Tag Archives: PD

What to expect from Italy’s new government

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Far from a rupture, Italy will get more of the same under its new prime minister Paolo Gentiloni. (AFP / Getty)

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.

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RELATED: Renzi’s referendum loss isn’t the end of the world
for Italy or the EU

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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

With his confidante running the government, Matteo Renzi is now free to start crafting his own political comeback from the sidelines. (Facebook)

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.

That may be too clever by half. Continue reading What to expect from Italy’s new government

Rome elects Raggi, Five Star Movement candidate, as first female mayor

Virginia Raggi hopes to become the most influential Five Star Movement activist on Sunday by winning Rome's mayoral election.
Virginia Raggi hopes to become the most influential Five Star Movement activist on Sunday by winning Rome’s mayoral election.

Fifty-four years after Amma Magnani starred in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s classic Mamma Roma, redefining feminism for Romans and Italians alike, the Eternal City is getting what centuries of imperial and papal rule never allowed — a woman in charge.Italy Flag Iconrome

Say what you will about her, unlike Magnani and unlike the founder of her party, Beppe Grillo, Virginia Raggi is no comedian.

For a movement that has sometimes suffered by the fact that its most prominent leader and founder is Grillo, a comic-turned-politician, it now enters a phase where it will be judged by governance, and not just politics. The protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) emerged in Italian politics in the 2013 parliamentary elections as an anti-austerity and anti-eurozone force, drawing votes from the remnants of Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition as well as disenchanted leftist voters.

The Five Star Movement controls 91 seats in the 630-member lower house of Italy’s parliament, the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies), where its role has chiefly been to throw sand at both the Italian right and the dominant Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) of prime minister Matteo Renzi.

That will all change after Sunday, when Rome’s (and Turin’s) voters elected two women affiliated with the Five Star Movement, giving it the opportunity to mature into a new role — a functional party of municipal government.

The 32-year-old Chiara Appendino has won a runoff to become the next mayor of the northern industrial city of Turin, but the real prize is Rome, where Virginia Raggi has easily won a runoff against Democratic Party challenger Roberto Giachetti to become the Italian capital’s first female mayor. It is also, by far, the most high-profile electoral success of the Five Star Movement to date.

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Rome, home to nearly 2.9 million people, is the European Union’s fourth-largest city after London, Berlin and Madrid. But successive governments have left voters angry, just about everything — roads are worn, public transportation chugs along slowly and trash often goes uncollected. Residents have been dreaming for decades of a third line for the city’s burdened two-line subway system, but construction has stalled under each of the last two administrations.

The last elected mayor, Ignazio Marino, a novice in Italian politics and a former transplant surgeon, resigned in disgrace late last year after just two years in office, implicated in an expense scandal in which Marino apparently charged around €20,000 for personal dinners with friends.

Marino’s personal scandal followed the even wider Mafia Capitale scandal, which saw politicians misappropriate public funds (including funding set aside for the education of marginalized Roma children) to organized crime units in both Rome and the surrounding Lazio region. Moreover, by the time Marino finally resigned, no one — not even Renzi, let alone everyday Romans — seemed to have much faith in Marino’s ability to run the city. The Genoa-born Marino came to politics only in 2006 with his election to Italy’s Senato (Senate).

Marino managed to win election in June 2013 only because of the massive unpopularity of his predecessor, Gianni Alemanno, a controversial figure and Berlusconi ally with former ties to the neofascist right who seemed more concerned with stirring up his national profile than the mundane matters of day-to-day governance in Rome. Continue reading Rome elects Raggi, Five Star Movement candidate, as first female mayor

After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

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There’s no doubt that the landmark vote in Ireland on May 22, the first such referendum where a popular majority enacted same-sex marriage, has been received as a huge step forward for marriage equality and LGBT rights in Europe.Ireland IconEuropean_Union

While the United States supreme court is set to rule later in June on marriage equality as a legal and constitutional matter within all 50 states, it may feel like a watershed moment in Europe as well, where French president François Hollande and the center-left Parti socialiste (PS, Socialist Party) and British prime minister David Cameron and the Conservative Party both swung behind legislative efforts to enact same-sex marriage, in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel officially married his own partner in May, but it was only six years ago that Iceland’s Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir became the world’s first openly LGBT head of government, followed shortly by Belgian prime minister Elio Di Rupo.

