The message from former prime minister Matteo Renzi to the Italian left couldn’t be more clear:
Unite or die.
Unfortunately for Renzi, who hopes to regain the leadership of the center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) and lead it to victory in the next Italian election, no one seems to be listening to him.
Even worse, it is Renzi’s my-way-or-the-highway leadership style and his continued insistence on personally leading the Italian left in the next election that has forced such a severe schism inside a party that has struggled since its foundation a decade ago to bridge a divide that spans Catholic social conservatives to outright democratic socialists.
In the span of just 10 days, Renzi’s heavy-handed approach — designed to entrench him as the Democratic Party leader — has instead launched a fresh leadership contest (with yet another preliminary struggle over the timing of the contest). More ominously, a breakaway faction split from the party over the weekend to form a new group, the Movimento Democratico e Progressista (MDP, Democratic and Progressive Movement) that could drain the Democratic Party of crucial support in the next election. The new group already claims nearly 40 deputies in the lower house of the Italian parliament and 20 senators in the upper house.
There’s still time for a rapprochement.
The faction-ridden Democrats have always struggled with unity, but there’s a real chance that the centrosinistra‘s continued inability to unite in 2017 (and Renzi’s inability to win over skeptics) could tilt Italy’s next government to anti-EU populists.
With the traditional Italian centrodestra (‘center-right’) divided and weak in the post-Berlusconi era, unless the broad centrosinistra (‘center-left’) finds a way to heal the wounds, the infighting could allow the anti-austerity, eurosceptic and increasingly illiberal protest movement, the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement), to win the next Italian elections. Those elections must be held before May 2018. Continue reading Italian left threatens to upend Renzi plans to continue leading Democratic Party→
Consider Italy’s new government renzismo without Renzi.
A week after Matteo Renzi failed, in spectacular measure, in his efforts to win Italian voter approval of his ill-fated referendum on political reform, Italy has a new prime minister after consultations between Renzi, other political leaders and Italian president Sergio Mattarella.
With no more than 15 months (and likely far less) until the next general election, Italy’s new premier Paolo Gentiloni will lead a government that looks much like the one Renzi led until last week — one dominated by the centrist and reformist wing of Italy’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).
Given that the Democrats and their centrist allies retain a majority in the lower house of the Italian parliament, the Camera dei deputati (Chamber of Deputies), it was almost certain that Mattarella would appoint someone from the Italian left. It was not certain that Mattarella would turn to a Renzi ally, however, given the longstanding tradition of non-partisan ‘technocratic’ governments in Italian politics. Still, Gentiloni was a colorless Roman aristocrat with an undistinguished political career until his sudden ascent to foreign minister two years ago. He replaced Federica Mogherini, who departed Renzi’s government in 2014 to serve as the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Today, Mogherini remains a rising star who may yet eclipse even Renzi from her perch as Europe’s top diplomat.
Gentiloni, who hails from Roman nobility, began his career in journalism, switching to politics in the 1990s as an ally of Francesco Rutelli, a former centrist mayor of Rome from 1993 to 2001. Both of them served in the short-lived government of Romano Prodi from 2006 to 2008; Rutelli as deputy prime minister and culture minister, Gentiloni as communications minister. In the center-left primary to determine the party’s candidate in the 2013 Roman mayoral election, Gentiloni finished in third place with just 14% of the vote.
Despite strong marks for his time as foreign minister, no one expects Gentiloni to remain prime minister longer than the next election, no matter who wins.
Gentiloni, instead, looks more like a caretaker who will lead the government through rough months ahead while Renzi licks his wounds back home in Florence and prepares for the next election.
Perhaps most consequentially for Europe (and global markets), Gentiloni’s cabinet retains Renzi’s finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan, himself seen as a potential successor to Renzi. Other key ministers retained include defence minister Roberta Pinotti and justice minister Andrea Orlando, while Angelino Alfano, previously interior minister, will assume Gentiloni’s new role as foreign minister.
