There is a certain amount of panic in the reporting on the outcome of Italy’s 4 March elections. The Guardian calls it a ‘headache’, while Reuters calls it an ‘inconclusive vote‘ – whatever that means. Over in Germany, Der Zeit claims that “Rightwing populists and EU-opponents have won the elections, the Dutch Volkskrant writes the “extreme right and populism won”, while the Frankfurter Algemeiner muses that

there are many winners, but no victor.

These are the facts: the current ruling coalition, spearheaded by the center-left Partito Democratico has been, essentially, wiped out. The official figures indicate clearly that its votes have evaporated. There are two clear winners: the 5 Star Movement and the right-wing election-coalition. The situation for the 5 Star Movement is fairly straightforward: it has won 32% of all votes and is the largest individual party, gaining 6,5 percentage points compared to the 2013 elections. Its base is still very much in the South.

The great surprise for the right-wing election-coalition, which garnered 37% of the votes, was that Forza Italia, the party of former Prime-Minister Silvio Berlusconi, did not win the most votes. Lega (formerly Lega Nord) scored 17,5%: up more than 13 percentage points. While it’s roots are in the North – formerly it asked for succession of the more industrialised North from Southern Italy – its new approach won it favour in the South, where it outperformed the Partito Democratico. Another testament of how bad the status quo has suffered.

According to the BBC, the Partito Democratico suffered because of dissatisfaction over its stand on voters’ main issues during the election: immigration and the economy.

More than 600,000 migrants have travelled from Libya to reach Italy since 2013, which has upset many Italians. The state of the economy was also at the centre of the debates. In 2016, some 18 million people were at risk of poverty, and unemployment is currently at 11%.

After Italy’s enigmatic election laws have churned the votes into seats in parliament, the question of who is willing to cooperate with whom must be answered. Based on the election result, a combination of the Right-Wing Coalition and the 5 Star Movement is very likely. Question is, if especially Lega and 5 Star Movement haven’t been at each others’ throats too much to be able to cooperate. It certainly is the worst possible outcome for Brussels. Politico summarises the mood on its pages:

Angela Merkel’s struggle to form a government over the past six months had dampened Emmanuel Macron’s enthusiasm for EU reform. Then, on the same day Germany greenlighted a new grand coalition and the bloc geared up to get back to business under Franco-German leadership, the European populist wave broke the Italian dam, creating a new potential spoiler to EU projects.

Of course, in European Parliament, the feelings were predictably mixed: on the one hand, Jo Leinen MEP said:

We are concerned about a Euroskeptic having [sic] a majority in the chamber. We have the same concern as in Germany — Italy is a big country and we need a stable and constructive government in Italy.

Translation: we don’t know how to handle political opposition and would much rather have things continuing as they were. The idea that Euro-sceptic does not mean unstable or non-constructive, hasn’t pierced the Brussels-bubble yet. Over at the other side, Nigel Farage congratulated his MEP colleagues.

But as Alberto Mingardi, the director general of Istituto Bruno Leoni, Italy’s free-market think tank, and an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, rightly remarks:

The Italian election will need to be poured over and pondered, not least because of the tremendous political divide that has emerged between the north and the south, which reflects a deep-rooted divergence in economic development and civic culture. (…) But let’s take a moment to think before we describe the Italian vote as liberal democracy’s Waterloo. Political defeats sometimes are just that — political defeats.

Meanwhile, to many prominent EU-minded bien pensant, the Italians have once more been led astray by Putin, instead of having conveyed their legitimate grievances.