Yet the lopsided Irish referendum victory — it passed with 62.07% of the vote and the ‘Yes’ camp won all but one constituency (Roscommon-South Leitrim) — obscures the fact that additional marriage equality gains across the European Union will be slow to materialize. Leave aside the notion, now reinforced by Ireland, that the human rights of a minority can be legitimately subjected to referendum — a precedent that Europeans may come to regret. Amid the recent burst of marriage equality in Europe, the immediate future seems grim.

Nowhere is that more true than just next door in Northern Ireland, which is the only part of the United Kingdom that doesn’t permit same-sex marriage. With the Protestant, federalist electorate dominated by the socially conservative Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), one of western Europe’s most harshly anti-LGBT political parties, there’s little hope that Northern Ireland will follow in the footsteps of England, Scotland and Wales. At the end of April, Northern Irish health minister Jim Wells was forced to resign after suggesting same-sex couples were inferior parents. It’s home to the late Ian Paisley’s ‘Save Ulster from Sodomy’ campaign in the late 1970s, and it’s where sexual relations between two consenting same-sex partners were illegal until 1981, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Northern Irish law violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

But Northern Ireland is not alone in its reticence — marriage equality faces long hurdles in some of the European Union’s most important countries, including Germany, Italy and Poland.

The irony is that despite Europe’s leading role two decades ago on LGBT marriage rights, the United States could eclipse Europe with the supreme court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, as the European Union struggles for years to enact consistent marriage equality legislation. Continue reading After Irish vote, what next for same-sex marriage in Europe?

Mixed results for Renzi in Italian regional elections

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Despite headlines proclaiming a setback for Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi and his center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), Renzi’s Democrats emerge from the May 31 regional elections as the strongest national party in Italy today.Italy Flag Icon

It’s true that the PD’s narrow loss in Liguria, a bellwether region straddling the Mediterranean and home to the ancient city-state of Genoa, is a disappointment for Renzi. His candidate, Raffaella Paita, narrowly lost the race to Giovanni Toti, the candidate of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Forza Italia. Nevertheless, Renzi will be delighted to have retaken control of Campania, retained power in leftist strongholds like Marche and Tuscany and also in south-central regions like Umbria and Puglia, where the PD will govern with a much more Renzi-friendly candidate than outgoing regional president Nichi Vendola, an avowed communist.

It’s not that it was such a great election for the Democrats or for Renzi, who emerged Monday morning on a surprise visit to Italian troops in Afghanistan. There are many good reasons why voters are losing patience and enthusiasm for the youthful premier. Liberal voters worry that he has not been successful in effecting deep reforms in the face of vested interests. Leftist voters worry has is abandoning the core values of the Italian left. Voters of all stripes are despondent about the poor performance of Italy’s economy, which has only marginally improved in the past year.

Nevertheless, the alternatives to the Democratic Party are still so divided or extreme that the PD is still by far the clearest party of government. If Renzi can achieve more reforms and if the Italian economy improves over the next three years, there’s no reason to believe that Renzi won’t consolidate the PD’s gains at the next national elections, potentially transforming the Democrats into the kind of dominant party of government that the now-defunct Christian Democrats were from the 1950s to the 1990s or that Berlusconi’s center-right was in the 2000s.

Italians voted in seven of the country’s 20 regions, four of which rank among the country’s ten most populous regions. Each region holds two simultaneous elections — the first for a regional president (typically backed by a broad coalition of national and local parties) and the second for parties to the regional assembly.

Liguria, witliguriah just 1.6 million residents, assumed overstated strategic importance as a bellwether region. The left’s loss in Liguria, after a decade in power there, had less to do with the resurgent power of Berlusconi and the centrodestra (center-right) and more to do with three confluent trends throughout the Italian regional elections, all three of which were present in Liguria.  Continue reading Mixed results for Renzi in Italian regional elections

Exit Vendola, stage left, as Puglia’s regional president

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Nichi Vendola, the openly gay, openly socialist president of Puglia, the southeastern Italian region, was once the new face of the Italian left — and was regarded as a potential prime minister by fawning profiles in the global media in 2010 and 2011.pugliaItaly Flag Icon

That praise came with good reason.

Vendola (pictured above), in the waning days of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s domination of Italian politics, was the anti-Berlusconi. In a conservative region like Puglia, where Catholicism is still a strong force, Puglia became an unlikely leader.

This week, however, Vendola announced that while he would always be a militante of the left, he will step aside as the leader of his democratic socialist party, Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL, Left Ecology Freedom), when he leaves office in Puglia later this year. Italy will hold regional elections in seven regions, including Puglia, on May 31. In recent days, Vendola has spoken about marrying his longtime partner, speculating about fatherhood.

