Monday

20th Nov 2017

Resurrected Renzi to regain leadership of Italy's ruling party

  • Renzi suffered a defeat in December's constitutional referendum. He resigned from office and spent the past months in obscurity, plotting his return. (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

Italy's former prime minister, Matteo Renzi, arrives in Brussels on Friday (28 April) to end a primary election campaign that is likely to propel him back at the helm of the ruling Democratic Party (PD). This comes in time to lead the charge against the populist, anti-euro Five Star Movement (M5S) in a looming general election.

The former leader returns to the EU capital in a combative mood, with fresh pledges to revive Italy’s sluggish economy with deficit-busting tax cuts in defiance of the bloc’s budget discipline rules. However, there is widespread scepticism about whether that will be enough to revive the 42-year-old’s faltering career.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Renzi had deliberately decided to end his campaign in Brussels to stress the importance he attaches to European issues, albeit with some caveats.

“We believe in Europe […] But believing in Europe does not mean passively accepting all that Brussels asks of us,” Renzi wrote Wednesday in his E-news newsletter, summing up his views with the motto: “Yes to Europe, but not like this.”

Such posturing contrasts with the very pro-Europe rhetoric offered in the French presidential election by centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron.

Macron is nevertheless hailed as a model by Renzi’s allies and is also set for a showdown with a populist eurosceptic rival, National Front leader Marine Le Pen, as he goes into the 7 May run-off vote.

Alternative EU vision

This week, Renzi offered some glimpses of his alternative EU vision.

He called for the direct election of the president of the European Commission, the scrapping of the Fiscal Compact and the adoption of EU-wide investment plans, including for the redevelopment of deprived urban areas like Molenbeek in Brussels, which he called “Europe's terrorist capital.”

“A Europe that is not attentive to what is happening among the people and relies on bureaucrats […] is a Europe that is finished,” Renzi said in a televised debate with the two leftist underdogs challenging him in the PD primaries, which are scheduled to take place on Sunday from 8 am to 8 pm.

Polls suggest that the contenders - justice minister Andrea Orlando, and the governor of the southern region of Puglia, Michele Emiliano - stand no chance of defeating Renzi.

An EMG survey ran this week by the LA7 broadcaster expected him to win 65.4 percent of the votes, against 21.5 percent for Orlando and 13.1 percent for Emiliano.

But once the battle for the PD is over, Renzi faces steeper challenges.

For starters, his standing among the wider electorate is very much diminished following the bruising defeat in a December constitutional referendum, which led him to resign from office and spend the past months in obscurity, plotting his return.

In 2014, Renzi became the youngest premier in Italy’s republican history after presenting himself as the “scrapper” of old and discredited political elites.

But the popular rejection of his proposed constitutional reforms, and a governing record marred by banking crises and a failure to address Italy’s chronic low-growth problems, have tarnished his reputation.

As a politician who took pride in his straight-talking, he has also drawn criticism for breaking his solemn promise to withdraw from public life in case of a defeat in the referendum.

Triple challenge

Looking ahead, the next PD leader faces more potential backlash as prime minister Paolo Gentiloni - Renzi’s former foreign minister - navigates the triple challenge of managing both migrant arrivals, avoiding the collapse of the near-bankrupt Alitalia airline, and drafting a credible 2018 budget law without unpopular tax hikes.

Failure on any of those fronts could further dent the main ruling party’s popularity ahead of the general elections due for early 2018.

The M5S has already built up a solid polling lead on the PD, which was weakened in February by the defection of a leftist faction led by former party leader Pier Luigi Bersani.

“Renzi came to power promising to take Italy out of the swamp. In fact, he is now trapped in the swamp,” Roberto D’Alimonte, Italian politics professor at Rome’s LUISS University, tells EUobserver.

D’Alimonte predicts a hung parliament after the next national vote and little chance for the former premier to win back his old job.

Italy currently has voting rules that are highly proportional and differ for the two chambers of parliament, which makes it hard for any party to win a workable majority of seats. There are discussions to fix the problem, but they may well come to nothing, fuelling uncertainty about future political scenarios.

