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Italy's Five Star Movement leader softens stance on euro and party alliances ahead of 2018 election

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Italy's Five Star Movement leader softens stance on euro and party alliances ahead of 2018 election
Luigi Di Maio speaking in Sicily. Photo: Alessandro Fucarini/AFP
13:00 CET+01:00
The leader of Italy's Five Star Movement (M5S) party showed a softening in the party's stance on both political alliances with other parties and Italy's membership of the euro in comments made over the weekend.

"If we get 40 percent [of the vote] in the election, we can govern alone," Luigi Di Maio, who was elected as leader of the anti-establishment party in September, said in an interview with Italy's Radio Capital. "If we don't, on the evening of the election I'll make a public appeal to the other political forces that have got into parliament, presenting our programme and our team."

Opening the door to an alliance with other political parties is a turnaround for the M5S, which defines itself as anti-establishment and has long refused to take part in coalitions.

Currently, the party is leading the opinion polls ahead of an election likely to take place in early March next year. However, a new electoral law favours coalitions, and the M5S has complained that it is left at a disadvantage by the system.

"The only possibility for the other parties is to support a Five Star government [...] We are the only chance of stability. Either they support us or they vote again," Di Maio continued in his interview.

The M5S leader said he was "terrified" by a suggestion from Forza Italia leader and four-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi that if the election result was inconclusive -- an outcome that looks extremely likely -- Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni should stay on and a second vote should be held.

Speaking separately on Italian state TV, 31-year-old Di Maio clarified his party's position on the EU, saying that a referendum on Italy's membership of the euro – for a long time one of the party's flagship policies – was only a final resort.

In the M5S comes to power in Italy's election next spring, he said, the party would push for EU reforms to change the bloc and remove the need for a referendum on the euro.

Only if these attempted reforms were not successful, would a M5S government hold a referendum on euro membership, Di Maio said.

Di Maio was elected as leader of the party in a September vote and is the party's expected candidate for prime minister. His style contrasts sharply with that of M5S founder and former leader, ex-comedian Beppe Grillo, and the two also have differing opinions regarding Europe.

Whereas Grillo was open about his eurosceptic views, 31-year-old Di Maio has been much more cautious in his statements on the EU, and told a seminar in the run-up to the party leadership vote: "We do not want a populist, extremist or anti-European Italy."

On his first day in the party leader role, he confirmed "we want to stay in the EU" but also stressed his belief that there was a need to change "a number of treaties" which he said were damaging to the Italian economy.

The M5S prides itself on being an alternative to the established political parties and defines itself as neither being on the left nor right of the political spectrum.

Instead, it offers voters a selection of promises from across the ideological spectrum, and has also changed its views on some key issues dramatically since it was first established. At its founding in 2009, for example, the party was anti-Vladimir Putin, but it has since become much more pro-Russia.

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