‘On the rocks’: Is this the end for Italy’s Five Star Movement?

Italy's Five Star Movement had until recently threatened to upend the political status quo, but today the party is becoming ‘totally irrelevant’, political commentators say.

'On the rocks': Is this the end for Italy's Five Star Movement?
(From L) M5S founder Beppe Grillo, M5S political activist Davide Casaleggio and former party leader Luigi Di Maio in October 2018. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Just three years ago, the then proudly anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) won a stunning 33 percent of the vote in a landmark general election win that propelled it into power.

But it currently has no formal leader, is hopelessly divided and is languishing in the polls after several policy U-turns and broken campaign promises.

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

Meanwhile, the party has lost access to its own online voting system, Rousseau, amid leadership in-fighting.

“They are really on the rocks,” commented Piergiorgio Corbetta, an emeritus professor at the University of Bologna who has written extensively about the rise and fall of the M5S.

The movement remains part of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s ‘national unity’ government and the largest party in parliament.

But between a quarter and a third of its lawmakers have left or have been expelled from its ranks, while it is half as popular as it was in 2018, polling at under 17 percent.

Former premier Giuseppe Conte has been tapped to take over and revive the party, but infighting means his nomination has been blocked.

Five Star’s online voting system, Rousseau, was at the centre of the party’s campaign for “digital democracy”. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

They are now, according to Corbetta, “totally irrelevant” in Draghi’s government, holding just four out of 23 ministerial posts, and politically drifting, with their putative alliance with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) a work in progress.

“I can’t deny that it is a difficult and tense period,” M5S lawmaker Sergio Battelli told AFP. “The movement has evolved, it has changed, it has made some errors… but the M5S is here to stay.”

Neither left nor right

Comedian Beppe Grillo launched the M5S in 2009 with Gianroberto Casaleggio, an internet guru, by organising rallies against Italy’s deep-rooted problems with political corruption.

They swept up voters outraged at the austerity imposed in the wake of the eurozone debt crisis of 2011-12, which pushed Italy to the brink of insolvency, and followed a radical anti-elites, anti-corporate agenda.

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

M5S supporters a poster reading “Renzusconi, you will all go home” showing a photomontage of politicians Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi, who Five Star say are figureheads of a political establishment mired in scandal and corruption. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli AFP

The movement claimed to be neither left- nor right-wing, and vowed never to ally with other political parties.

But they were forced to after the 2018 election, which while historic, left M5S short of a parliamentary majority to govern on its own.

It initially formed a populist, eurosceptic coalition government with the nationalist, anti-immigration far-right League led by Matteo Salvini.

Barely a year later, it switched to a pro-Europe coalition with the PD.

Mirroring that ideological switch, the M5S went from courting an alliance with France’s anti-government “Yellow Vest” movement to seeking ties with French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist LREM party. 

The M5S is now in office with both the League and the PD, as part of the ‘national unity’ government led by Draghi – the former European Central Bank president who saved the euro currency the M5S once reviled.

PROFILE: Who is new Italian prime minister Mario Draghi?

In office, the M5S softened or dropped many of its flagship policies, such as its opposition to high-speed railway projects, which it considered a corruption-prone waste of public money.

But it also scored some results, notably the introduction in 2019 of the reddito di cittadinanza, a form of income support for the unemployed.

Enrico Garitta, a 25-year-old M5S member from Palermo, said the party has effectively grown up.

“Some of the things they were saying, on Europe, for example, were man-on-the-street slogans that didn’t stand up to the realities of governing,” he said.

Former M5S leader Luigi Di Maio (L) and League head Matteo Salvini smile before the swearing in ceremony of their new coalition government  on June 1, 2018. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Even if formally leaderless, the party still has a father figure in Grillo. But he is mired in controversy and accusations of misogyny after publishing a video defending his son Ciro against allegations of gang rape.

Meanwhile, Alessandro Di Battista, once one of its most popular figures,has quit and is rumoured to be considering forming a new party with other rebels, possibly with help of co-founder Casaleggio’s son Davide.

Davide Casaleggio inherited from his father the online platform that formed the M5S’ organisational backbone, and is refusing to hand it over.

