IN PICTURES: The defining moments of Renzi’s time as PM

Matteo Renzi has officially resigned as Italian prime minister following a crushing defeat in his constitutional referendum. We take a look back at the highs and lows of his time in office.

IN PICTURES: The defining moments of Renzi's time as PM
Renzi announcing his resignation on Sunday night. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

'Don't worry Enrico'

Renzi's rise to power seemed to come from nowhere.

Shortly after his election to government, the 39-year-old mayor of Florence accused the Democratic Party leadership of dragging its feet over key reforms, sparking a bitter feud between him and then-Prime Minister Enrico Letta. At one point, Renzi sent a now infamous tweet with the hashtag “#Enricostaisereno” (don't worry Enrico).

Photo: AFP

But one month later, the Democratic Party voted heavily in favour of Renzi's call for a new government, and Letta resigned. Renzi became the youngest ever prime minister of Italy and the country's third consecutive non-elected PM.

On his way – driving the car himself – to be nominated prime minister. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

At the time, the mood was hopeful. The editor of Il Fatto Quotidiano, a paper with anti-establishment leanings, said: “”If Renzi cannot shake us out of this mess, then no one can.”

Shaking hands with Letta after being sworn in. Photo: Alberto Lingria/AFP

Labour reform – and protests

Top of Renzi's agenda was labour reform, including tax reductions for those on low salaries, protection for workers from unfair dismissal and a Jobs Act which proposed reform to the labour market.

Protesters hold smoke flares near a poster of Renzi during a demonstration by Italian unions. Photo: Olivier Morin/AFP

Trade unions and students protested the reform, which they argued did nothing to resolve the precariousness of the jobs market. Almost a million participants in one protest in Rome, but the reforms were passed  despite the heavy opposition.

A balloon shows Renzi as Pinocchio during a general strike. Photo: AFP

Renzi claimed that a subsequent fall in unemployment showed the reforms had worked, but the jobless rate remains high in Italy, particularly among young people – more than a third of whom are without work.

In the end, this was one of the reasons many Italians turned against Renzi and voted against his latest set of reforms.

Migration crisis

One of the main challenges of Renzi's time in office was migration, with arrivals to Italy by sea increasing almost threefold in 2014. The crisis is far from over, with record arrivals already in 2016.

Speaking about the record numbers, Renzi said: “it is a big problem but we are not facing an invasion“.

At an EU summit to discuss Europe's response to the crisis. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP

The PM blamed other EU countries for failing to assist Italy, saying: “Europe's responses so far have not been good enough.” But at home, he faced criticism from opposition leaders and the public over his handling of the crisis, with cities such as Milan struggling to cope with the increased need for emergency accommodation.

An Amnesty International activist holds a boat of paper reading “Renzi welcome migrants” during a flash mob in front of the Pantheon. Photo: Gabriel Buoys/AFP

Foreign relations

At a G7 summit. Photo: AFP

Renzi's closest allies included outgoing US President Barack Obama – who hosted Renzi at his final state dinner – and French President Francois Hollande, who announced last week he would not run for a second term.

Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP

He and Japanese president Shinzō Abe built a close relationship as both tried to combat austerity and reform their country's constitutions, while Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was a key ally in discussing the Mediterranean migrant crisis.

Renzi with Japan's Shinzō Abe. Photo: Franck Robichon/Pool/AFP

Other notable foreign policy moments included leading the way in forging trade ties with Iran after international economic sanctions were lifted. Hassan Rouhani became the first Iranian president to Italy since 1999, and Renzi then became the first Western leader to visit Iran after the sanctions were lifted.

Civil unions

One of the most significant bills Renzi introduced was the one recognizing same sex unions. Having originally pledged to get it passed by the end of 2015, a watered-down version finally became law earlier this year, following months of amendments and heated debate. 

Supporters demonstrate in favour of the bill in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Renzi called this “a victory for love”, but expressed his sadness that a stepchild-adoption clause had not been included in the final version.


Renzi speaking to press before meeting local authorities and residents in the earthquake-hit zone. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Reflecting on the toughest moments of the 1000 days he'd spent in office, shortly before Sunday's referendum, Renzi singled out the 2015 terror attacks in Paris – in which one Italian citizen died, and which led to a massive increase in security across Europe – and the earthquakes which struck central Italy this year.

A quake near the town Amatrice on August 24th left 299 dead and thousands homeless, while a series of further tremblors near Norcia, also in the central Italian region, thankfully caused no further casualties but left several towns severely damaged.

Renzi and his wife Agnese at a funeral service for quake victims. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Renzi visited the towns, speaking to residents and vowing: “Everything will be rebuilt”.

Conceding defeat

Renzi's fall from power came about just as rapidly as his rise.

