If there was one bright spot for mainstream political parties in the elections for the European Parliament, it came, to the surprise of many, in Italy, where Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and his Democratic Party received more than 40 percent of votes cast, a level no party has reached in any Italian election since 1958. Mr. Renzi, who ran on a pro-Europe, anti-austerity platform, easily beat his principal opponents, receiving roughly double the votes cast for the anti-establishment party of Beppe Grillo or for the party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who campaigned assiduously despite the restrictions imposed by a one-year sentence he is serving under house arrest. The vote strengthened Mr. Renzi’s resolve — and his clout — to push through a contested agenda in Italy. Analysts said it also seemed to show that voters were willing to reward established parties that initiate changes themselves, without the prodding of the political extremes.
Beppe Grillo, the former comic who leads Italy’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, on Thursday hit out against plans to reform the country’s voting rules, describing them as tailor-made to block his party’s rise. “The only point of this electoral reform proposal is to block us because we are the danger to the system,” Grillo, whose party won a quarter of the vote at last year’s national election, told a gathering of the foreign press in Rome. The center-left’s dynamic new leader Matteo Renzi this week drew up a plan to change the voting rules blamed for Italy’s chronic political instability after reaching a widely contested deal with center-right leader and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. The 5-Star Movement, which espouses an eclectic mix of green and anti-establishment policies and wants a referendum on Italy’s euro membership, has stayed in opposition since the February 2013 vote and refuses to collaborate with the left-right coalition government.
It is the most famous quote in modern Italian literature, because it captures so well the cynicism and conservatism of modern Italian politics. “If we want everything to remain as it is,” says Tancredi in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s “The Leopard”, “everything needs to change.” For once, Italy’s politicians have turned the saying on its head. On April 20th they arranged for things to stay as they were in order to get them to change. After failing to find agreement to elect a new president, the heads of Italy’s two leading mainstream parties, Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party (PD) and Silvio Berlusconi of the People of Freedom (PdL) movement, went to the 87-year-old incumbent, Giorgio Napolitano, and begged him to stay on. Unsurprisingly, given his age, Mr Napolitano had discounted a second term. So he was able to make demands: he would agree only if the PD and PdL broke the deadlock that was stopping the formation of a new government.
Some foreign publications, in commenting on the situation in Italy after the recent electoral results, have reverted to the offensively superficial and trite image of “bring on the clowns”. The term could be used both in a derogatory and a purely descriptive sense, as the only real winner of the election, Mr. Beppe Grillo, a professional comedian, could be called a “clown” without causing offence. Politically speaking, however, the epithet would not apply. Grillo has shown remarkable ability, and has created a powerful political movement, the party which has received the greatest number of votes (around 25 percent), from scratch, with no public financial backing, and in the teeth of first ridicule and then very violent criticism on the part of almost all the media. Whether this structure will show itself to be stable and lasting is another question, but it certainly wields decisive weight at this time. The same publications apply the epithet also to Mr. Berlusconi, mainly because, in their very superficial view of the situation, they consider him one of the “winners”, even though his Party has had the poorest electoral result in its history. The Italian press, in this case perhaps more imaginative and aiming at a higher cultural level, has preferred to describe the present political situation with the term “Perfect Storm” – much more suitable.
President Giorgio Napolitano, a former communist resistance fighter who negotiated Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation, is preparing his final political battle as he seeks to steer Italy out of its latest government crisis before his term expires in May. Napolitano, 87, is charged with resolving the political logjam caused by elections last month that produced a hung parliament. To avoid a new vote, he can try to forge a national- unity government, accept an administration without a majority or appoint a non-politician to head a so-called technical government, similar to that of Prime Minister Mario Monti. Markets are pricing in two scenarios, “another technical government or the possibility, which is less and less likely, of a bipartisan government,” Mario Spreafico, who manages 1.5 billion euros ($1.95 billion) as chief investment officer at Schroders Private Banking for Italy, said in a phone interview. “Both would be temporary solutions” before new elections.” The Feb. 24-25 ballot, which left front-runner Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani short of a majority in the Senate, has forced him to court the support of former comedian Beppe Grillo and his anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which won a quarter of the vote. Grillo responded by describing Bersani as a “dead man walking,” stressing his party would not give backing to any government. Italy’s 10-year bond yield has risen 21 basis points since the vote to 4.66 percent.
Italian center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani rallied his party on Wednesday behind a plan to form a minority government backed by populist Beppe Grillo after failing to secure victory in last week’s election. Bersani, whose coalition threw away a 10-point lead in the opinion polls before the February 24-25 vote, won control of the lower house but let slip a workable parliamentary majority by failing to win the Senate. The result has left no group able to form a government on its own and Italy facing weeks of uncertainty. A new election could be called within months if no accord can be reached between the divided parties. Underlining pressure on politicians to agree on a government to tackle the problems of one of the world’s biggest sovereign debtors, credit rating agency DBRS cut Italy’s debt grade to A (low) from A on Wednesday, citing political uncertainty and a prolonged recession.
