Thursday, May 29, 2014

Beppe Grillo meets Nigel Farage to discuss possible alliance

If Italy is celebrating Renzi’s victory, the UK is dealing with UKIP’s feared triumph in the European election. The Eurosceptic, anti-immigration party came first with 24 MEPs, beating both Labour and the Conservatives, not to mention the Liberal Democrats who only have one MEP now.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has claimed several times that UKIP would never go into any sort of alliance with Le Pen’s Front National, accusing the French party of being “racist”. While more than a few people would argue that UKIP is quite racist itself, Farage is playing clever politics by trying to keep his distance.

                                                    Beppe Grillo and Nigel Farage

The same cannot be said of Beppe Grillo. UKIP is openly a right-wing party, but Grillo’s M5S has always prided itself of being super partes, belonging neither to the left or the right. And because of this, Grillo has, in my view, made a very silly move by meeting Farage. The two leaders met yesterday for lunch in Brussels, and it looks like they really hit it off.
I mentioned this in my previous post: in Italy nobody seemed to care if this was a European election and not a general one. They merely portrayed it as a battle “Renzi vs Grillo”, since it is quite evident that now Renzi and Grillo are the two main players and Berlusconi is far less influent than he used to be. Even now everyone is trying to figure out where Grillo went wrong in terms of electoral campaign. They mention things such as using tones that sounded too harsh (his swearing, his referring to himself as being “beyond Hitler”, his joke about vivisecting Berlusconi’s dog…). But again, nobody is focusing on his positions about the EU. In a European election, are we sure that those really mattered so little…?
Actually, the fact that M5S lost some of its electors could also be linked to its refusal to decide which parliamentary group to join. M5S activists kept claiming that they would gain enough MEP to create their own group, but since this hypothesis was quite unlikely, I think some people feared that they would end up not joining a group and therefore being in a very weak position, incapable of influencing any decision. By joining forces with UKIP, M5S might certainly be more likely to carry some weight in Brussels. However, this move is not looking too popular in Italy, and it raises questions about the lack of internal democracy in Grillo’s movement.
Grillo claimed that if the movement were to join any group, it would do so following an online consultation with its members. But this did not happen. Grillo flew to Brussels to meet Farage without consulting anyone, and actually he wanted to keep their meeting a secret. In Italy people found out about it because Grillo ran into the Northern League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, at the airport, and Salvini tweeted that Grillo was on his plane. Today some M5S activists are complaining about the meeting, claiming that UKIP is not dissimilar from Front National and that M5S should stay away from such parties. This doesn’t change the fact that the meeting already happened, and that Farage and Grillo certainly liked each other.
Grillo claims he has no influence over M5S members, and indeed he is not even a member of parliament. Yet he has, on several occasions, expelled members, sometimes for trivial reasons such as going on TV without the movement’s consent. And now, Grillo can meet other European leaders and discuss possible alliances without anyone’s permission.

For now, one thing is quite clear. It’s true that M5S is not left-wing and is not right-wing. It’s Beppe Grillo’s. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Renzi’s Partito Democratico triumphs in European election

This morning I woke up to a huge surprise: Matteo Renzi’s Partito Democratico got 40.8% in the European election. This is the highest share of votes ever achieved in Italy by a party of the left in the post-war period. During the electoral campaign so many polls showed that the edge of Partito Democratico over Beppe Grillo's M5S was very slight and very uncertain that, I’ll admit, I did not see such a triumph coming.

Italian PM Matteo Renzi

Polls really underestimated Renzi’s lead. The most optimistic ones gave him 32%, the least optimistic a mere 29%. On the other hand, Grillo’s anti-establishment M5S was quoted at a minimum of 26%, while it actually got only 21%, almost 20 percentage points less than Partito Democratico.
Everyone also kept repeating that the electorate was highly volatile, and therefore M5S might get more than suggested by the polls, but nobody thought it might be Renzi the one who would benefit this much from a volatile electorate. In fact, there were already speculations about Renzi’s need to resign as PM if his party got less than M5S. His victory is clear and very much unseen.
Another result which matters, at least nationally, is that Berlusconi’s decline has finally started. Forza Italia got 16% of the votes, making it the third party after Grillo’s M5S. I firmly believe that in a normal country Berlusconi, after all his convictions and trials, wouldn’t even pass the 4% threshold to enter the European Parliament. But Italy is not a normal country, as everyone should know, and a “mere” 16% for Forza Italia is already a reason to celebrate.
So, what does Renzi’s success tell us? Does it mean that now he has a legitimate mandate to carry out his economic and institutional reforms? Maybe he does. But some tend to overlook a tiny detail: the European parliament might have a different composition now, but the Italian parliament has not changed. A few days ago, in an interview, Renzi very openly said that most of his reforms have not been implemented or even voted yet because Parliament is not “his Parliament”. He has all the parties against him, including his own. I wrote before about how Renzi won the party leadership in a primary election while the old party militants were all against him (, and the fact that most of the party did not approve of him has not changed. Therefore, his triumph does not authorise nor allow him to do anything he wants in Italy, like someone seems to suggest.
Renzi's victory should not be seen only as a legitimation of his government and commented exclusively in terms of domestic repercussions. This was a European election, not a general one, and this is the whole point. Renzi was the only leader openly pro-Europe in Italy, and indeed his outright triumph bucks the trend in the entire EU.
While right-wing, Eurosceptic parties have triumphed everywhere (see Le Pen’s Front National in France or Farage’s UKIP in the UK), in Italy the leftist pro-Europe Partito Democratico won. One of the main differences from Grillo was that the M5S leader wants Italy to leave the Euro. We should be talking about what it means to have a huge majority of pro-Europe MEPs rather than discussing for the thousand time Renzi’s and Grillo’s domestic bickering.
Final remark. Even though this was a European election and not a domestic one, it does prove something relevant domestically: Renzi’s Partito Democratico is a winning party. You might like him or not, but only a fool would fail to acknowledge that he was the right man for the job of leading a leftist party to victory -and the job was not an easy one, considering the two decades of Berlusconi’s domain. This, to me, definitely proves something that I have been arguing for over a year now (, which is the fact that if Renzi had run for the prime ministerial post in 2013, the Partito Democratico would have very easily won a large majority; the M5S would have still been successful but not as much as it actually was; a grand coalition would not have been necessary, and Berlusconi would have started losing political influence long before his conviction.

Well, better late than never.