Autor: Robert Franěk (Institut mezinárodních studií FSV UK)
Ilustrace: Tereza Basařová
The Italian politics could be characterized as really unstable since the end of the second world war. Matteo Renzi is the 62nd prime minister in more than 68 years since the end of World War II. He is also the third prime minister in a row who did not win the elections, but was appointed by president Giorgio Napolitano. In this essay I would like to argue if he is the one who can really succeed.
Matteo Renzi, 39, has become the youngest prime minister of Italy in its modern history, even younger than Benito Mussolini, when he came to office in 1924. Renzi took the office by ousting his predecessor Enrico Letta, some consider this change a coup. Since 2009 Renzi was mayor of Florence, his hometown, where he became very popular. Partially it was thanks to his style of communication with the public and bold use of social media that some compare to to Barrack Obama or Tony Blair.
His most important task will be fighting the Italian economic crisis. Italy, the third largest economy in Eurozone, recorded the longest recession since the World War II. It had been in red numbers for more than two years, slightly positive growth came only in the last quarter of 2013. However, since the beginning of the 21st century the Italian economic growth equals approximately to zero. It appears to be a unique phenomenon if we consider the fact that even recession-hit Spanish economy is 18% bigger than it was in 2000.
Another problem that Renzi has to face is the debt. Italy is the second largest debtor in Eurozone (Greece is the first) owing about 130 % of its annual GDP. Renzi will be probably trying to recover the economy instead of employing austerity measures, however, it seems he could have problems to reach 3% budget deficit as required by the European Union (in 2013, Italian deficit was exactly 3%). Another problem of Italian economy is the unemployment. Generally it reaches around 13%, but among young people it is almost 40% thus possibly creating a lost generation.
Mr Renzi´s reforms are believed to be focused on growth, job creation and encouraging consumption. He already announced cutting income taxes on workers. Cheaper labour will probably help, but it is yet unclear, where he wants to gain resources for financing it. Renzi also intends to make the labour market more flexible by creating more part-time jobs and simplifying dismissals (almost impossible now because of unions). He plans to earn money by cutting spendings of government, but one can hardly believe it will be enough. To satisfy public demand, he put 170 state luxury cars on eBay as a fresh start.
Why Might He Succeed?
Matteo Renzi is a young and dynamic politician. He considers himself to be very ambitious. He had already proved it by ousting Prime Minister Enrico Letta even though Renzi had limited political experience. However, since becoming mayor of Florence, Renzi enjoyed the first places in popularity polls. Especially youth is fond of Renzi for his youthful political style and openness towards public. Renzi is considered to be the last hope for them since he promised to fight unemployment of Italian youth.
Renzi is regarded to be a social media master. His everyday use of Twitter brings him plus points across the country. Moreover, Renzi enjoys giving interviews and participating in political talkshows. His face is so often on the TV screen that Italian press is talking about the “occupy TV” strategy. According to La Stampa newspaper, Renzi´s appearance on TV in the second half of March was close to 70 hours. That makes it almost 5 hours a day of his speeches and news about him. Someone could call it propaganda, but if you are not able to “sell” your success, you are nothing in the politics.
The main reason why Renzi might succeed is his ambitious agenda. It is of course unrealistic in the pace how to get things done but generally it is a good way to start. Immediately upon his approval as the prime minister, Renzi declared the 100-days plan of reforms. In February he planned to move ahead with some constitutional changes (strengthening the power of central government, changing the role of the senate etc.) and reforms of the electoral law and the labour market would follow in March. In April he wanted to tackle public administration (one sarcastic Italian joke says he does not need a minister for administration but against it) and in May a reform of the tax system would follow for it needs to be simplified and unified. The critics say it is impossible to finish this all in 3 months as I the reforms has been needed in last 30 years. Nevertheless, Renzi seems to be really confident in his plan.
Renzi started with the electoral reform, which was considered to be the easiest step. Renzi reached an accord with Silvio Berlusconi´s Forza Italia in order to ensure safe majority for passing the bill. The new law is aimed at ensuring more stable governments. The law sets higher threshold for entering the parliament (5% instead of 3%), which should reduce the number of small parties and also be beneficial to big parties. If they had more than 37.5% in the elections, they would ensure 55% majority of seats. The electoral reform is connected to possible constitutional changes, because Renzi wants to reduce the power of the Senate, which has now the same powers as the Lower House. But this reform, as well as other reformers, are still in negotiation, so it seems to be clear that Renzi´s 100-days plan will not be finished in time. Nevertheless, he seems to “have a vision”, which is, in my opinion, crucial in politics and especially in Italy where people are fond of strong leaders.
Why Might He Not Succeed?
On the other hand, Renzi’s flaw is his lack of political experience. Serving as mayor of Florence is far from being a politician on the top national level. He has never been a member of parliament and the law even do not allow him to become a member of Senate, because it requires minimum age of 40. Moreover, he is quite unknown person for European politicians he needs to cooperate with, so it is necessary for him to create respected position swiftly.
Renzi is nicknamed “Il Rottamatore” (Demolition Man) for often he declares his intention to destroy the political establishment in Italy. His popularity amongst ordinary people does not simply mean, that he is that popular compared to other politicians. It is quite difficult to imagine current senators to vote for their own dismissal, as Renzi intends. According to his own words he was confident they would take “extraordinary opportunity” to stand on the right side of history. He is dependent on the same political majority as his predecessor, which makes him vulnerable to another coup. The ousted ex-prime minister Enrico Letta has become Renzi´s opposition in his own party and it is broadly known that their relationship is far from being the ideal one.
The biggest enemy of young prime minister is current economical situation in Italy. And time is not on his side. If his reforms do not bring signs of recovery briefly, he will lose much of his popularity and strong position he currently enjoys. He has to tackle the problem of youth unemployment immediately, but suffers from lack of sources. Money is needed for creating the jobs, but Italy is under constant pressure from Brussels to stay within the 3% deficit of GDP.
Renzi will have really difficult time as the prime minister. He declares, that if he succeeds with reforms, he wants to stay in office until the regular elections in 2018. But Italy has one of the most fragile political systems in the world. Thus, according to Italian past, Renzi’s plan seems to be rather a wishful thinking. He has to be aware of Silvio Berlusconi, his contemporary ally, who has already proved his volatility in the past and if he saw the chance to seize the power once again, he would certainly grab it.
Renzi’s key to success are, of course, the promised reforms. The Prime Minister quickly initiated the electoral reform, but it was only the first step out of many. However, now it seems to be more and more evident that his 100-days plan cannot be done in time let alone be fulfilled. He came out with the plan because of the European elections held in the end of May, which are considered to be first test of his government. Until that time, he wants to proceed with constitutional changes and submit them to the first reading in the Lower House.
Another problem Renzi could face is his relatively young (the average age of 48), gender-equal government, which is underestimated by the press. Italy is considered to be the most male-dominated and gerontocratic country in Europe. The best example is 88 years old president Giorgio Napolitano, who was reelected last year for another 7-year term. We could possibly witness clash of generations in Italian politics. Main conflict could no longer be left x right division, but conservatives against innovators. This is all is now in the hands of Matteo Renzi.
8) http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-26887194 (k 20.4.2014)
10) http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-25265945 (k 20.4.2014)
11) http://www.bbc.com/news/business-26266118 (k 20.4.2014)