Five Star Movement sets its sights on Rome

Italy's Five Star Movement, the populist faction led by former clown Beppe Grillo, believes it is on the verge of transforming itself from protest vehicle to party of government, starting with a tilt at claiming control of Rome.

Five Star Movement sets its sights on Rome
Luigi Di Maio (L) and Beppe Grillo (R) are hoping that the 5 Star Movement can show its credentials by taking control of Rome Mayor's office. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

At a weekend conference in the town of Imola, “Grillini” activists were in confident mood, buoyed by a recent upturn in their standing in the polls and their central role in ousting the mayor of the Italian capital.
“If we can take the mayor's seat in Rome, we will be governing the country inside 10 years,” Grillo told the conference in markedly more measured tones than he customarily employs.
Earlier this month, Rome mayor Ignazio Marino, a member of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party, was forced to resign over an expenses scandal and a vote on his replacement is expected early next year.

Five Star surged from nowhere to claim 25 percent of the popular vote in Italy's 2013 elections. But the party then saw a dip in its fortunes as voters seemingly tired of its founder's strident, ranting style.
Support has picked up recently as Grillo has taken more of a back seat and pushed younger figures such as Luigi Di Maio, the 29-year-old deputy speaker in the Chamber of Deputies, to the fore.
An endless round of requests for selfies at the Imola conference told its own story about how the smartly-dressed Di Maio has become the leader-in-waiting of a movement that supposedly has no bosses and refuses to be seen as just another political party.

A crucial moment

Despite that, and its self-styled “post-ideological” character, the movement counts 91 deputies, 36 senators and 17 MEPs among its ranks, alongwith 11 mayors and around 1,000 local and regional councillors.
Activist Antonio, a 50-year-old from Naples who joined up after becoming disillusioned with the left, says the movement is at a crossroads.

“We are at a crucial moment in the history of the movement. What gets decided from now will be fundamental,” he told AFP.
The weekend conference saw Five Star take over Imola's legendary motorsport racetrack for debates on how to rebuild Italy and the European Union, which it does not regard with a favourable eye.
In theory the movement still supports withdrawal from the euro, but talks about the issue far less in the aftermath of Greece's bungled attempt to use the implied threat of withdrawal to renegotiate the terms of its debt with international creditors.

Five Star is a broad church. But where all the Grillini agree is in their shared mistrust of established politicians and their desire for greater transparency in a country weighed down by corruption, action in favour of the environment and a vaguely-defined sense that things could be organised more efficiently.
“If the movement has an ideology, it would be dignity,” sums up Raffaele Rossi, who hails, like many of the activists, from the impoverished south of Italy – in his case from Salerno, near Naples.
As with any opposition movement trying to make the transition to governing, the question of how to avoid power corrupting is an ever present one for Five Star followers.

Antonella Laricchia, 29, a regional councillor in Puglia on Italy's heel, says Five Star's own internal rules are a model.

No elected official can serve more than two terms and each salaried one has to pay half his or her salary to the party to finance support for small companies.

Founded online in 2008, the movement has not totally abandoned its vision of direct democracy.
Its guru on such questions, Gianroberto Casaleggio, reaffirmed at the weekend that all the party's candidates, including for prime minister, will be chosen by its digital network.
Di Maio and Roman deputy Alessandro Di Battista however stand out as leading lights of the movement and potential successors to Grillo.

“We know how to oppose things, now we have to show we also know how to govern,” Di Battista said. “And if we can run Rome well, we can do the same for the country.”

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Italy’s Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

Italian far-right leader Giorgia Meloni and her allies on Tuesday began what is set to be a weeks-long process of forming a new government, with crises looming on several fronts.

Italy's Meloni begins tricky government talks after election win

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, which triumphed in Sunday’s elections, has no experience of power but must assemble a cross-party team to tackle sky-high inflation and energy prices, and relations with a wary Europe.

The 45-year-old is hoping to be the first woman to lead Italy as prime minister, but needs her allies, Matteo Salvini’s far-right League party and former Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, for a majority in parliament.

The division of the top jobs – notably economy, foreign affairs, the defence and interior ministries – will always be political but now, more than ever, “will have to reflect areas of expertise”, the Stampa daily noted.

President Sergio Mattarella will begin consultations on who should lead the new government only once the Senate and Chamber presidents have been elected by parliament, which meets on October 13th.

In the past, it has taken anything between four and 12 weeks for a new administration to take office.

But the first deadline for action is coming up fast, with Italy due to submit its draft plan for next year’s budget to Brussels by October 15th.

READ ALSO: The five biggest challenges facing Italy’s new government

The parties have said they want to make major changes, with a manifesto promising to slash taxes, roll back welfare, and “revise” the terms of Italy’s recovery fund agreement with Brussels – potentially putting the rest of the deal, worth a total of almost 200 billion euros to Italy, at risk.

EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said he urged “the next Italian government to ensure that this opportunity is seized”, saying the fund was key to putting Italy on a path to “strong and durable growth”.

Agnese Ortolani, senior Europe analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit, said she expected Meloni “to continue to reassure the markets by picking a non-controversial figure for the role of finance minister”.

“She will also want to avoid reputational damage by nominating someone who is not perceived as credible by the markets,” she said in a note.

READ ALSO: Doubts rise over ‘loose cannon’ Salvini after Italy’s election

Meloni’s allies have been pitching for heavyweight positions, Salvini wanting his old job as interior minister back, and Berlusconi eyeing president of the Senate.

Their parties’ disappointing performance in the polls, however, with neither reaching 10 percent while Brothers of Italy’s secured 26 percent, means Meloni may already be planning to sideline them.

League leader Matteo Salvini (L) and Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni are set to form a government together following the election. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Salvini and Berlusconi do not see eye-to-eye with Meloni on several fronts, including on Russia and public spending to relieve the cost of living crisis.

With all the potential friction ahead, winning the elections “was almost the easy part”, commented Luciano Fontana, chief editor of the Corriere della Sera daily.

Berlusconi downplayed concerns he would rock the boat Tuesday, claiming his party was ready to make compromises “in the country’s interests”.

His ally Antonio Tajani, a former European parliament president, is tipped as possible foreign minister, an appointment which could both appease Berlusconi and assuage international fears that Meloni’s Eurosceptic populist party plans to pick fights with Brussels.

Salvini may prove more difficult. He is currently on trial for allegedly abusing his powers as interior minister in 2019 to block migrants at sea, which some say could rule him out returning to the job.

“It won’t be an easy relationship. It’s likely that (Salvini) will be given a more marginal role in the government than he wants,” Sofia Ventura, political sciences professor at Bologna University, told the foreign press association in Rome.

“Defusing Salvini” without sparking a backlash that could weaken the government is “Meloni’s first test”, the Repubblica daily said.