From PM to PlayStation: Renzi retreats to plot comeback

Matteo Renzi was planning to spend Thursday competing with his kids on PlayStation, sharpening reflexes Italy's commentators say the ousted premier will need as he plots his comeback.

From PM to PlayStation: Renzi retreats to plot comeback
Renzi en route to hand in his resignation. But how long will he be gone? Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

President Sergio Mattarella meanwhile was working through the Feast of the Immaculate Conception public holiday, preparing for 48 hours of consultations aimed at brokering a deal on what follows the resignation of Italy's youngest premier after two years and 289 days in office.

By Saturday, the former constitutional court judge will know if there is the basis for a stable cross-party coalition government that can guide Italy to the end of the current parliament in February 2018.

If there isn't, the head of state will have no choice but to call early elections with a ballot feasibly taking place as soon as February.

That would be just after the constitutional court is due to deliver its verdict on a new electoral law for the Chamber of Deputies that was adopted earlier this year.

But it would not allow enough time for any revision of the law before the election, or for changes to the different set of rules that applies to the Senate.

Analysts see this issue as making an election later next year after a period of caretaker rule as the most likely outcome.

Mattarella accepted Renzi's resignation on Wednesday evening, three days after the 41-year-old suffered a chastening defeat in a referendum on constitutional changes he had championed.

Knives being sharpened

The outcome left the centre-left leader with little option but to quit.

But he retains the leadership of his Democratic Party, the biggest force on Italy's centre-left. And he indicated as he resigned that he intends to pursue his political career and a reformist agenda that won plaudits from the likes of US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angel Merkel.

Renzi received a boost on Thursday with a poll published by La Stampa daily, conducted a day after the referendum, giving the PD the backing of 32.5 percent of voters, ahead of the populist Five Star movement with 27 percent.

And 57 percent of centre-left voters saw Renzi as the best leader available to the PD.

But there were also signs of knives being sharpened within the party after the referendum vote which Renzi's critics see as having eroded the party's base among the working class and young voters hardest hit by Italy's economic problems.

“Today is not the moment for rows but there are many things to be discussed and analysed. We have to understand the message the referendum sent us,” said Roberto Speranza, one of a number of PD lawmakers who voted against Renzi in the referendum.

Luigi Zanda, head of the PD group in the Senate, acknowledged that “there are tensions within the party” but said he expected the need for unity to prevail.

Renzi admitted to the party's executive that he anticipated a “tough debate” over the lessons of the referendum and said he was open to proposals being aired of trying to create a broader coalition of the Italian left.

Debt outlook downgrade

But that idea was shot down by veteran leftist Nichi Vendola.

The former governor of the southern region of Puglia said Renzi had burnt his bridges with progressive forces.

“If reformism means having a left elite do the work of the right the result is inevitably catastrophic,” Vendola told La Repubblica.

Before handing back the keys to his Palazzo Chigi residence, Renzi insisted the PD was ready for an early election battle with the ascendant Five Star Movement, the far-right Northern League and Silvio Berlusconi's fading Forza Italia.

“We are not afraid of anything or anybody,” Renzi said.

Five Star and the Northern League are both demanding an early election. Italy's entry into a period of political uncertainty has not created the kind of market turmoil some had predicted and a feared crisis in the banking sector has not materialized as a rescue plan for the most troubled lenders has begun to take shape.

Moody's ratings agency has however downgraded its outlook for the country's sovereign debt to negative from stable, saying the failure of the constitutional referendum slowed reform progress and left Italy more exposed to “unforeseen shocks”.

By Angus MacKinnon

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Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Brazil’s former president may soon face legal charges after last week’s attempted coup. Here’s why he’s considering becoming an Italian citizen to escape extradition from the US.

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has figured heavily in international news lately after hundreds of his supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasilia on Sunday, January 8th, in what has now been widely recognised as a failed coup. 

And though there is currently no evidence that Bolsonaro directly ordered Sunday’s insurrection, Brazilian media reports suggest the former president may, in the words of Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, have to “answer for his crimes and be interrogated on the terrorist acts he always incited”.

It is precisely the prospect of legal prosecution that, in a turn of events very few would have been able to anticipate, might tie Bolsonaro’s fate to Italy.