Renzi at a campaign event. Photo: AFP

On Sunday night, just an hour after polls closed in Italy's referendum on constitutional reforms, the 41-year-old announced that he would resign, and on Wednesday evening, he officially tendered his resignation.

Casting his referendum vote, with wife Agnese. Photo: Claudio Giovanni/AFP

Many Italians were unconvinced by the reforms themselves, but Renzi's biggest mistake, he acknowledged, had been to personalize the reforms by vowing to quit if defeated. This effectively turned it into a vote on his administration, and the public said 'no'.

Renzi said there was “a lump in his throat” as he confirmed he would resign following the heavy defeat. Photo: AFP

Shortly before handing in his resignation, the PM reportedly told colleagues: “I didn't believe they hated me this much.”



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Berlusconi’s bad break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

The chummy relationship between former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin goes back decades. The invasion of Ukraine has put it under pressure.

Berlusconi's bad break-up with Putin reveals strained Italy-Russia ties

After a tycoon bromance, Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi is struggling to break up with Russia’s Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine war — like many in his country, where ties with Moscow run deep.

The billionaire former premier’s unwillingness to speak ill of Putin is echoed by other leading Italian politicians, while in the media, there are concerns that pro-Russian sentiment has warped into propaganda.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi is committed to NATO and the EU, strongly backing sanctions against Moscow, and at his urging a majority of Italy’s MPs approved sending weapons to help Ukraine defend itself.

But much of Draghi’s coalition government — Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Matteo Salvini’s League and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) — has long pursued a “special relationship” with Moscow.

Italy used to have the largest Communist party in the West, and many businesses invested in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, while Russians in turn sought opportunities here.

Barely a month before the February 24 invasion, Putin spent two hours addressing top Italian executives at a virtual meeting.

Beds, hats, parties

Berlusconi, 85, has been out of office for more than a decade but remains influential both in politics and through his media interests, as founder of the Mediaset empire.

He was an ardent admirer of the Russian leader, and a close chum — they stayed in each other’s holiday homes, skied together and were snapped sporting giant fur hats.

“They were two autocrats who mutually reinforced their image: power, physical prowess, bravado, glitz,” historian and Berlusconi author Antonio Gibelli told AFP.

Putin gave Berlusconi a four-poster bed, in which the Italian had sex with an escort in 2008, according to her tell-all book. He in turn gave Putin, 69, a duvet cover featuring a life-sized image of the two men.

In the months before the Ukraine war, Berlusconi continued to promote his close ties, including a “long and friendly” New Year’s Eve phone call.

It was not until April, two months after Russia’s invasion, that he publicly criticised the conflict, saying he was “disappointed and saddened” by Putin.

He has struggled to stay on message since then.

Speaking off the cuff in Naples last week, he said he thought “Europe should… try to persuade Ukraine to accept Putin’s demands”, before backtracking and issuing a statement in Kyiv’s support.

“Breaking the twinning with Putin costs Berlusconi dearly: he has to give up a part of his image,” Gibelli said.

Meanwhile, the leader of the anti-immigration League, Salvini, who has proudly posed in Putin T-shirts in the past, has argued against sending weapons to aid Ukraine.

The League did condemn Russia’s military aggression, “no ifs and no buts”, on February 24 when Russia invaded.

But an investigation by the L’Espresso magazine earlier this week found that, in the over 600 messages posted by Salvini on social media since Russia invaded, he had not once mentioned Putin by name.

He did so for the first time on Thursday, saying “dialogue” with Putin was good, and encouraging a diplomatic end to the war.

‘Biased media’

Many pro-Russian figures are given significant airtime in the media, which itself is highly politicised.

“Italy is a G7 country with an incredibly biased media landscape,” Francesco Galietti, founder of risk consultancy Policy Sonar, told AFP.

TV talk shows are hugely popular in Italy, and “one of the main formats of information” for much of the public, notes Roberta Carlini, a researcher at the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom at the European University Institute.

But she warns they often “obscure facts”.

Italy’s state broadcaster RAI is being investigated by a parliamentary security committee for alleged “disinformation”, amid complaints over the frequent presence of Russian guests on talks shows.

Commercial giant Mediaset is also in hot water after airing an interview with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in which highly polemical claims went unchallenged.

It defended the interview, saying good journalism meant listening to “even the most controversial and divisive” opinions.

“RAI is a reflection of the political landscape, with its many pro-Russian parties. And Mediaset… well, Berlusconi is an old pal of Putin’s, so what do you expect?” Galietti said.

He also points to a decades-long culture in Italy of allowing conspiracy theories — particularly on the interference of US spies in Italian politics — to circulate in the media unchallenged.

“You end up with a situation where Russia Today (RT) is considered as authoritative as the BBC,” he said.