Italy’s Five Star Movement accused of plagiarizing Wikipedia and rivals’ political speeches in election programme

Italy's Five Star Movement (M5S), the country's most popular party according to polls, has been accused of plagiarizing a variety of sources in its programme for the March general election.

Italy's Five Star Movement accused of plagiarizing Wikipedia and rivals' political speeches in election programme
M5S leader Luigi Di Maio delivers a speech during the presentation of the movement's parliamentary candidates. Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Online newspaper Il Post reported on Wednesday that 11 of the programme’s 20 chapters included material apparently plagiarized from other sources. A full comparison of the M5S manifesto and the unattributed sources can be found on the website in Italian.

These sources included articles, parliamentary papers, scientific studies, legal manuals, and even statements made by rival politicians.

According to Il Post, the M5S manifesto included material plagiarized from the Wikipedia pages for eco-museums, the ministry for communications, and a government agency responsible for managing EU farming funds, while in other places definitions were identical to those found in legal manuals.

Other sections were identical to papers from the European Commission and the Italian parliament, reports from private and public think tanks, and a National Geographic report. In one chapter, two full pages were identical, though not attributed to, a section from a report by environmental organization Legambiente.

Even more surprisingly, the manifesto also included material seemingly copied from a parliamentary question from Democratic Party (PD) senator Giorgio Roilo, and from the Repubblica daily newspaper, a left-leaning title with close ties to the PD.

Researchers for Il Post also analyzed the programmes of Italy’s other political parties, the site confirmed, without finding evidence of plagiarism. Meanwhile, some sections of the M5S programme, including those on immigration, justice, and foreign policy, were listed as 'partial' with less than a month to go until the March 4th election, though a party spokesperson told the newspaper that final versions would appear online “soon”.

At the core of the party philosophy is direct democracy, and a party spokesperson dismissed the findings, saying the manifesto had been put together following online consultations with activists and members of its online platform. The spokesperson, Manlio Di Stefano, also said there was no specific author for each chapter.

A separate statement from the party said that the sections of the programme accused of plagiarism by Il Post were merely analytical sections, separate from the manifesto.

“Of course we have taken data from dossiers and scientific studies; also from experts with whom we have always collaborated in the past five years,” the note continued.

Recent opinion polls show the M5S the most popular single party, with 30 percent of the vote, around five percent ahead of the governing PD. However, a centre-right coalition led by four-time PM Silvio Berlusconi is in the lead, approaching 40 percent, and a large chunk of the population has not yet decided who to vote for.

The M5S was created as an 'anti-establishment' party and has taken pride in presenting itself as an alternative to Italy's other main parties. Candidates who have previously held public office are banned from the party's lists.

Rival politicians were quick to criticize the M5S, with PD member Matteo Orfini writing: “Choose original ideas, choose the PD” on his Facebook page. Party secretary Matteo Renzi said: “[M5S deputy Alessandro] Di Battista insults us all saying 'Italians have turned stupid [referring to a recent comment by Di Battista]. Only he is intelligent, the others don't understand. That will be why the Five Stars copied their programme from Wikipedia.” 

READ MORE: What you need to know about Italy's 2018 general election




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.