Because the M5S has an official policy of no alliances with other parties, which it sees as fundamentally corrupt, the working assumption is that the PD will enter into yet another awkward grand coalition with the conservative Forza Italia party of the scandal-prone former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But D’Alimonte warned that even a Renzi-Berlusconi pact might not be enough to build a parliamentary majority, and he did not believe that the M5S could perform a U-turn and form a government with the help of other anti-EU parties, such as the hard-right, anti-migrant Northern League.

“It’s going to be very hard to find formulas that could give the country a stable government,” said the LUISS professor.

Italy starts talks on post-Renzi government

Italian power-brokers begin efforts to form a new government, amid growing concern over the fragile banking system and calls from opposition parties for a general election.

Italy referendum spooks eurozone

Prime minister Matteo Renzi's resignation, followed by a crushing rejection of his reforms, has sent the euro plunging against the dollar and put the country's fragile banking system at risk.

Analysis

Italy seeks new PM as banks languish

President Sergio Mattarella is aiming to name a successor to Matteo Renzi early next week, all while rumours are growing of a state plan to save ailing Monte de Paschi bank.

Italy reaches EU deal on failing bank

After months of negotiations, the European Commission and Italy agreed on the terms of rescue for Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank, including job cuts, salary caps and private sector involvement in the bailout.

Analysis

Sicily: Renzi finds Achilles heel in boot of Italy

Elections in Sicily at the weekend saw Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party trounced into third place - can the one-time wonder kid of Italian politics bounce back in time for 2018's national election?

Meat 'taboo' debated at Bonn climate summit

Animal agriculture is responsible for a significant share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, but until recently it 'was an issue that was really brushed under the carpet'.

Analysis

Sicily: Renzi finds Achilles heel in boot of Italy

Elections in Sicily at the weekend saw Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party trounced into third place - can the one-time wonder kid of Italian politics bounce back in time for 2018's national election?

News in Brief

  1. European Banking Authority will move to Paris
  2. EU court threatens daily fine over Polish forest logging
  3. EU medicines agency will move to Milan or Amsterdam
  4. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan in next round of EMA vote
  5. Three countries pull out of medicines agency Brexit race
  6. Schulz calls for new German elections
  7. EU Commission 'confident' on German stability
  8. EU adopts new border check rules

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Dialogue PlatformErdogan's Most Vulnerable Victims: Women and Children
  2. UNICEFEuropean Parliament Marks World Children's Day by Launching Dialogue With Children
  3. European Jewish CongressAntisemitism in Europe Today: Is It Still a Threat to Free and Open Society?
  4. Counter BalanceNew Report: Juncker Plan Backs Billions in Fossil Fuels and Carbon-Heavy Infrastructure
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic countries prioritise fossil fuel subsidy reform
  6. Mission of China to the EUNew era for China brings new opportunities to all
  7. ACCASmall and Medium Sized Practices Must 'Offer the Whole Package'
  8. UNICEFAhead of the African Union - EU Summit, Survey Highlights Impact of Conflict on Education
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council Calls for Closer Co-Operation on Foreign Policy
  10. Swedish EnterprisesTrilogue Negotiations - Striking the Balance Between Transparency and Efficiency
  11. Access EuropeProspects for US-EU Relations Under the Trump Administration - 28 November 2017
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersSustainable Growth the Nordic Way: Climate Solutions for a Sustainable Future

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEHow Data Fuels Estonia's Economy
  2. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Step Up Water Management Cooperation
  3. CECEMachinery Industry Calls for Joint EU Approach to Develop Digital Construction Sector
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersMale Business Leaders Gather in Copenhagen to Advance Gender Equality
  5. EnelNo ETS Deal Means It Can Still Be Strengthened
  6. EU2017EEEstonia Anticipates More Digital Cooperation With Sweden
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina Launches Campaign to Protect IPR of Foreign Companies
  8. European Jewish CongressEJC Condemns Attacks on Ruta Vanagaite and the Shredding of Her Books in Lithuania
  9. Bio-Based IndustriesDiscover the Future of the Bio-Based Economy. Register Now for the BBI Stakeholder Forum!
  10. European Free AllianceWelcome Catalonia!
  11. UNICEFGrowing Number of Unaccompanied Refugee Children in Greece in Need of Shelter
  12. Counter BalanceNature Destruction Cannot Be Compensated For, Say NGOs