Pier Luigi Bersani, the notional winner of Italy’s general elections last month, told his party’s senior leaders that he would try to form a government even though his center-left coalition didn’t have a Senate majority. Any alliance with Silvio Berlusconi, longtime leader of the center-right, was “not practicable,” while some form of dialogue with the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement might be, Mr. Bersani said as he opened a day-long meeting of his Democratic Party’s top officials Wednesday. Mr. Bersani, whose center-left coalition narrowly won the most votes in an election that unexpectedly showed a near tie between three rival groups, is under pressure to outline how he will try to form a coalition able to pass a confidence vote in both parliamentary chambers. Political instability in Italy has raised concerns that the euro area’s policy approach to its sovereign debt crisis is failing. Italy’s election was a “thermometer” of long-simmering tensions, Mr. Bersani said, noting that euro-skepticism is growing even in Germany.
As Italy faces a deep political crisis, the fate of the country is in the hands of an octogenarian former communist only weeks from retirement. Under Italy’s constitution, President Giorgio Napolitano, 87, is charged with trying to find the way out of an intractable impasse caused by a huge protest vote in the Feb 24-25 election, which saw no group emerge with enough support to govern. The task is exceedingly difficult, but if anybody can succeed it is probably Napolitano, who enjoys both huge respect and popularity, and has shown skill in navigating previous major storms in Italy. In fact after an election in which Italians vented their rage against the politicians, he may be the only traditional political figure left who commands much respect at all. Napolitano has stepped into the breach in a moment of emergency before, in November 2011, when Italy faced a perilous debt crisis. He engineered the replacement of scandal-plagued premier Silvio Berlusconi with technocrat Mario Monti.
Italy could be inching closer towards another election within months after center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani issued an ultimatum to anti-establishment comic Beppe Grillo to support a new government or return to the polls. Last week’s election, in which Grillo’s 5-Star Movement won a huge protest vote, left no group with a working majority in parliament, making an alliance with a rival the only way out. On RAI state television late on Sunday, Bersani underlined his opposition to two of the options floated – another technocrat government like the outgoing one led by Mario Monti or a coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right. That would leave only one possibility to avoid elections – Grillo’s backing for the center-left, which won the lower house in the election but does not have enough support in the Senate. “Now (Grillo) must say what he wants, otherwise we all go home, including him,” Bersani said.
Most international press has identified the results of the Italian elections as a vote against austerity. We find this analysis inaccurate, and with this article we explain why and present some likely scenarios. The message of the electorate is that before any macroeconomic or financial change can be considered, Italy’s institutions and their representatives need to be reformed and the impoverishment of the country must be addressed. Homework first. Italy enjoys a bi-chamber system: the lower Chamber and the Senate have an equal say on all matters including the appointment of the government. The electoral law was changed in 2005 by Berlusconi and his allies to make it very difficult for whoever does not win Lombardy and Veneto, the most populous and traditionally right-leaning regions, to win both chambers. Italians under the age of 25 are still shockingly not allowed to vote for the upper house, making it traditionally more conservative.
Italy may hold new elections within months should Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani fail to win support in parliament to form a government after inconclusive elections. There are no alternatives to a vote “in a few months” if Bersani doesn’t get a majority in parliament, Stefano Fassina, economic-policy spokesman for Bersani, said today on Sky TG24 TV. “We should name a new president, change the electoral law and then return to polls as soon as possible.” Italian bond yields surged after elections on Feb. 24-25 ended in a four-way parliamentary split, raising doubt over the stability of the next government. Bersani, whose party won the most votes, failed to gain control of parliament as former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo won blocking minorities in the Senate.
Editorials: Welcome to Italy, where nobody knows what will happen next | Maria Laura Rodotá/The Observer
Last Monday, for the first time in my memory, nobody celebrated after a general election. No celebration from the Democrats, who were the projected winners but came out sore losers. Nor from the seven million voters (down from 13 million in 2008) who still chose Silvio Berlusconi and then became invisible – almost no one admits to having voted for the disgraced former prime minister. There was not even any celebration from the real winners, the militants and voters of the Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Stars? How did Italy end up with a populist party whose name sounds like a luxury hotel chain?). Without securing a parliamentary majority, it is now the leading party in the Camera dei Deputati, and the second in the senate. But, contrary to national tradition, the movement’s supporters did not meet in piazzas, they did not take to the streets honking their car horns, they did not gather outside the party’s headquarters opening bottles of sparkling wine. Beppe Grillo’s movement voters are recession-stricken and don’t find a great deal to celebrate. Also, nobody knows, or much cares, where the party headquarters are actually based.
