Friday

20th Jan 2017

Focus

Three men to shape Italy's EU election campaign

  • Rome - Italy has barely emerged from the longest recession since World War II (Photo: Giampaolo Macorig)

European elections in Italy are expected to be a three-way race between the parties of a young, ambitious Prime Minister who has just staged a palace coup; a populist comedian who wants to wipe out the entire ruling elite; and a scandal-prone septuagenarian who is battling for his political survival.

Matteo Renzi, Beppe Grillo, Silvio Berlusconi - these are the characters most likely to shape the debate ahead of the 25 May vote.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Matteo Renzi - Italy's fresh new leader (Photo: Il Fatto Quotidiano)

Renzi, who leads the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), pushed aside party colleague Enrico Letta earlier in February to take over the premiership.

The move was seen as an attempt to end a stalemate on urgent political and economic reforms and to counter the risk of Grillo and Berlusconi - neither of whom is running to be an MEP - scoring large gains in EU election.

"Throughout Europe, European elections offer fertile ground to extremists and populists. Certainly the game will be tough also in Italy, but I am convinced that if the PD can deliver reforms in the coming months, it should have nothing to fear," PD lawmaker Sandro Gozi told EUobserver.

Italy has barely emerged from the longest recession since World War II, with gross domestic output up by a measly 0.1 percent in the last quarter of 2013.

Output has shrunk back to levels seen in the early 2000s while unemployment has risen to almost 13 percent, double the pre-crisis levels of 2007.

Trust in EU falls to 23 percent

Against this backdrop, trust in the EU has fallen to 23 percent, according to a Eurobarometer survey presented on 14 February.

Ferdinando Nelli Feroci, a former Italian ambassador to the EU and current director of the IAI think tank in Rome, says people throughout southern Europe are blaming Brussels for the lean times of the last few years.

"Regardless of whether it is true or not, the perception is that the crisis is largely Europe's fault," Nelli Feroci told this website.

Grillo's Five Star Movement (M5S) claims Italy has committed "suicide" before the "cruel god of austerity".

Its solution – partly expressed in a one page seven-point manifesto, partly in Grillo's stump speeches – is to pull out from all eurozone budget discipline agreements such as the fiscal compact; default on debt repayments; invest in agricultural and energy self-sufficiency; and relaunch public investments.

The M5S's manifesto calls for Eurobonds, even if Grillo has suggested a split into a "two-speed euro", with Italy forming a devalued currency bloc with Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and France.

Grillo, whose party took a quarter of the votes in last year's general elections, is confident of success.

"We will win the European elections, mark my words," he said in January. "We are in for a rollercoaster ride."

The Northern League is the other loud anti-Brussels voice.

New leader Matteo Salvini, who is an outgoing MEP, is trying to reverse the party's recent decline by adding an anti-euro campaign to its traditional anti-immigrant rhetoric which last year escalated to the point of comparing a black government minister to "an orangutan".

The single currency, Salvini argues, is a "criminal" project which has "killed Italian agriculture, industry, craftmanship, retail and tourism industries".

He is preparing a European Parliament alliance with fellow hard-right groups such as France's National Front, the Dutch PVV, Austria's FPO and Flemish separatists.

Berlusconi's Forza Italia flirts with eurosceptism

Berlusconi – still on top of the political stage despite his eviction from parliament due to a tax fraud conviction –has also flirted with euroscepticism, notwithstanding his conservative Forza Italia party's membership of the federalist European People's Party.

"The euro for us is a foreign currency, which we adopted at a crazy exchange rate, giving up our monetary sovereignty," the three-time former premier complained on 10 February.

In the run-up to the vote, Forza Italia is likely to turn up the heat against Berlin, whom many Berlusconi sympathizers suspect of plotting against their leader in late 2011, when he was pushed out of office at the height of a financial crisis and replaced with EU technocrat Mario Monti.

Berlin has denied any involvement.

Renzi the most pro-EU leader

That leaves the untested Renzi – a 39-year-old who ran local authorities in Florence for 10 years but has no experience of national government – as the most pro-EU leader in the campaign.

"The real challenge is to find a convincing narrative that can in some way rival the appeal of eurosceptics. It will not be easy," ex-ambassador Nelli Feroci commented.

He suggested "explaining with a few facts and figures what fanciful plans like leaving the euro would cost for Italy, how it would impact public and private debt".

The Eurobarometer poll showed there is still a relatively comfortable 56-36 percent majority in favour of Italy's euro membership.

But Renzi's plan is more ambitious.

