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 (http://italianfactsrd.blogspot.it/2013/12/matteo-renzi-is-elected-new-leader-of.html), 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 (http://italianfactsrd.blogspot.it/2013/03/partito-democratico-born-to-lose-and.html), 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.