Italy Analysis: Rome, Not Europe, Makes or Breaks the Five Star Movement


PHOTO: The Five Star Movement’s Beppe Grillo (right) with the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage

On 9 January, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe rejected a request from Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) to join the group in the European Parliament.

The University of Birmingham’s Daniele Albertazzi evaluates the significance for the LSE’s EUROPP site: he assesses that, while the incident is embarrassing for the Five Star Movement at the European level, the party’s priority will be maintaining its anti-establishment appeal among Italian voters:

The failed attempt of the leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S), Beppe Grillo, failed attempt to leave Nigel Farage’s group in the European Parliament (the EFDD) and join the Liberals of ALDE took everyone by surprise. This includes the M5S’s own MPs, who had not been consulted on the move. After all, as the media have reminded us for months, the M5S wants to call a referendum on Italy’s membership of the Euro, while ALDE is among the most Europhile groups in the EP. In the end, it was a rebellion by ALDE’s own MEPs that put an end to the attempt, despite M5S members approving the move by a large margin in an online vote.

There is no denying that this whole saga has left the Five Star Movement out in the cold looking directionless. Somewhat unconvincingly, it blamed the “establishment” for what had happened.

The attempt to join ALDE appears to have been driven by Grillo’s willingness to retain influence and the many benefits (including financial ones) that are part and parcel of belonging to a group in the European Parliament (EP), given that the EFDD may soon reach the end of the road. The UK is about to lose its representation in the European Parliament following Brexit, and that will include the UK Independence Party’s MEPs. Having been rejected by the Greens, the M5S tried to find a new home within ALDE.

One should not read too much into Grillo’s decision, however, nor overestimate its consequences. It is very unlikely that this move was meant to signal a change of direction for Grillo’s party, and push it towards more “moderate” and Europhile positions — something ALDE’s MEPs appear to have grasped.

Few voters in Italy know which European Parliament group their party belongs to; on the other hand, however, and more importantly, the evidence shows that there is still some huge political space in the country for anti-establishment, anti-corruption parties attacking the “casta” (that is, the political elite). Trust in political parties and institutions such as the government, which has always been low, is at rock bottom, and the governing Democratic Party needs to find a new purpose after Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s recent resignation.

The ideology of Grillo’s party has always been a collage of ideas from both left and right: the eclecticism shown in recent days is anything but new. Those within the party see this as its main strength, and indeed proof that the M5S has positioned itself beyond, or perhaps above, what are regarded by many as the outdated categories of left and right.

Grillo has certainly been creative in mixing the defence of small businesses, protectionism and harsh words on illegal immigration – all meant to please his right-wing supporters – with the environmentalism and calls for direct democracy that appeal to the left. But what has kept the various M5S factions together, at least so far, have been the attacks against the casta, and the call for traditional parties to be swept away by a bottom-up revolution, facilitated by the internet.

Unfortunately for the M5S, however, these calls to “clean-up politics” have started to ring increasingly hollow in recent months, following developments in Rome. Having won the mayoralty of the city — together with Turin and other smaller cities — following the local elections of June 2016, the M5S spent the following six months looking clueless as to what to do in power, and has been beset by a series of scandals and investigations. These have forced several people within the party’s governing team to resign amidst accusations of corruption, with some even being arrested.


The Mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi

Arguably, this is the really important issue the M5S needs to address, and quickly. Entertaining as recent events have certainly been, what EP group Grillo’s party belongs to is a side-show for voters, and it is not going to be at the top of their agenda for very long.

It is, of course, always challenging for a radical populist party to move from opposition into government; however, what a party like the M5S cannot afford to do is to lose the only glue that has kept it together so far: its “purity”. For a populist party in government – whether at the national or the local level – to start resembling the mainstream parties that it has spent years attacking and accusing of incompetence and corruption is tantamount to writing a suicide note.

In other words, for all the inconsistencies, lack of coherence and ideological “creativity” which the M5S has got us accustomed to, what cannot change is the party’s anti-establishment nature. The M5S will be judged by the electorate on the basis of how it performs in local government, not only in Rome, but also in Turin and other smaller cities. While it can make a fool of itself in Strasbourg, it simply cannot afford to fail in Italy’s capital.

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      • Looks like if the great history of rome including the concert at 2014 doesn`t help the fearsome populists
        of M5S to get back at least some brain during the last months.
        But most beautiful women in south Europe Virginia Raggi could not have imagined how short her political honeymoon would be. Less than three months into her tenure, Raggi has faced the resignations of four top officials, an ongoing scandal about the sanitation chief she chose to clean up the city, and accusations of being a hapless tool of party leaders.
        resumen: Even breathtaking beauty given by the gods that always stood by Italy is no longer enough when right-wing populists confuse the heads of the Italians. Sad story – but there is light at the end of the tunnel.
        If Italians makes the expierience that right wing populism makes ugly,very old and
        nastily there could be a good chance that Italiens will throw right wing populism into the garbidge.

        • M5S is a a fucking joke. Italy under their rule would end up like greece. M5S is a bunch of idiots with no political background and no clue how to run a city (Rome) let alone a whole country with tons of problems.

  1. Britain is in the early stages of an unfolding catastrophe that is going to transform the country into an unpleasant, illiberal and inward-looking island. The US, now set to follow suit under Trump, can only make matters worse.
    Sunday times said that Trump is planning for a journey to Moscaow but Theresa May having fears
    leak of its secrets to Moscow,
    The English are experiencing their own version of Trumpish triumphalism. In english case, too, the answer to every hard question is a brute proclamation of power. Are you seriously going to take us out of the single market? Leave won. And the customs union? Leave won. What about EU citizens here? Leave won. And British citizens there? Leave won.
    At Europe was self-evident 8 months ago . You cannot abuse women and ethnic minorities. You cannot lie in your every second utterance. If you do, the media and public will expose and destroy you.
    But now the whole brain is gone and nazi madness is starting again?
    And now Theresa May together with the trinity of madmess (Johnson, Davis & Leadsome are sitting between a rock and a hard place. European Union has no other possibility to leave the former british Union (british Union was yesterday, next referendum at scotland is on the way and at northern Ireland lwe will see what happens to trouble)
    = .
    Scott, stories are needed to fight the madness. Or should we take weapens to start fighting underground? Great Britain is on the way to jump from the cliff and the british government have fears of leaks to Moscow.
    Do you kow the telephone number of Guy Fawkes or what shall we do with the drunken politicians of madness driving the british Union to it`s bitter end?

    • A genuine democrat would celebrate rather than mourn the passing of the ‘British Union’ imposed by war and continued structural violence upon other nations by the violent English racists. Apart from that long-overdue correction, it is a healthy piece of Vergangenheitsbewältigung for the English themselves which may assist them in finally getting over their traditional imperialist neuroses about being appointed by $deity to parasitically domineer and exploit others. Freed of such crippling delusions perhaps they can learn to work hard and live frugally, being happy minding their own business like any normal people instead of starting wars all around the world.
      See here for a comprehensive look at the ‘British disease’ now hopefully being cured by the natural disintegration of the always comically misnamed ‘United Kingdom’:

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