Italy essentially had a two party system on British lines, with both parties competing for the centre-ground on a left - right axis. Indeed, mainstream commentators are still this morning analysing the election results as the balance between the two, like arms of a scale. Except that something quite extraordinary happened. A third party, Five Star, headed by a 'foul-mouthed comedian' (I thought that was Berlusconi?), has won 50 seats in the 315 seat Senate, holding the balance of power, and 100 of 630 seats in the lower house, a proportion the LibDems never even came close to, even at their high-water mark. They came from no-where, non aligned on the left-right axis but with a healthy contempt for the old politics and the self serving political class.
Like the Pirate Party in Germany, which now holds 45 seats in State Parliaments, M5S is benefiting from a popular wave of discontent with the established parties that is also giving UKIP an increased poll share in the UK.
Of course Italy is too big not to have a functioning government. If some sort of satisfactory coalition can't be patched together, they'll be back to the ballot box again and M5S will either disappear as a spent protest (probable) or return to Parliament greatly strengthened (unlikely). Either way, Europe's political foundations are feeling the first feint tremors of change, a process that can only be slowed by economic recovery. And there's precious little hope of that in the near future.