The M5S has disowned him, but in the process lost access to its official blog, party membership lists and online voting mechanisms — meaning Conte cannot formally be crowned leader.

Lawmaker Battelli railed against the “mistimed and shameful” episode, adding: “We’re going to have to sort this out in court.”

By AFP’s Alvise Armellini

Member comments

  1. I liked MS5 once but that changed 100% once in government and now i will be pleased to see them vanish forever.

    A completely useless party.

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Who will pay less income tax under Italy’s planned reforms?

Italy is planning an overhaul of the tax system meaning new income tax rates for many - but who will benefit the most, and least?

Who will pay less income tax under Italy's planned reforms?

Italy’s government on Thursday submitted the text of a long-awaited tax reform bill which ministers say will be the first step in a sweeping overhaul of the system planned by 2027

As previously reported by The Local, the bill will introduce a raft of major tax changes aimed at gradually reducing Italy’s notoriously high tax burden and making investment in Italy more appealing. 

The plan includes a substantial change to Italy’s main income tax, Irpef (Imposta sui Redditi delle Persone Fisiche), with the number of  tax brackets dropping from four to three.

READ ALSO: Flat tax for all? Italy announces plan to overhaul tax system

This change is expected to mean a new tax rate for many workers in Italy starting from next year. But who’s going to benefit the most from the changes? 

Here’s what we know at this point. 

Irpef, which applies to all employees, many self-employed workers (regular partita Iva holders, but not those on the flat tax rate) and pensioners, currently counts four brackets, which are arranged as below:

  Income (annual) Irpef rate
First bracket Up to 15,000 euros 23 percent
Second bracket Between 15,000 and 28,000 euros 25 percent
Third bracket Between 28,000 and 15,000 euros 35 percent
Fourth bracket Over 50,000 euros 43 percent

The coming tax reform will reduce the number of tax brackets down to three, with the second and third bands being merged into a single one.

The tax rate for the lowest earners is expected to remain unchanged at 23 percent (for those earning 15,000 euros a year or less).

The tax rate should also stay the same for the highest earners taking home 50,000 euros a year or more, at 43 percent.

But middle earners who are currently in the second or third bracket may end up paying more or less tax – and it’s still unclear exactly what will happen. 

READ ALSO: The tax changes in Italy to know about in 2023

While Thursday’s announcement confirmed the number of tax bands will drop to three, the newly published bill didn’t specify what tax rate the new band would carry nor confirm how rates in other bands would be readjusted. 

However, Meloni’s cabinet is reportedly considering two options. 

First scenario

Under the first, and currently more likely, option, the new middle bracket will mean all taxpayers earning between 28,000 and 50,000 euros a year will pay a 33-percent rate.

Rates for the first and last brackets would remain the same.

This would mean all those who are currently in the second (income between 15,000 and 28,000) and third bands (28,000 to 50,000) would see their tax rate drop by two percent next year and subsequently benefit from sizable cuts to their Irpef payments. 

  Income (annual) Irpef rate
First bracket Up to 28,000 euros 23 percent
Second bracket Between 28,000 and 50,000 euros 33 percent
Third bracket Over 50,000 euros 43 percent

Second scenario

Meloni’s government is also considering a second scenario, with a 27-percent rate for a larger middle band – an option that would be much more costly to the state, and so seems less likely.

This would mean people currently in the second bracket (15,000 to 28,000) will see their tax rate increase by two percent, while those in the third bracket (28,000 to 50,000) would benefit from a whopping eight-percent cut

Rates for the first and last brackets would again remain the same.

  Income (annual) Irpef rate
First bracket Up to 15,000 euros 23 percent
Second bracket Between 15,000 and 50,000 euros 27 percent
Third bracket Over 50,000 euros 43 percent

Which path will the government go down?

While it was hoped that the bill’s text would clarify what rate the new band would carry, there are currently no details as to which option the government intends to go with.

That said, the first option seems to be the more likely one at this point in time, not least because implementing it would reportedly cost state coffers around 6 billion euros, whereas the second option would present the treasury with a 10 billion-euro bill.

Further information over which route the government will ultimately go down should emerge in the coming weeks as the bill goes through parliament. 

And even the possibility that Meloni’s executive might end up adopting an Irpef system other than the two described above cannot be ruled out at this time.