There’s one major reason, among many, that Vendola is headed for retirement instead of to Rome.

It’s the ascendance of Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, the former Florence mayor who won the leadership of the center-right Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) in November 2013 and who wrested the premiership in February 2014 from his technocratic PD colleague Enrico Letta. In one sense, Renzi’s rise has been great news for the Italian left. Renzi’s youthful image and reform-minded approach to government has positioned the Democratic Party as the most dominant centrist force since the fall of the old Christian Democratic Party in the early 1990s.

While that’s been wonderful for moderates, plenty of die-hard leftists are not thrilled with Renzi, especially among the labor unions that have traditionally controlled the political left. For Vendola, an avowed communist, Renzi’s dominance will almost certainly close the door to any further ambitions for Vendola. Despite his widespread popularity in Puglia, where he won two consecutive elections, Vendola failed to win much more than 3% of the vote nationally in the 2013 general election. Though SEL is still polling between 3% and 5% in national polls, it’s difficult to see much of a future for the party without Vendola, whose star quality and charisma propelled it as a wary electoral partner for the Democratic Party, even if Vendola has increasingly distanced himself from Renzi over the past two years. With Vendola’s retirement and with the 2008 collapse of the successor to Italy’s Communist Party, Partito della Rifondazione Comunista (PRC, Communist Refoundation Party), it will be difficult to find any bona-fide communists in the homeland of Gramsci. Continue reading Exit Vendola, stage left, as Puglia’s regional president

Does Mattarella’s election point to new Italian centrism?

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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.  Italy Flag Icon

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?

A guide to Italy’s post-Napolitano presidential puzzle

Renzi NapolitanoPhoto credit to Roberto Monaldo / LaPresse.

Italy’s presidential election functions more like a papal conclave than a direct election or even like a party-line legislative vote like the recent failed attempts to elect a new Greek president.Italy Flag Icon

The long-awaited decision today by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to resign after nine years in office is not likely to result immediately in snap elections in Italy, as it did recently in Greece. Nevertheless, the resulting attempt to select Napolitano’s successor presents Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi with perhaps the most treacherous political task since taking office last February.

Napolitano’s legacy

Napolitano, at age 89, was anxious to step down after Italy relinquishes its six-month rotating European presidency this week. Elected president in 2006, Napolitano (pictured above, left, with Renzi), a former moderate figure within Italy’s former Communist Party, is Italy’s longest serving president, reelected to an unprecedented second seven-year term in 2013 when the divided Italian political scene couldn’t agree on anyone else after five prior ballots.

Critics refer to Napolitano as ‘Re Giorgio‘ (King George), but there’s little doubt that he was consequential during Italy’s financial markets crisis in late 2011 by nudging Silvio Berlusconi, who first came to power in 1994, out of office — seemingly once and for all. Napolitano’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering may have prevented Italy from the humiliating step of seeking a bailout from European authorities though his detractors argue that he circumvented the democratic process by engineering Berlusconi’s ouster and appointing former European commissioner Mario Monti as prime minister. Monti, who stepped down after 2013 national elections, largely failed to push through major economic reforms that many investors believe Italy needs to become more competitive, and that Renzi now promises to enact.

Napolitano, who will remain a ‘senator for life’ in the upper chamber of the Italian parliament, steps down with generally high regard from most Italians, who believe that he, in particular, has been a stabilizing force throughout the country’s worst postwar economic recession.

An opaque process to select a president

The process to appoint his successor involves an electoral assembly that comprises members of both houses of the Italian parliament, plus 58 additional electors from the country’s 20 regions — a total of 1,009 electors. Within 15 days, the group must hold its first vote, though it may only hold a maximum of two voter per day. For the first three ballots, a presidential candidate must win a two-thirds majority. On the fourth and successive ballots, however, a simple majority of 505 votes is sufficient. Continue reading A guide to Italy’s post-Napolitano presidential puzzle

Calabria, Emilia Romagna elections boost Renzi government

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In the wake of regional elections last month, Italian and international commentators have been quick to anoint Matteo Salvini, the right-wing leader of Italy’s Lega Nord (Northern League) the new star of Italy’s right.  calabriaItaly Flag Iconemilia-romagna

The most important takeaway, however, from both the Emilia-Romagna and Calabria elections on, is that Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi remains, by far, the most potent political force in the country. Renzi’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) won by double-digit margins in both elections. Though worrisome trends for Renzi certainly lurk behind the headline numbers, the overwhelming narrative in Italy is that the Democrats, under Renzi, are quickly becoming Italy’s hegemonic political force, much like the Christian Democrats from the 1950s to the 1990s and the various iterations of the Silvio Berlusconi-led centrodestra (center-right) since 1994.

