The umpteenth Italian overturn takes Renzi and PD to unprecedented victory at EU elections

Herman van Rompuy, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, and José Manuel Barroso (from right to left)

Herman van Rompuy, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, and José Manuel Barroso (from right to left), EC Audiovisual Services

It’s been already three days since the final results of the EU Elections entered our homes and we had some time to digest and discuss about them. No matter how you would like to see it, Italy has surprised Europe once more. This is not exactly a positive thing for a country that is in desperate need of stability, but at the same time something we cannot deny. Italy is Europe’s chameleon, with a political situation that changed face and body more than once in less than 16 months.

It was one year and a half ago, January 2013, that one month before the national elections everyone predicted the PD, the centre-left party, to easily win the elections, with Pierluigi Bersani to be Italy’s next prime minister, Berlusconi to disappear forever and Mario Monti to be the EU’s best friend in the Italian parliament. Well, none of the above happened like expected. Bersani won the elections but was never able to run the country, Berlusconi made the phoenix look like a beginner when he rose from his ashes and the technocrat Monti, he completely disappeared. Oh, and there was a man called Beppe Grillo which gained an incredible, unexpected 25.5% with his anti-establishment Five Star Movement. After those elections there was Bersani serving as prime minister, as said, then the unlucky Enrico Letta and finally, after many turbulences, the young Matteo Renzi.

Everybody (or better said, most of the journalists and opinionists) then predicted that, in such fragile equilibrium, the euro-sceptic, anti-establishment movement lead by Grillo could have been the one to gain most of the Italian votes. But another surprise from the land of espresso was came last weekend. Monday morning’s one and only truth was that the European elections had given Italy’s Prime Minister Renzi a sharp victory, as the PD, the Democratic Party, won almost 41% of the votes in Belpaese.

Not even the most optimistic PD polls could have predicted this outcome, with preictions a few days before the vote showing the M5S (Movimento 5 Stelle – 5 Star Movement) going hand by hand with the PD. The former comedian’s movement gained a disappointing 21.15%, with recent opinion surveys indicating that many of the M5S’s supporters were confused and angered by Mr Grillo’s policy of non-co-operation with the centre-left. Many analysts vow that the returns showed that millions of M5S voters switched to the PD. We should never forget that the electoral result, although disappointing, is something important anyway, given the fact that 16 months ago no one was taking Mr Grillo’s movement seriously. The M5S, with more than one-fifth of the national vote, remains today one of the most popular in Europe outside the traditional mainstream political mix. Only Marine Le Pen’s Front National and Syriza in Greece did better than that.

Moreover, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia received just 16.8%, the lowest ever vote share in his two-decade political career. Angelino Alfano’s (former Berlusconi ally) Nuovo Centrodestra coalition barely got over the threshold for representation in the European Parliament with 4.38%, while the euro-sceptical North League, led by Matteo Salvini, received a moderate 6.15%.

The poll’s outcome gives some clear political conclusions for sure. Italy has voted for Europe, first of all. Grillo, although not making anti-Europeism exactly his main policy, has repeatedly pushed for a referendum on leaving the Euro, and believes that Europe deserves radical changes. His loss may tell that Italians don’t want this to happen, especially in terms of anti-Euro solutions.

Second, the scale of the victory seems to ‘legitimise’ the non-elected 39 year old prime minister at last. Renzi has got no excuses now and he knows that the post elections honeymoon will not last forever. The time has come to implement the ambitious plan of reforms he had promised so far. Italy’s sclerotic economy needs reforms very soon, and Renzi could have the right chance, as the European stock markets seemed to have taken his victory positively.

The FTSE MIB rose 2.7 percent on Monday, outpacing other major European indexes. Some observers believe that Sunday’s success would even allow Renzi to call anticipated national elections and consolidate his power in parliament. Renzi himself dismissed the idea, saying parliament should continue to its natural end in 2018.

Third, these results might allow Italy to have a stronger “presence” in Europe. In an after-elections situation which is actually positive for pro-EU forces, Italy’s Democratic Party will become the second-largest group in Strasbourg after Merkel’s centre-right bloc, and the biggest in the Party of European Socialists. The Belpaese could now become Southern European countries’ main vehicle of persuasion of Mrs Merkel, almost at the beginning of Italy’s rotating six-month presidency of the EU, which starts in July.

Early Monday morning Renzi tweeted his satisfaction, saying that he’s “moved and determined” after what he defined “a historic result”. He also declared that he is “determined now to work for an Italy that changes Europe”.

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