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Italy’s Political Trap

Italian politics remains stuck between demands for change and a political system which prevents it.

Italian Mayoral Elections: what does it all mean?

Coverage by Italian and international media has focused on Renzi’s defeat, on populist vote and on Rome’s first ever female mayor, 37-year-old lawyer Virginia Raggi.

Yes, Renzi’s democratic party (PD) has lost, knows it has, and openly admits it.

This in itself is a rare occurrence within Italian local elections: with all party leaders boosting results, real or imagined, one sometimes gets the impression that everybody has won. Not this time.

The vote: Turin, Milan, Rome

In Turin, the PD candidate was incumbent mayor Piero Fassino, a prominent PD politician and former government minister. His match was never-heard-before Chiara Appendino, a 32-year-old business woman and mother-of-one, of Beppe Grillo’s Five Stars Movement (M5S).

Milan went to Paolo Sala, an independent backed by Renzi’s PD, and CEO of Expo 2015. But Sala’s victory did nothing to soothe an otherwise disastrous defeat. Nor did it change its substance. Italians, guess what, are unhappy with their government.

Rome saw a veritable plebiscito for Beppe Grillo’s M5S candidate Virginia Raggi: she made her way to Michelangelo’s Piazza del Campidoglio with 67% of the vote.

A protest, anti-establishment vote it might well be. But Renzi got the message.

Italy’s political landscape after the vote

Yet, the defeat notwithstanding, no alternative to Renzi’s center-left government has emerged. M5S has no allies. But it will need some if it is serious about governing Italy.

The right is fragmented. In Rome it failed to agree on a candidate. Neither of its two candidates made it to the second round as a result. The Right is also still looking for a leader to replace 80-year-old Berlusconi, though Lega Nord party leader Matteo Salvini might fit the bill.

Important as they are, these local elections have provoked no earthquakes within Italy’s current center-left government. No party, let alone coalition, is in the position to threaten its survival. Eventually, perhaps. Certainly not now.

Is it hence all fine and well with the Presidente del Consiglio? Not really. What Renzi does worry about is whether this vote will impact on the costitutional referendum planned for October. Rumors has it – as reported by La Stampa, a Turinbased national daily – that Renzi is already considering postponing it!

A much cherished reform: speeding up the legislative

Since taking office on February 2014, Renzi has pushed through a constitutional reform intending to abolish the Senato della Repubblica, and replace it with a Camera delle Regioni. The latter would deal almost exclusively with regional issues, leaving the Camera dei Deputati as Italy’s only legislative body.

The Italian Senate is a kind of upper chamber which, in fact, is only a carbon copy of the Camera die Deputati, the country’s main legislative body. Failure by the Italian constitution to differentiate between Camera and Senato means that all the parliament’s work gets needlessly duplicated, legislation turns into a ping pong context, and the opportunity for dilution of controversial bills and corruption over their approval are limitless.

This explains Italy’s long standing political and economic ills: chronic ungovernability and a huge public debt. Renzi has decided to tackle these ills by addressing their root cause: an imbalance between a gargantuan Parliament and a Prime Minister whose powers are much lower than its European colleagues.

Except that this very reform would leave a few hundreds Italian senators jobless. There is indeed a lot of opposition against that very reform within Renzi’s left-orcenter Democratic Party. Senators worry that Renzi will ruin la carta più bella del „ mondo , the world’s most beautiful constitution.

They have since failed to explain what they mean. Nor do Italian journalist seem bother to ask. So it’s muro contro muro, confrontation for the sake of confrontation. Or of a comfy seat, and associated perks, at Palazzo Madama.

So far, Renzi has had his way. But his much cherished reform still needs to be approved in the coming referendum, necessary, together with a qualified majority, and a double voting session, for a constitutional reform to go through.

The constitutional referendum should be held early October. Renzi might now want to postpone it to gain time to woo the electorate and other parties, notably Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S), the big winner of last Sunday’s mayoral elections.

M5S: Populist. But not too much

Which brings us to this strange political creature. Only Italy could have produced a major party led by a popular stand-up comedian. A testament to the country’s political creativity, as well as lack of seriousness.

Proponent of grassroots politics via the Internet Beppe Grillo’s blog has long been Italy’s most visited website.

The M5S has progressively softened its once radically anti-establishment views over a range of policies. Commonly described as eurosceptic, the M5S is much less so than Le Pen’s Front National. „ On Thursday, for example, a blog post dealing with Brexit referendum read: We [M5S] „ are in Europe. We believe that the EU should be changed from the inside .

Many readers reacted with a mixture of anger and bewilderment to what they saw as a betrayal of the party’s traditional, anti-EU and not just anti-Euro, stance. Whether the M5S will remain true to at least its anti-Euro stance remains to be seen.

So in the very moment of its apotheosis, the M5S is making a risky gamble. Those Italian voters to the left, who are faithful to the EU, vote for Renzi’s PD. And will keep doing so. Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord is against the EU, and welcomed Brexit.

But in times of Brexit, and maybe of Frexit, the many Italians who have grown tired of the EU might soon decide that M5S soft eurosceptic approach is, well, just too soft.

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