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

Born ten years ago from a grassroots rebellion against traditional politics, Italy's Five Star Movement has evolved into a party capable of forging alliances with the far-right and now the left.

ANALYSIS: How the rebel Five Star Movement joined Italy's establishment
Five Star supporters rally in Rome before the EU elections. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Founded by comedian Beppe Grillo and digital marketing specialist Gianroberto Casaleggio, the anti-establishment M5S initially refused any alliances.

But March 2018 elections saw the M5S become the biggest party in Italian politics with 32 percent of the vote, and they eventually formed a coalition with Matteo Salvini's populist, anti-migrant League.

A little over a year later, the M5S is now in talks with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to form a new coalition after Salvini tried to bring down the government in a failed power grab.

READ ALSO: How Matteo Salvini lost his gamble to become Italy's PM – for now

The M5S has lost ground to the League over the last 14 months, dropping to 17 percent in May's European parliamentary elections, while the League went from 17 percent last year to 34 percent this year.

“In Italy, given the constitution and the electoral law (which mixes proportional representation with first past the post), the only way to enter into power is to make compromises and that's what M5S has learned,” said Emiliana De Blasio, political science lecturer at Rome's Luiss University.

“Without these compromises, they would have stayed in the corner of the political landscape without ever being able to play a role in the country's public life,” she told AFP.


The Five Star Movement's current leader, Luigi Di Maio. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The M5S is atypical in its organisation and ideology, neither right- nor left-wing, but rather created as an alternative to “establishment” parties, as typified by their latest ally, the PD.

Its transformation from protest movement to governing party played out in successive elections, starting in 2013 when it came in a surprise third place.

At the time, it was the charismatic Grillo and his diatribes against Italy's political “caste” that dominated the M5S. Dignity, hope, transparency were the watchwords on Grillo's extremely popular blog and in his rally speeches. 

“This position seduced voters exasperated by a political class characterised by scandals and corruption, who felt abandoned by those in government,” said political analyst Gianfranco Pasquino.

“But once in government the movement was confronted with the reality of power and had to change its political line on a raft of subjects, which disconcerted its own voters,” Pasquino told AFP.

READ ALSO: A new direction for Italy's M5S? Beppe Grillo distances himself from the party he founded

Beppe Grillo continue to attend party rallies but is not longer the Movement's leader. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

This change coincided with the naming of Luigi Di Maio as the Movement's political leader. In his 30s, with a relatively slick image compared to the unkempt Grillo, the choice of Di Maio showed a party transformed and ready to move on from its purely protest logic.

Besides forming political alliances, Di Maio's M5S changed course on several policies, notably on remaining in the eurozone. For years M5S had a highly eurosceptic position, which went as far as calling for a consultative referendum on keeping the single currency.

But days before the March 2018 election, the M5S abandoned any mention of leaving the European Union.

READ ALSO: The Five Star digital voting platform that could threaten a government deal in Italy

The Movement is founded on the idea of participatory democracy, and any future coalition deal with their former bitter rival the PD will be put to a vote on M5S's “Rousseau” online platform.

“Returning to the Rousseau system is going back to the M5S roots and a way to reassure long-term activists that the movement has not been perverted by power and that the grassroots still count, even if they don't count that much anymore,” said De Blasio.

“Especially from a democratic point of view, the fact that 100,000 people — the number of those signed up to Rousseau — will vote in the name of the 10 million Italians who voted M5S in 2018, is questionable,” she said. 

By AFP's Franck Iovene

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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.