In both elections, voters were replacing scandal-tainted regional presidents who resigned earlier in the year.

Calabria, in Italy’s south (the ‘toe’ that nearly touches the island region of Sicily), with just 1.98 million residents, is among the poorest regions in Europe, let alone Italy, plagued by the ‛Ndrangheta, the local organized crime operation, and fewer economic opportunities than the more storied (and well touristed) northern regions. The Democrats easily won the regional presidency, however, under the candidacy of Mario Oliverio, the decade-long president of Consenza province, who won 61.4% to just 23.6% for Wanda Ferro, the candidate of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.  The victory means that southern Italy, generally a conservative region, has almost exclusively center-left regional presidents (with the exception of Campania), two of whom — Puglia’s Nichi Vendola and Sicily’s Rosario Crocetti — are openly gay leftists.

Emilia-Romagna, a region of nearly 4.5 million people in central Italy just north of Tuscany, is the beating heart of the Italian left and during the postwar period, its regional governments were reliably under the control of the old Italian Communist Party. So it’s no surprise that the Democratic Party, a few iterations removed from its Communist Party roots, would dominate the race. True to form, the PD’s candidate, Stefano Bonaccini (pictured above, right, with Renzi) easily won the regional elections by a margin of 49.05% to 29.85% for his nearest competitor, Alan Fabbri of the Northern League.

Despite the wide victories for Renzi and his Democratic Party candidates, it was something of a shock that the Northern League won so much support in Emilia-Romagna, both because of the region’s historical left-wing tilt and because the Northern League has focused its efforts north of the region, chiefly in the Veneto, Piedmont and Lombardy.

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That the Northern League is breaking out of northern Italy and into central Italy, with plans to attract national support, is due to the vision of its young new leader, Matteo Salvini (pictured above). Continue reading Calabria, Emilia Romagna elections boost Renzi government

Tusk, Mogherini appointed to top European offices. What next?

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The European Council appointed Polish prime minister Donald Tusk as Council president and nominated Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini as its new high representative for foreign affairs and security policy.Italy Flag IconEuropean_UnionPoland_Flag_Icon

The appointments of both Mogherini and Tusk were widely expected in the days and hours leading up to today’s EU summit.

Tusk (pictured above, left, with his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy), age 57, was first elected prime minister in 2007 and reelected in 2011 as the leader of the center-right Platforma Obywatelska (PO, Civic Platform), each time defeating the more conservative, nationalist Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS, Law and Justice). Essentially a moderate liberal and European federalist, Tusk has governed Poland for seven of the 10 years during which it’s been a member of the European Union. His elevation to the Council presidency marks the first time that a central or eastern European has held a top EU office, and it reflects Poland’s growing clout as one of the engines of the European Union.

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Mogherini (pictured above, right, with her predecessor, Baroness Catherine Ashton), age 41, only recently became Italy’s foreign minister in February, when prime minister Matteo Renzi maneuvered his way into the premiership. Though some Baltic and eastern European leaders doubted her level of experience and questioned whether she might be too sympathetic to Russia, she’s received strong marks in her six months as Italy’s foreign minister, marking her as a rising star in the new generation of leaders in Renzi’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).

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RELATED: Who is Federica Mogherini?

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Together with Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Luxembourg prime minister, who was nominated by the Council in June as the president of the European Commission, the EU’s chief executive and regulatory body, Tusk and Mogherini will be responsible for setting EU policy through 2019.

The Council presidency was created by the Treaty of Lisbon, which came into effect only in 2009. Before Lisbon, the Council president was simply the leader of the country that held the six-month rotating Council presidency. Van Rompuy, a former Belgian prime minister, served as the inaugural Council president. Upon the Council’s decision today, Tusk will begin his first term of 2.5 years in December, with the option for reappointment to a second term of 2.5 years.

The high representative role existed prior to the Lisbon Treaty, but it was greatly expanded when Ashton, a former Labour member of the House of Lords, was appointed to the role in 2009. Technically, Mogherini will serve as Italy’s representative on the European Commission and, accordingly, her term will run for five years and is  subject to the approval of the European parliament. 