The prospect of an early repeat vote in Italy to break the February election gridlock has receded after the outgoing head of state rejected the idea. Giorgio Napolitano, who as president holds the power to dissolve parliament, said he doubted his successor in the post would favour the idea either. Mr Napolitano must stand down as president in mid-May. The three main political forces are sharply divided after none managed to win an outright majority. Uncertainty over the future management of the eurozone’s third-biggest economy has caused concern among Italy’s partners and investor confidence has been shaken. A protest movement led by a former comedian, Beppe Grillo, surged virtually from nowhere to take a quarter of the vote, handicapping the traditional alliances on the right and left. The centre-left bloc led by Pier Luigi Bersani won a majority in the lower house but not in the equally important upper chamber. It is expected to attempt to form a government after the new parliament meets, some time within the next fortnight.
Voting Blogs: The Italian General Election of February 2013: Deadlock after Technocracy | The Monkey Cage
The main results of the Italian General Election held on 24-25 February 2013 were unexpected. The most blatant outcome is the success of the brand new Five Star Movement led by the comedian Beppe Grillo. This political movement received the most votes in the Chamber, gaining more than 25 per cent of valid votes. The centre-left coalition led by the Democratic Party’s leader Pierluigi Bersani gained a plurality of votes in the Chamber (29.5% of valid votes). The seat bonus provided by the electoral system ensured the centre-left coalition a majority of seats (340 seats out of 630). In the Senate, where the seat bonus is allocated on a regional basis, the centre-left coalition gained 121 seats, far short of the majority threshold required to govern (158).
Italy is no longer striking a “bella figura.” The country’s post- election chaos has shaken the very foundations of the European Union as the idea of a politically united Europe appears to suffer a blow. Rome’s Colosseum appears somewhat run-down, with its enormous pillars stained gray by pollution and its basement vaults fallen down. Yet it continues to be a first-class European cultural good. Now, with the Italian capital’s coffers empty, a luxury fashion company is financing the site’s renovation, to the tune of 25 million euros ($33 million). These days, the monument to Rome’s former greatness appears to be a reflection of Italy. Because of its financial problems and current political stand-off, Italy – among the “most European” of countries – has become the problem child of the Continent. Like the Colosseum, the highly indebted eurozone country could be dependent on external help – namely that of the European Union. The EU is hoping that the Mediterranean country will be able to get itself out of its crisis, as the EU isn’t eager to take on the role of sponsor. But if the third-largest economy of the eurozone keeps tumbling, it could take the whole bloc with it. Developments in Italy, though a consolation to EU skeptics in Greece, Spain and Portugal, have placed basic assumptions into question: for example, whether Europe can be reformed, how fundamental sustainable solidarity is, and whether the political union even makes sense. Is European Union drifting apart?
Italian comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo, whose Five-Star Movement (M5S) defied expectations to come third in last weekend’s elections, has ruled out a coalition with the centre-left. Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD) won a majority in the Chamber of Deputies but fell short in the Senate. Mr Grillo told the BBC he expected Mr Bersani to agree a deal with Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL). The inconclusive polls have pushed up borrowing costs for the government. On Wednesday, the Italian treasury sold 4bn euros (£3.45bn) of new 10-year government bonds on the financial markets at a yield of 4.83%, up from 4.17% at its last sale in January, and 2.5bn euros of new five-year bonds at a yield of 3.59%, up from 2.94%.
In recent years, recession and financial turmoil have felled governments throughout Europe as voters looked for change in an era of economic distress. Now, experts are asking whether politicians are capable of promoting plans that offer a way out of the malaise — or whether they could be elected if they did. After its voters this week denied any party enough backing to form a credible government, Italy joined Greece in preventing establishment parties from achieving the mandate required to push through painful reforms, inviting new financial instability. That dynamic is quite familiar to Americans, who have watched President Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives lock horns over the debt ceiling, the so-called fiscal cliff and now sequestration in what many experts consider the biggest threat to the economy. “The governing parties tilt ever more toward populism instead of making decisions that are important but unpopular,” said Eckhard Jesse, professor of political systems and institutions at the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. “The room to maneuver has gotten tighter, but the expectations have risen.”