He wants to deliver a quick-fire succession of major reforms to make Italy's politics more stable and its economy more dynamic, in the hope of impressing voters before 25 May.

And he aims to capitalize on that success with EU partners, by extracting concessions on austerity targets.

"We have the European semester in July, and the objective is to get to that date and start discussing a different Europe . . . we want to try to do it having cleaned up our house, having done our homework," Renzi said on 19 February.

Giuseppe Roma, head of top research institute Censis, is convinced that, despite disenchantment with EU policies, European ideals remain popular with Italians. He doubts, therefore, that there could be a eurosceptic breakthrough of the magnitude that is talked about in Britain or France.

The campaign has yet to get into full swing and a full list of parties and candidates running in the elections will not be known until mid-April.

As things stand, the PD leads in opinion polls with over 30 percent, followed by Forza Italia and the M5S on 20-25 percent.

The League is hovering around the four percent threshold for parliamentary representation, while the New Centre Right, a party that broke ranks with Berlusconi and is now part of the ruling coalition, is slightly more popular.

"Everything is still up for play," says Claudio Cerasa, a political journalist from the Il Foglio newspaper.

Voters in Italy will elect 73 MEPs to the 751-strong European Parliament on 25 May.

EU parliament approves Juncker commission

MEPs have approved Juncker's new EU commission, with a slightly smaller majority than in 2010, and following a number of concessions on portfolios.

News in Brief

  1. Report: Hollande thinking of EU council bid
  2. Italy to hold 70% of Monte dei Paschi bank
  3. Nato hit by 500 cyberattacks every month
  4. Hundreds of migrants face German security review
  5. Outgoing US vice-president warns Europe on Russia
  6. German far-right party calls for end to WWII guilt
  7. First Chinese freight train arrives in Europe
  8. Europe has no vision, says Italian minister

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Caritas EuropaEU States to Join Pope Francis’s Appeal to Care for Migrant Children
  2. UNICEFNumber of Unaccompanied Children Arriving by sea to Italy Doubles in 2016
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers"Nordic Matters" Help Forge Closer Bonds Between the UK and the Nordic Region
  4. Computers, Privacy & Data ProtectionThe age of Intelligent Machines: join the Conference on 25-27 January 2017
  5. Martens CentreNo Better way to Lift Your Monday Blues Than to Gloss Over our Political Cartoons
  6. Dialogue PlatformThe Gulen Movement: An Islamic Response to Terror as a Global Challenge
  7. European Free AllianceMinority Rights and Autonomy are a European Normality
  8. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Create EU Competitiveness Post-Brexit? Seminar on January 24th
  9. European Jewish CongressSchulz to be Awarded the European Medal for Tolerance for his Stand Against Populism
  10. Nordic Council of Ministers"Adventures in Moominland" Kick Off Nordic Matters Festival in London
  11. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhDs Across Europe on the Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU - Apply Now!
  12. Dialogue PlatformInterview: Fethullah Gulen Condemns Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey

Latest News

  1. 'Be patient,' ECB chief tells Germany
  2. EU cannot copy Australia's offshore asylum model
  3. Brexit men launch anti-EU website
  4. Germany details its 'Marshall Plan' for Africa
  5. IMF predicts 'pain' for UK, as banks prepare London exit
  6. EP deal could help Tusk keep Council job
  7. UN struggles to monitor fate of readmitted Syrians in Turkey
  8. European space chief: Moon village is 'more or less a fact'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Zero Waste EuropePublic Support Needed to Promote Zero Waste in More Municipalities
  2. Belgrade Security ForumEU Cannot Afford to Ignore the Western Balkans as Populism Surges
  3. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen Calls for an Investigation on the Assassination of Russian Ambassador to Turkey
  4. World VisionAmid EU Talks on Migration, Children on the Move Remain Forgotten and Unprotected
  5. Centre Maurits CoppietersAlex Salmond Receives Coppieters Award for His Service to Scotland and Europe
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsStrong Support for Hamburg Declaration on Human Rights Defenders
  7. Swedish EnterprisesHow to Use Bioenergy Coming From Forests in a Sustainable Way?
  8. Counter BalanceReport Reveals Corrupt but Legal Practices in Development Finance
  9. Swedish EnterprisesMEPs and Business Representatives Debate on the Future of the EU at Winter Mingle
  10. ACCAFifty Key Factors in the Public Sector Accountants Need to Prepare for
  11. UNICEFSchool “as Vital as Food and Medicine” for Children Caught up in Conflict
  12. European Jewish CongressEJC President Breathes Sigh of Relief Over Result of Austrian Presidential Election