Five Star and En Marche are not even close

febbraio 13, 2018

Pubblicato In: Giornali

Sir, According to Bill Emmott (“Five Star struggles to be Italy’s agent of change”, February 9), the Five Star Movement is the Italian En Marche. It might be appropriate to recall some of its proposals for the upcoming election.

It wants to repeal the Fornero pension reform, which in 2011 saved Italy, then on the brink of bankruptcy, and reduce the age of retirement; to abolish mandatory vaccination of children; to allow the deficit to rise above 3 per cent of gross domestic product and to abolish commitment to a balanced budget (a constitutional mandate which has never been obeyed). On public debt its “theory” is that it is a macroeconomic problem only because it is denominated in euros: it therefore proposes to redenominate it in lire, placing the Bank of Italy once more under the control of the Treasury, obliging it to buy the debt that would not be financed by the market.

If these policies resemble those of Emmanuel Macron’s movement, your previous reporting on French politics seems less than accurate.

Five Star struggles to be Italy’s agent of change

di Bill Emmott, 8 Febbraio 2018

It is a sign of Silvio Berlusconi’s Trump-like talent that the wily 81-year-old has got everyone talking about him in the campaign for Italy’s general election on March 4, even when his party is running a distant third in the polls. The party that should really be the centre of attention is the frontrunner, the Five Star Movement. For it, not Mr Berlusconi, is both the country’s true hope and its greatest despair.

Five years ago, when Italy held its last general election, two forces emerged proposing radical change, both from outside the mainstream. One was the young mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, who a year later stabbed his Democratic party colleague, Enrico Letta, in the back and took over as prime minister despite never having been elected to national office. The other was Five Star, which grabbed more than 25 per cent of the votes despite having been born only four years earlier and being led by a comedian, Beppe Grillo, who wasn’t even running for parliament.

Mr Renzi, like Nicolas Sarkozy when he was elected French president in 2007, promised a rupture with the old ways of politics that he struggled to deliver. After less than three years in office he crashed and burnt, losing a referendum on constitutional change on which he had unwisely bet his future.

With Mr Renzi’s centre-left Democratic party split and slipping in the polls, 11 per cent of the workforce unemployed, youth unemployment stuck at nearly 33 per cent and economic growth under-performing the rest of the eurozone, the way should now be clear for the other reforming force to sweep into power.

If Mr Renzi resembles Mr Sarkozy, the party the Five Star Movement resembles most is Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche. It too draws support and membership from both left and right, young and old and, crucially for Italy, north and south. Like En Marche, its activists and voters are mainly middle class. Now it has dropped Mr Grillo’s former insistence on an (unconstitutional) referendum on Italy’s euro membership, it even looks potentially constructive in European terms.

Moreover, let there be no doubt: Italy needs change. Burdened by a public debt of over 130 per cent of gross domestic product, inherited from the profligate 1980s but worsened by economic stagnation over the past 20 years, the country went backwards during the eight years Mr Berlusconi served as prime minister in 2001-06 and 2008-11. The old vice of corruption revived, the justice system worsened and no significant reforms were even attempted by his governments.

Five Star is the party that should be offering a new future, and the nearly 30 per cent of the electorate backing it are surely hoping for one. The trouble is it needs 40 per cent to form a government. The reason it does not look like getting it is that although it is Italy’s En Marche, it lacks a Macron.

It is not just a matter of a person, although Five Star’s 31-year-old candidate for the prime ministership, Luigi Di Maio, plainly lacks Mr Macron’s experience, expertise and savoir faire, and is being populist on the issue of trans-Mediterranean migration, putting off centrist voters. It is that the party lacks any cohesive team that looks like a credible government in waiting. This is the fault of Mr Grillo and his insistence on running the party through a fake online democracy, with candidates chosen by handfuls of voters.

With less than four weeks to go, there is scarcely time to make up for this. Announcing a potential cabinet, including a candidate for the crucial post of finance minister, could help. If the only viable government after March 4 proves to be a grand coalition for which Mr Berlusconi acts as kingmaker, Five Star will have just itself to blame. It will have failed its change-hungry voters and it will have failed Italy.

The writer is author of ‘The Fate of the West’.

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