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POLITICS

Paolo Gentiloni: who is Italy’s new prime minister?

Paolo Gentiloni, the man named on Sunday as Italy's new prime minister, is a trusted ally of his predecessor Matteo Renzi, to whom he owes his rise to the summit of national politics.

Paolo Gentiloni: who is Italy's new prime minister?
Paolo Gentiloni arrives for a press conference after being named Italy's new PM. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Even before he was named, opponents were suggesting the silver-haired foreign minister had been hand-picked by Renzi as a stand-in leader who is dull enough not to pose any threat to the outgoing premier's comeback hopes.

Renzi, who resigned last week after a crushing referendum defeat, remains leader of his Democratic Party (PD) and has made it clear he plans to fight the next election as its candidate to head a new government.

Aged 62, Gentiloni is a former student radical who comes from a well-to-do Roman family with aristocratic roots.

He has long been associated with the Green wing of Italy's left but has steadily moved towards the centre ground over the course of a long, unspectacular career.

He was made foreign minister in October 2014, having been plucked from obscurity to replace Federica Mogherini following her appointment as the European Union's foreign policy chief.

It was an appointment that raised eyebrows at the time.

The man chosen by Renzi was virtually unknown to the public. He had no experience in foreign affairs and his ministerial career had been limited to a stint as communications minister in Romano Prodi's 2006-08 government.

Noble family

His bid, in 2013, to become the mayor of Rome ended with him finishing third in a field of three in the left's primaries.

Political analysts concluded Gentiloni was being rewarded for his loyalty to Renzi.

Turin daily La Stampa described him as “A Renzi-ite even before Renzi himself,”, noting how Gentiloni had often provided the outgoing premier with valuable intellectual cover in internal PD battles over the party's direction.

Both men were members of La Margherita (The Daisy), a short-lived centre-left party, in the early 2000s and both were close to and influenced by Francesco Rutelli, a veteran Green and former mayor of Rome.

Gentiloni is married to an architect. The couple have no children and he is said to spend his spare time readying newspapers and books and pursuing his passion for fine wine.

He plays tennis and is an opera buff but friends say he has had little time for leisure activity of late as a workaholic who likes to read his ministerial briefs in full.

Frequently described as a former journalist, Gentiloni does have a press card. But his reporting and editing experience was nearly all for political publications. Like Renzi, he has been a full-time activist or an elected official for most of his working life.

A descendant of a famous Italian count, he has the right to call himself a noble and, according to media reports, lives in a Rome condominium building occupied mainly by his relatives.

Close to US

As a political science student in the mid-1970s, Gentiloni was involved with fringe far-left groups, including one which described itself as being inspired by Maoism.

Like many of his generation, the flirtation with revolutionary politics was short-lived. He is now considered as being in the mainstream of the broad church PD.

As foreign minister he forged a close working relationship with US Secretary of State John Kerry, helped by the Renzi government allowing US airbases in Italy to be used for airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Italy.

After spells as editor of Green magazine “The New Ecology” and as spokesman for Rutelli during his time as mayor of Rome, Gentiloni was elected as a PD deputy in 2001.

He continued to harbour ambitions of becoming mayor of Rome. But after his failure to win the candidacy in 2013 a quiet retirement appeared to be beckoning before he got the call from Renzi two years ago.

He is widely seen as having done a good job as foreign minister as Italy has played an unusually proactive role on the world stage, notably in relation to Libya, and in building bridges with Iran after the lifting of international sanctions.

By Angus MacKinnon

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ITALIAN POLITICS

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Italy’s government was plunged into turmoil on Tuesday as foreign minister Luigi Di Maio announced he was leaving his party to start a breakaway group.

Italian government rocked by Five Star party split

Di Maio said his decision to leave the Five Star Movement (M5S) – the party he once led – was due to its “ambiguity” over Italy’s support of Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

He accused the party’s current leader, former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, of undermining the coalition government’s efforts to support Ukraine and weakening Italy’s position within the EU.

“Today’s is a difficult decision I never imagined I would have to take … but today I and lots of other colleagues and friends are leaving the Five Star Movement,” Di Maio told a press conference on Tuesday.

“We are leaving what tomorrow will no longer be the first political force in parliament.”

His announcement came after months of tensions within the party, which has lost most of the popular support that propelled it to power in 2018 and risks being wiped out in national elections due next year.

The split threatens to bring instability to Draghi’s multi-party government, formed in February 2021 after a political crisis toppled the previous coalition.

As many as 60 former Five Star lawmakers have already signed up to Di Maio’s new group, “Together for the Future”, media reports said.

Di Maio played a key role in the rise of the once anti-establishment M5S, but as Italy’s chief diplomat he has embraced Draghi’s more pro-European views.

READ ALSO: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy’s establishment

Despite Italy’s long-standing political and economic ties with Russia, Draghi’s government has taken a strongly pro-NATO stance, sending weapons and cash to help Ukraine while supporting EU sanctions against Russia.

Di Maio backed the premier’s strong support for Ukraine following Russia’s invasion, including sending weapons for Kyiv to defend itself.

In this he has clashed with the head of Five Star, former premier Giuseppe Conte, who argues that Italy should focus on a diplomatic solution.

Di Maio attacked his former party without naming Conte, saying: “In these months, the main political force in parliament had the duty to support the diplomacy of the government and avoid ambiguity. But this was not the case,” he said.

Luigi Di Maio (R) applauds after Prime Minister Mario Draghi (L) addresses the Italian Senate on June 21st, 2022. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

“In this historic moment, support of European and Atlanticist values cannot be a mistake,” he added.

The Five Star Movement, he said, had risked the stability of the government “just to try to regain a few percentage points, without even succeeding”.

But a majority of lawmakers – including from the Five Star Movement – backed Draghi’s approach in March and again in a Senate vote on Tuesday.

Draghi earlier on Tuesday made clear his course was set.

“Italy will continue to work with the European Union and with our G7 partners to support Ukraine, to seek peace, to overcome this crisis,” he told the Senate, with Di Maio at his side.

“This is the mandate the government has received from parliament, from you. This is the guide for our action.”

The Five Star Movement stormed to power in 2018 general elections after winning a third of the vote on an anti-establishment ticket, and stayed in office even after Draghi was parachuted in to lead Italy in February 2021.

But while it once threatened to upend the political order in Italy, defections, policy U-turns and dismal polling have left it struggling for relevance.

“Today ends the story of the Five Star Movement,” tweeted former premier Matteo Renzi, who brought down the last Conte government by withdrawing his support.

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