Matteo Renzi: How the one-time great hope of the Italian left fell from grace

Former Italian prime minster Matteo Renzi was once the darling of Italian politics but on Monday announced his resignation as head of the ruling centre-left Democratic Party after an embarrassingly low result in Sunday's election.

Matteo Renzi: How the one-time great hope of the Italian left fell from grace
Matteo Renzi pictured during his resignation speech. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

His decision to quit as party head is an alarming change in fortune for a man who just a few years ago was hailed as a reformer when he became Italy's youngest prime minister at the age of 39 in 2014.

The centre-left coalition led by Renzi's Democratic Party (PD) picked up just 22 percent of the vote, lagging behind a right-wing coalition that won 37 percent and also trailing the Five Star populist movement which scooped up 32 percent of the national vote.

The PD's collapse is a huge blow to Italy's centre-left, in power since 2013, effectively ruling it out of having any say in the country's future government.

The result is also particularly humiliating for Renzi, whose party clinched 40 percent of the vote in the 2014 European elections. Announcing his departure from the post, he said he would content himself with his new role as senator in his native Florence.

Italy left in limbo after populist surge in election
Journalists wait in the League's press room. Photo: Piero Cruciatti/AFP

“In a matter of months, Matteo became Italy's most unpopular leader,” L'Espresso weekly newspaper wrote recently.

Often accused of an arrogant or authoritarian leadership style, the former premier never managed to deliver on his ambitious promises to revamp Italy and cast away the political old guard during his time at the helm.

In 2012, with his sights set on party leadership, he vowed to make Italy more meritocratic. But today he is often accused of surrounding himself with his chosen few, frequently fellow Tuscans, who have done little to boost his reputation.

Renzi, whose only previous governing role had been as mayor of Florence, became prime minister in 2014 aged just 39.

Showing a tireless work ethic while his wife, Agnese, and three children stayed home in Tuscany, the former boy scout who became known as “the scrapper” came to office with a vow to revive Italy's lethargic economy.

He managed to deliver his flagship labour market reforms and modest growth, while overseeing the granting of legal recognition to gay relationships for the first time. But the recovery was not strong enough to generate any real political dividends.

Renzi alienated many on his party's far left, who broke away in 2017 to become part of the leftwing “Liberi e Uguali” (Free and Equal) alliance, also candidates in the upcoming vote.


His domestic fall from grace came in December 2016, when Italians rejected his flagship proposal for constitutional reform in a referendum.

His dream of a “simpler, more competitive and more courageous” Italy in tatters, Renzi resigned as prime minister. Despite taking a backseat, the energetic reformer maintained a strong media presence and few doubted his desire to return to the top spot.

However, the disappointing result in Sunday's election meant Renzi did not get the second chance he had hoped for.

By Olivier Baube


Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter ‘defamation’ trial

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni said on Tuesday she will not withdraw her defamation suit against anti-mafia reporter Roberto Saviano, despite growing criticism that her position of power might skew the trial in her favour.

Italian PM Meloni refuses to back down on reporter 'defamation' trial

On Tuesday, the hard-right leader told Italian daily Corriere della Sera that she was confident the case would be treated with the necessary “impartiality”.

Meloni sued anti-mafia reporter Saviano for alleged defamation after he called her a “bastard” in a 2020 televised outburst over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but took office last month after an electoral campaign that promised to stop migrants crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa.

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the trial, which opened earlier in November, to be scrapped.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia reporter on trial for ‘defaming’ Italy’s far-right PM

“I don’t understand the request to withdraw the complaint on the pretext that I am now prime minister,” Meloni said.

“I believe that all this will be treated with impartiality, considering the separation of powers.”

She also added: “I am simply asking the court where the line is between the legitimate right to criticise, gratuitous insult and defamation.”

Saviano, best known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

The case dates back to December 2020 when Saviano was asked on a political TV chat show for a comment on the death of a six-month-old baby from Guinea in a shipwreck.

On the occasion, he railed at Meloni, who in 2019 had said that charity vessels which rescue migrants “should be sunk”.

Saviano is not the only journalist Meloni is taking to trial. One of the country’s best-known investigative reporters, Emiliano Fittipaldi, said last week the prime minister had sued him for defamation.

READ ALSO: Italian PM Meloni takes another investigative reporter to court

That trial is set to start in 2024.

Watchdogs say such trials are symbolic of a culture in Italy in which public figures intimidate reporters with repeated lawsuits, threatening the erosion of a free press.