3rd Oct 2022


Beppe Grillo - an Italian or European phenomenon?

  • Beppe Grillo in action (Photo: kbytesys)

Beppe Grillo's extraordinary success in the recent Italian elections tapped into anti-establishment feeling that is ripe for the plucking in other member states too, say analysts.

Grillo's 5-Star Movement, established by blog in autumn 2009, scooped 26 percent of the vote during last week's elections, effectively putting him in kingmaker position as government negotiations begin.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

It was a stunning political debut. And represented an earthquake for Italian politics, marred by corruption scandals, complacency and squabbling.

The 5-Star Movement has a lean programme with five themes: public water, transportation, development, internet connection and the environment. There is nothing on foreign policy. And nothing about the EU.

Grillo, a former comedian who built a following through out the 1980s with his political satire, is given to expansive rhetoric.

"The left and right will govern together on the ruins they've created, it will last a year at most, then our movement will change the world," he said after the election.

And already analysts are wondering whether it will change European politics or whether it is flash-in-the-pan, standing and falling with its shrewd and charismatic leader.

European politics

More broadly it has given rise to questions about whether Internet politics is the way of the future, and whether the Grillo way - communicating by blog, organising local forums for people to get together to discuss issues - is the campaign template to come.

"Apart from Barack Obama, I have never seen a politician with such an incredible following," says Jamie Bartlett, director of the UK-based Centre for Analysis of Social Media.

Grillo has around 1 million supporters on facebook, and the most widely-read blog in Italy.

The key factor for Grillo doing so well says Bartlett was that "his supporters went out and voted."

The 64-year old, who will not enter parliament himself because it would fall foul of his movement's own rules on not having a criminal conviction (he has one for manslaughter following a car accident), managed to get his online followers out on to the street to canvas, knock on doors and finally go to the ballot box.

"This is a salutatory lesson," says Bartlett, who has studied their profile.

Grillo's supporters are generally young, reasonably well-educated and about 20 percent of them are unemployed. Forty-six percent came from the left; 39 percent came from the right.

Their distinguishing feature is their deep mistrust of political parties and institutions, of mainstream media and the justice system.

But beyond this is where Grillo-ists differ from other populist parties such as the English Defence League or France's National Front whose main platform is anti-immigration.

For supporters of the five-star movement, the economy and unemployment is their main concern.

With levels of trust in institutions falling across Europe, Bartlett reckons a Grillo-ist movement could be replicated in other member states.

He points to similar levels of across-the-board mistrust in the UK, Greece and France. This is compounded by crisis economics, high joblessness and continued austerity measures.

"If you can combine that [mistrust] with a high level unemployment, frustration that politicians are not listening to you, with a very internet-savvy group, it wouldn't surprise me if we saw similar movements emerge over the next two to three years," he says.

Or in time for the next European election in 2014.

If social-media based political activism takes a hold across the EU, spurred by the perception that Brussels is imposing austerity measures, it could skew the traditional make-up of the EU assembly.

"We could see quite a parliament next year," says Heather Grabbe of the Open Society Institute in Brussels.

This likelihood is increased by the fact that voters tend to see their EU parliament ballot as having little domestic consequence - or as Grabbe puts - they feel they have a "free kick at the goal."

Here to stay?

With formal negotiations on forming a government in Italy yet to begin, the jury is still out on whether the 5- Star Movement is more than its leader.

Comparisons are being made with Germany's Pirate Party - also an upstart, Internet-based movement - which, lacking a strong leader, is riven by internecine fighting.

The 5-Star Movment's 163 MPs and senators-elect got together for the first time at the beginning of this week. Most of them had not heard of or met one another before, having been selected in online primaries. They are all considered spokespeople of the party. And Grillo is the grand amplifier of the voice of party members.

Grillo himself has denounced all traditional parties in Italy and has refused to deal with Italian media. His party is the only one that refuses state financing.

But he has also shown an iron streak. Italian media have widely reported on the fact that he expelled two local councillors last year who appeared on talk shows with politicians from other parties.

It remains unclear whether the 5-Star Movement can make the transition from arriviste movement to governing party.

"Is social media just a fancy new way communicating with your followers rather than representing a different way of doing politics?" asks Grabbe.

Meanwhile, another open question is whether Grillo is the type of politician to rest within the confines of Italy. A couple of years down the line, predicts Bartlett, Grillo will aim for a pan-European movement.

He is already telling other similar movements, such as the Spanish protest movement Indignados, where they are going wrong.

"The two [movements] were identical: get rid of the parties, put citizens in, limits of two terms, get the corrupt out of Parliament. But they were just in the piazza. We went into the piazza too, but we gathered 350,000 signatures," he told Time magazine.

"You guys stopped with piazzas, and then fought with police, with citizens like you. We’ve surpassed that. It’s not me coming to learn from you. You need to understand that with the Internet, you can do like us," he added.

Italian President demands respect in Germany

Italian President Napolitano has, while on a trip to Germany, demanded respect for Italy and cancelled a meeting with the German opposition leader after he mocked election results.

Italy's Grillo wants disloyal MEPs to pay hefty fine

Italy's anti-establishment politician Beppe Grillo has asked candidates for next month's European Parliament elections to commit to paying a fine of €250,000 in case of disloyalty to the movement.


Why northeast Italy traded in League for Brothers of Italy

EUobserver spoke with several business figures and all confirmed they voted for Georgia Meloni's Brothers of Italy because it promised stability, less bureaucracy and tax cuts. Matteo Salvini's anti-EU rhetoric scared them, while they trust Meloni has "more common sense".

Europe's far-right celebrates Meloni victory

In Warsaw and Budapest, the prime ministers were quick to congratulate the new Italian leader, who — they hope — will back them in their battles with the EU over civil rights, rule of law and democratic backsliding.

EU seeks crisis powers to take control over supply chains

The Single Market Emergency Instrument (SMEI) introduces a staged, step-by-step, approach — providing emergency powers to the EU Commission to tackle any potential threat which could trigger disruptions or shortages of key products within the EU.


How Europe helped normalise Georgia Meloni

Should Georgia Meloni be considered neofascist? She insists she's a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she's prime minister, she's expected to respect Italy's democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU.

News in Brief

  1. EU ministers adopt measures to tackle soaring energy bills
  2. EU takes Malta to court over golden passports
  3. EU to ban Russian products worth €7bn a year more
  4. Denmark: CIA did not warn of Nord Stream attack
  5. Drone sightings in the North Sea 'occurred over months'
  6. Gazprom threatens to cut gas deliveries to Europe via Ukraine
  7. New compromise over EU energy emergency measures
  8. 15 states push for EU-wide gas price cap

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks
  2. Putin declares holy war on Western 'satanism'
  3. Two elections and 'Macron's club' in focus Next WEEK
  4. EU agrees windfall energy firm tax — but split on gas-price cap
  5. Ukrainian chess prodigy: 'We are not going to resign ... anywhere'
  6. Going Down Under — EU needs to finish trade deal with Australia
  7. MEPs worry Russian disinfo weakens support for Ukraine
  8. Everything you need to know about the EU gas price cap plan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us