Given their different backgrounds, Tusk and Mogherini were viewed as a complementary team. Eastern and central Europeans are delighted to see Tusk, a relatively hawkish voice on Russia, elevated to the Council presidency. Meanwhile, Mogherini brings gender diversity to the Commission, and she will join Martin Schulz, a German social democrat, as the chief voice of the center-left at the top of the EU policymaking apparatus.

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RELATED: Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1
Europe’s next high representative

RELATED: Forecasting the EU power summit, part 2
Europe’s next council president

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But what does it mean for the next five years of European policy? Continue reading Tusk, Mogherini appointed to top European offices. What next?

Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1: Europe’s next high representative

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With the European parliamentary elections finished on May 25, and the emergence of former Luxembourg prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker as the president of the European Council nearly a month later, the next two pieces of EU governance will be determined at a summit of all 28 leaders of the European Union on Saturday.European_Union

The EU leaders, who together comprise the membership of the European Council, will meet at a summit on August 30 that is expected to determine outgoing Council president Herman van Rompuy’s successor, an office created under the Treaty of Lisbon that went into effect in 2009. 

They are also expected to appoint a candidate to succeed Catherine Ashton as high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, as well as informally consider which European Commission will hold which portfolios, though those decisions are unlikely to be announced until later in the autumn. 

It’s easiest to think about the two offices sequentially — first high representative, then Council president. That’s because there are just two major candidates viewed as credible possibilities for the EU foreign policy role — Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini and Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski — with a third, dark-horse candidate in Kristalina Georgieva, an economist and Bulgaria’s current commissioner, responsible for humanitarian aid and international cooperation.

The choices for the European Council presidency will  follow from the choice of high representative, and from the decision to name Juncker, a center-right federalist from Western Europe, as Commission president. (More on the Council presidency will follow in part 2).

From the available public reports, Mogherini (pictured aboveappears to be the slight favorite for the role. Continue reading Forecasting the EU power summit, part 1: Europe’s next high representative

Despite Senate vote, Renzi’s reform push stalling in Italy

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If Rome wasn’t built in a day, it’s certainly proving that it won’t be reformed in a day, either. Italy Flag Icon

Nearing a half-year in office, the most ‘impressive’ accomplishment of Italy’s new prime minister Matteo Renzi is engineering the relatively anti-democratic putsch of his own party’s prime minister, Enrico Letta in February.

Renzi, the 39-year-old former mayor of Florence, gave Letta just 10 months to enact urgent reforms before he executed his takeover of the Italian government. Six months into his own premiership, Renzi has greater support than Letta ever had to shake up Italy’s ossified government. But Renzi nonetheless has surprisingly little to show for half a year in office, even as the country slipped this summer into, incredibly, a triple-dip recession. 

When he ushered himself into power, Renzi came to the office with a wish list of reforms, all of which he promised would be delivered before the summer: a new election law, labor market reforms, tax reform and changes to Italy’s sclerotic public administration. 

Renzi isn’t much closer to achieving any of those today than he was in the spring. He’s lucky to have won a key vote last week in the upper house of the Italian parliament, the Senato (Senate), to reduce that chamber’s powers, making it essentially an advisory body, giving Italy a unicameral parliamentary system in all but name. Renzi must still win a vote in the lower house, the Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies), where Renzi’s Partido Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) controls an absolute majority, as well as another final vote in the Senate before the reforms are put before voters in a referendum next year. Continue reading Despite Senate vote, Renzi’s reform push stalling in Italy

EU rewards Rama, Albania with candidate status

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Maybe the decision to hire former British prime minister Tony Blair as an advisor to Albania’s new government was an astute move after all.albania

The European Council will formally name Albania as a candidate for eventual EU membership at its summit this weekend, following a decision by British prime minister David Cameron to allow Albania’s candidacy to move forward on its fourth attempt to win candidate status since 2009. As the EU membership negotiations unfold for Albania, as well as for other Balkan countries such as Serbia and Montenegro, Cameron is expected to seek carve-outs that make it more difficult for laborers from new EU member-states to enjoy free movement throughout the EU single market.

The move follows a largely successful parliamentary election in June 2013 and aggressive steps by Albania’s new, energetic prime minister Edi Rama (pictured above, left, with Blair, right) to stamp out corruption and organized crime. Albanian police moved last week, for example, to subdue Lazarat, a village in southern Albania that’s known as a chief source of marijuana throughout Europe, with an estimated annual production of €4.5 billion. Continue reading EU rewards Rama, Albania with candidate status

A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

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We now have most of the results from across Europe in the 28-state elections to elect all 751 members of the European Parliament.European_Union

At the European level,  the center-right, Christian democratic European People’s Party (EPP) emerged with about 25 more seats than the center-left, social democratic Party of European Socialists (PES).

