronavirus", which hit Lombardy with particular virulence) and Giorgetti, who is also from Lombardy (he was born in a small town very close to Varese), cannot leave the Economy and Finance to "run" for governor of Lombardy. And finally, Forza Italia's "strongman" Antonio Tajani, who is also in the government, is not Lombard but Roman, which is also the case with most of Prime Minister Meloni's trusted men.
In turn, the Five Star Movement, which in the last general elections won most of the votes in the southernmost regions (those most benefited by the now eliminated "reditto di citadinanza" or "citizenship income"), does not have anyone really relevant of Lombard origin either, but that does not mean it has no chance of winning a significant handful of votes. Inequality and the growing problem of social exclusion, which are taking hold of the lower income classes in Lombardy, know that Cinque Stelle's lowest hours are over, and that, faced with a tremendously blurred Democratic Party (left or centre-left? Is it capable of recovering the reviled bill known as Ius Soli, which would open the door to more immigration, or is it already closed to this issue?, it may have a level of acceptance unthinkable just a year ago.
The other beneficiary of the weakness of part of the centre-right coalition and the PD's lack of definition may be the Terzo Polo of Renzi and Calenda, who, contrary to what many thought, are still together for the moment because it seems clear that both politicians made a good division of roles when they negotiated their coalition in the first week of August: territorial policy for Calenda, youth training issues and international affairs for Renzi. The problem, in the case of both, is that neither of them is from Lombardy, nor do they have anyone in their respective parties born in this region: Calenda is Roman, while Renzi is Tuscan (and, moreover, in the case of the latter, he decided to become senator for Campania, a region where his party, Italia Viva, is growing at a good pace).
In the light of what we have just pointed out, it seems difficult that someone from Salvini's party will return to the presidency of Lombardy: it may be a centre-right candidate, but the impression at the moment is that the vote will be more divided than ever. The pensioners' vote will weigh heavily in a region that has traditionally received a lot of immigration, part of which has finally decided to stay in the territory that is still the economic engine of the country, together with Veneto.
The truth is that it seems that President Meloni will emerge unscathed from these elections: She is doing better than expected in EU circles, she has a number of valuable ministers (in addition to the aforementioned Giorgetti, Nordio and Tajani, Piantedosi, Fitto and Caselatti can also perform effectively) and, most importantly, she retains a broad "maggioranza" that contrasts with an opposition that is now paying the consequences of not having forged a proper coalition for the "political" elections that were held four months ago. From there, what two "exponents" as different as Cinque Stelle and Terzo Polo are able to come up with will say a lot about which way the legislature goes. The unknowns to so many questions will be resolved in a matter of weeks.
Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is Professor of International Relations at Nebrija University and author of the book Historia de la Italia republicana (1946-2021) (Madrid, Sílex Ediciones, 2021).