The Renzi Paradox

June 13 Main Image

June 13, 2014

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party received a stunning 40.8% of the vote in the May’s European Parliamentary elections.

Matteo Renzi has proven to be a fascinating politician in his first 3 months as Italian Prime Minister. Young, charismatic, honest, and unabashedly ambitious, the former Mayor of Florence swept to power by ousting Enrico Letta – a Prime Minister from his own party. Upon forming his government, Renzi promised to undertake a series of aggressive reforms to break the political deadlock that has plagued Italy. The new Prime Minister pledged to commence this wide series of reforms in a rapid manner to show both his dynamism and his willingness to ameliorate Italy’s economy.

Although it is still early, Renzi’s policy has failed to match his effervescence. Indeed, so far only a modest tax reform has been passed and internal divisions in his parliamentary coalition have halted a number of proposed changes. Yet, Renzi still appears to retain an incredible level of support from the Italian public – a fact that was solidified by the surprising 40.8% that Renzi’s party received in the European Parliamentary elections. Looking at his main European counterparts, Renzi’s performance is nothing short of spectacular. Italy’s Prime Minister even managed to outpace Angela Merkel’s CDU who received just over 35% of the German vote. The Democratic Party’s result managed to halt the rise of Beppe Grillo – the comedian-turned-leader of Italy’s Eurosceptic Five Star party. In polls conducted before the election, Renzi and the Democrats were expected to tie with Grillo’s Five Star.

Renzi’s incredible result is all the more surprising as it managed to overshadow the trend of Euroscepticism that dominated these elections. What’s more, Italy has been harshly hit by the strict budgetary measures and Europe is percieved rather unfavorably. Renzi’s success can thus be partly interpreted through his campaign message. True to style, Renzi tackled these elections aggressively and touted an anti-austerity line, promising to take a forceful stance against austerity once Italy assumes the presidency of the EU in July. It is unlikely that Renzi will be able to force a change on the budgetary consensus backed by Germany, but his rhetoric is certainly resonating with voters.

From the brief time Renzi has spent as Prime Minister, he has proven to be quite a paradox. On one side, Renzi is incredibly popular and has managed to win support for a daring series of reforms in the sclerotic environment that is Italian politics. On the other side however, Renzi is a relatively inexperienced and has thus far failed to produce the results he promised. It is possible that his recent electoral victory will give him the legitimacy and impetus to accelerate his political agenda, yet nothing is certain as far as Italian politics is concerned. Renzi could very well become a model for modern center-left candidates in Europe: young, dynamic, and a clear break from the communist and socialist pasts of the European left. Or, as Mario Monti and Enrico Letta before him, Renzi could very well turn out to be another eager reformer stymied by Italy’s bloated and sluggish political system. Regardless the one clear thing is that Renzi seems to have finally motivated the Italian public and halted the rise of Beppe Grillo – that is certainly something worth applauding.

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