Italian banks on the brink
Gentiloni and Padoan will turn most immediately to efforts to calm markets about Italy’s tottering banks and, in particular, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS). Increasingly, it seems likely that the bank, the world’s oldest (dating back to 1492, will require a bailout from the government, potentially angering taxpayers. Potentially, the government might also require a ‘bail-in’ of the bank’s investors, potentially angering Italy’s capital class. Other Italian banks in need of capitalization may come in for the same treatment. Essentially, Italian banks today find themselves in much the same position as American banks in 2009 — undercapitalized and sitting on far too many non-performing loans. While the U.S. bailout in 2008 and 2009 was far from popular, in today’s climate, in a country like Italy, where joblessness and listless (or negative) growth have become endemic, a bailout could be far more toxic.
Renzi may believe that, by leaving such unpopular steps to Gentiloni and Padoan, he can emerge later in 2017 or 2018 for a comeback — not unlike Silvio Berlusconi, himself forced from office twice, despite dominating Italian politics for nearly two decades.
The xenophobic leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Lega Nord (Northern League), Matteo Salvini, jubilantly Tweeted out a message last night as it looked increasingly like the government’s referendum on reforming Italian political institution would fail:
‘Long live Trump. Love live Putin, long live Le Pen and long live the League.’
So much for dog whistles.
Salvini, and the increasingly illiberal and populist Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) of comedian Beppe Grillo, founded in 2009 as an anti-austerity platform, want to use the referendum’s failure as proof that their vision.
Don’t let them.
Beware anyone, in fact, who claims that there’s a single, clear message from Matteo Renzi’s spectacular failure Sunday night. It’s a lot more nuanced than the message Salvini and Grillo are projecting, that some rising populism of the right has now beat back the elites. Far from it. Remember, even The Economist opposed a ‘Yes’ vote on the referendum. The opposition also included the center-right Forza Italia, now weaker but still headed by Silvio Berlusconi; former technocratic prime minister Mario Monti, a former European commissioner; Pier Luigi Bersani, the informal leader of the old-guard Italian left that had always been wary of Renzi; and democratic socialists like Nichi Vendola, the former regional president of Puglia.
It’s hard to escape the sense that last week’s election of Sergio Mattarella as the successor to Italian president Giorgio Napolitano is one more data point bending toward the conclusion that Italian prime minister intends to transform his Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) into a hegemonic movement akin to the 21st century successor to the old postwar Christian Democrats, pulling and dragging it ever to the center.
Renzi kept his choice for the Italian presidency closely held until almost the very last moment, and when he did reveal his choice, he ensured Mattarella’s prompt election on the fourth ballot, the first vote of the presidential electors during which a simple majority was sufficient. He did so even after sometimes-ally Silvio Berlusconi indicated that he would back an alternative candidate, irking Renzi’s partner on Italy’s recent push for electoral and senatorial reform as well as labor market reform.
Today, it is clear that Renzi is the most talented Italian politician since Berlusconi emerged in 1994. Still, he’s attempting to pull off an odd balance — the policy audacity of Margaret Thatcher alongside the political vision of Aldo Moro, with a hint of the Machiavellian power principles developed so many centuries ago in Florence, the city that Renzi himself governed until last February.
Politically, Mattarella’s election is a clear victory for Renzi, who surpassed the majority he needed by a margin of 130 votes in the 1,009-elector body. It demonstrates, of course, that he enjoys the support of his historically fragmented party’s legislators, avoiding the fiasco that beset his predecessor as PD leader, Pier Luigi Bersani.
Since Renzi took over the premiership one year ago, pushing aside his own party’s more technocratic prime minister Enrico Letta, Renzi hasn’t moved as quickly as he himself once hoped to institute major economic and political reforms that could pull Italy out of its economic doldrums, which began long before the current economic crisis and precipitate what has now become a triple-dip recession amid the highest unemployment rate in postwar Italy. Continue reading Does Mattarella’s election point to new Italian centrism?→