That immediately gives former the EPP’s candidate for the presidency of the European Commission, former Luxembourgish prime minister Jean-Claude Juncker, a boost in his efforts to actually become the Commission president. But it’s still far from automatic, despite Juncker’s aggressive posture at a press conference Sunday evening:

“I feel fully entitled to become the next president of the European Commission,” Juncker, a former Luxembourg prime minister, told supporters late yesterday in Brussels after the release of preliminary results. Premier for 18 years until he was voted out of office in December, Juncker also gained recognition in his dual role as head of the group of euro-area finance ministers during the debt crisis.

Juncker (pictured above) still must to convince the European Council to propose him as Commission president, and he’ll still need to win over enough right-wing or center-left allies to win a majority vote in the European Parliament.

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RELATED: Here come the Spitzenkandidaten! But does anybody care?

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That process, which could feature a major battle between the European Council and the European Parliament, will unfold in the days, weeks and possibly months ahead.

But what do the results mean across Europe in each country? Here’s a look at how the European elections are reverberating across the continent.  Continue reading A detailed look at the European parliamentary election results (part 1)

Who is Federica Mogherini?

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When Matteo Renzi, the 39-year-old former Florence mayor, pushed Enrico Letta out of power in February, I questioned the timing of his decision and noted that it was an arguably anti-democratic electoral coup against a prime minister of his own party that could easily backfire on Renzi.Italy Flag Icon

But among the most eyebrow-raising choices was Renzi’s decision not to reappoint the internationally acclaimed Emma Bonino as foreign minister, allegedly against the wishes of Italian president Giorgio Napolitano.

A longtime leader of the Radicali Italiani (Italian Radicals), a group of reform-minded, good-government economic and social liberals, Bonino had a long career in Italian and international politics as an inaugural (and subsequent) member of the European Parliament,  international trade minister under center-left prime minister Romano Prodi, and European commissioner for health and consumer protection in the late 1990s. A longtime  international activist for human rights, Bonino surfaced briefly as a potential Italian presidential contender in May 2013, though the electors  ultimately decided to reappoint Napolitano.

Instead, Renzi appointed Federica Mogherini, a previously little-known international affairs expert and legislator in Renzi’s Partido Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).

Of course, youth need not prevent an official from becoming foreign minister (it hasn’t stopped Austria’s 27-year old foreign minister Sebastian Kurz). Nonetheless, it was a risk to replace such a renowned official like Bonino with an untested foreign minister like Mogherini (pictured above). Even before Bonino, the foreign ministry is a role that’s been held by some of Italy’s most senior politicians — Gianfranco Fini and Franco Frattini on the right, and Massimo D’Alema and Lamberto Dini on the left.

Mogherini, in her first trip abroad, was received by US secretary of state John Kerry yesterday, and she appeared briefly at the Brookings Institution today to share thoughts about European relations with Russia, Ukraine, North Africa and the Middle East.

Mogherini is impressive, even to those of us who regret that Bonino’s time as foreign minister was truncated to just 10 months. At her discussion at Brookings, she was more forthright and authoritative than one might expect from such an untested foreign minister.   Continue reading Who is Federica Mogherini?

No, Venice isn’t about to break away from the rest of Italy

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Though it was essentially nothing more than an online poll, the Venetian independence movement has now become an international headline, with first Italian media, then Russian media and now US publications asking whether Veneto will be the next region to succumb to separatist sentiment.Italy Flag Iconveneto

Although the online plebiscite is raising more publicity than its promoters could have possibly hoped, it’s still just an unofficial, Internet-based poll. So when you see headlines that scream that 89% of Venetians are voting for independence from mainland Italy, keep in mind that it’s more a stunt than an actual referendum.

Plebiscite 2013, a Venetist group, conducted the referendum between March 16 and 21, and it claims that 2.36 million Venetians voted in the online poll for full independence from Italy, fully 89.1% of the voters who participated. There are good reasons to doubt whether those numbers are accurate — Il Corriere del Veneto today reports that, following an analysis of the web traffic data, the real total is something more like 135,000, and among those voters, there are more votes from Chile than from Padua, one of the region’s largest cities. While you should take the Venetist movement increasingly seriously, the March online poll is not the most credible evidence. Continue reading No, Venice isn’t about to break away from the rest of Italy