One doesn’t need to be fluent in Italian to understand the post-election headlines across Italy: ingovernabilita, nervosismo, miracolo Berlusconi. Italians woke up on Tuesday morning to see their worst fears realized: the country’s first-ever hung parliament. Essentially, no one has enough support to lead the country out of its dire troubles. After a bitter campaign, Pier Luigi Bersani’s center-left coalition narrowly won in the lower house of parliament and will benefit by an automatic winner’s bonus of 54 percent of the house seats, but he barely eked out a win in the Italian senate, where it counts. There, the divisions are based on regions, and his win does not translate to a majority. His chief nemesis, Silvio Berlusconi, who rose from the ashes of a scandalous resignation in November 2011, was able to steer his center-right coalition to within a hair of the majority, but with no willing partners to help him reach the threshold. The big winner of these elections was Beppe Grillo, a comedian who captured the essence of Italy’s disgruntled set and has effectively become the kingmaker in both houses. His platform, which includes holding a referendum on Italy’s continuation in the euro and rethinking its involvement in military operations abroad, including logistical support in Mali, is seen as welcome change by many disgruntled Italian voters, especially the young and newly unemployed. Grillo refused to do any campaigning on Italian television and focused instead on new media, utilizing his popular blog, Facebook, and Twitter to rabble rouse.
Centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani says Italy is in a “dramatic situation” after election results that leave the country in political stalemate. Stock markets and the euro have fallen amid concerns the deadlock could re-ignite the eurozone debt crisis. But Mr Bersani, whose coalition won most seats in parliament, did not identify a preferred partner in government. He said all political parties should take responsibility for the country. Centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi said earlier fresh elections should be avoided, and called for a period of reflection, which correspondents suggest could mean he is considering a very awkward alliance with his opponents on the centre-left. Other European countries have urged Italian politicians to create a stable government as soon as possible – with France and Germany urging continued reform, and Spain describing the result as a “jump to nowhere”.
According to the latest polls from two weeks ago (there is now a poll ‘blackout’ until after the election), ‘M5S’ would secure over fifteen per cent of the national vote, putting it into third place, behind Bersani’s centre-left and Berlusconi’s centre right coalitions, but ahead of former PM Monti’s group. Some internal polling suggests M5S might do even better. Grillo’s movement translates to the ‘Five Star Movement’ in English. The five ‘stars’ represent its main themes: public water, transportation, development, internet connection and availability, and the environment. Running on a simple manifesto based on these themes, he has enjoyed a rise in popularity perhaps unrivalled in post-War Western Europe: one year ago, he was polling at around five per cent. This is despite the party doing the precise reverse of what a political campaign strategist would advise: none of its members had been interviewed in the Italian media until last weekend, and its most famous member, Grillo himself, refuses to stand. What accounts for his meteoric rise? Last week, we released a new report based on a survey of almost 2,000 Facebook fans of Grillo and the M5S. The answer is a fascinating and powerful mix of anti-establishment rhetoric, new technology and old fashioned rallies and local action. If Grillo does as well as polls suggest, perhaps even so well to become kingmaker, then the whole of Europe should take note. I suspect there are plenty of other European countries where another Grillo might explode onto the scene and cause a similar political tremor: including the UK.
Italy faced political deadlock on Tuesday after a stunning election that saw the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement of comic Beppe Grillo become the strongest party in the country but left no group with a clear majority in parliament. “The winner is: Ingovernability” was the headline in Rome newspaper Il Messaggero, reflecting the stalemate the country would have to confront in the next few weeks as sworn enemies would be forced to work together to form a government. The center-left coalition led by Pier Luigi Bersani won the lower house by around 125,000 votes, where it will have a majority because of a premium given to the largest party or coalition. Results in the upper house Senate indicated the center-left would end up with about 119 seats, compared with 117 for the center-right. Seats are awarded on a region-by-region basis in the Senate, where a majority of 158 is needed to govern. Any coalition must have a working majority in both houses in order to pass legislation.
A sense of humour in adversity can be attractive, but it is not always useful. Confronted by the worst recession in their country since the 1930s and the possible implosion of Europe’s single currency, the people of Italy have decided to avoid reality. In this week’s election a quarter of the electorate—a post-war record—did not even bother to show up. Of those who did, almost 30% endorsed Silvio Berlusconi, whose ruinous policies as a clownish prime minister are a main cause of Italy’s economic woes. And a further 25% voted for the Five Star Movement, which is led by a genuine comedian, Beppe Grillo. By contrast, Mario Monti, the reform-minded technocrat who has led Italy for the past 15 months and restored much of its battered credibility, got a measly 10%. This result is a disaster for Italy and for Europe. In Rome the centre-left coalition headed by Pier Luigi Bersani, the pre-election favourite who ended up getting only a whisker more of the vote than Mr Berlusconi, is now struggling to form a government: it is unlikely to be stable or durable (see article). Meanwhile, financial markets across Europe swooned on the news. Share prices fell sharply almost everywhere. Sovereign-bond yields jumped across the Mediterranean countries, to levels touched three months ago, even as they fell in Germany, bringing the euro crisis back to centre-stage.