Brazilian news media Istoè and O globo both recently reported that Bolsonaro, who has Italian origins, is currently planning on formally requesting Italian citizenship – a process which two of his five sons, Flavio and Eduardo, started back in 2020.

But why would becoming an Italian citizen allow Bolsonaro to evade prosecution in Brazil?

Bolsonaro is currently in Florida, USA, which he entered on December 30th, two days before his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was sworn in as the new Brazilian head of state. 

Aftermath of failed coup in Brasilia, Brazil

Hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, on Sunday, January 8th. Photo by Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

But his position in the US is shaky, to say the least. A single criminal charge – Bolsonaro is already under investigation in at least four pre-coup criminal probes – and sufficient evidence to show probable cause would be enough for the States to accept Brazil’s extradition request. 

Conversely, as an Italian citizen residing in Italy, Bolsonaro would be most likely shielded from extradition as the current agreements between Rome and Brasilia exclude extradition for crimes of political nature and the Italian Constitution (article 26) bans the “extradition of [an Italian] citizen unless international conventions command so”.

So, it seems Bolsonaro would effectively be able to evade prosecution by acquiring Italian citizenship. But should he ultimately choose to request citizenship, how likely is it that he would be successful?

While there’s no way to predict what the final outcome would be, he’d have good chances, at least in theory.

Italy is far more lenient than other countries when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry (also known as ‘right of blood’ or jure sanguinis).

In fact, there are no limits on how far back up the line of descent the applicant’s Italian ancestor is located as long as the Italian national in question was alive on or after March 17th 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was officially born. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Bolsonaro’s paternal great-grandfather, Vittorio Bolzonaro, moved to Brazil from Anguillara Veneta, Veneto in the late 1880s or early 1890s at the very latest.

Other than that, the issue of Italian citizenship is dependent on one remaining condition, namely that no Italian national along the line of descent formally renounced their Italian citizenship prior to the birth of their descendant. 

Italy's foreign minister Antonio Tajani

Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani has recently confirmed that no request for Italian citizenship has been made yet by Bolsonaro. Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP

There’s no way to know whether this requirement is actually met in Bolsonaro’s case, though, if it were, his path to acquiring Italian citizenship would be pretty clear. 

As with all things Italian, the process of getting an Italian citizenship application approved is usually very lengthy (taking over three years in most cases). However, there is a ‘fast-track’ option which, while requiring the applicant to relocate to Italy and become a legal resident, cuts overall processing times to around one year. 

So, should Bolsonaro ultimately go for the fast-track route – and provided that he applied immediately and all his documents (including birth, death and marriage certificates of all his relevant ancestors) were in order – the earliest he could become an Italian citizen would be at some point in 2024. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

This is of course all purely hypothetical at present, especially as Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani confirmed on Wednesday that Bolsonaro hasn’t (yet) submitted a request for Italian citizenship. 

But the mere prospect of Brazil’s former president applying for citizenship has caused a stir within the Italian political landscape – several left-wing forces have already asked that the request be immediately rejected should it ever come through.

Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro in Italy

Bolsonaro already has honorary Italian citizenship, which was granted by the small town of Anguillara Veneta in 2021. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Some Italian social media users also highlighted the fact that it’s relatively difficult for children born in Italy to foreign parents to obtain Italian citizenship.

“Before (possibly) giving Italian citizenship to the Bolsonaro family you must give it to all children born and living in Italy who wish to be Italian citizens,” said one.

The former president already has honorary Italian citizenship, granted by Anguillara Veneta, the small town Bolsonaro’s great-grandfather originally emigrated from. However, the town’s mayor is now under increasing pressure to revoke it.

Making Bolsonaro an honorary citizen was a “grave error then” but failing to revoke the award after Sunday’s events would be nothing short of “incomprehensible”, stated Veneto regional councillors Vanessa Camani and Andrea Zanoni, both with the Democratic Party.

As for the Italian government, PM Giorgia Meloni took to Twitter on Sunday to condemn the insurrection in Brasilia. However, neither she nor any other member of her cabinet have so far taken a stance on Bolsonaro’s contentious citizenship issue.

Also, at the time of writing, no member of the League, which largely supported Bolsonaro during his tenure as president and praised him as the “pride of Veneto” in October 2018, has spoken out on the topic.

Whether it’s just a bad bout of forgetfulness or deliberate reticence, the silence is deafening.