As the populist Five Star Movement takes power in Rome and Turin, is it time to worry about Italy again?

Rome's new mayor defeated the candidate of the Prime Minister's centre-left party (Source: Getty)

Dr Edoardo Bressanelli, lecturer in European politics at King’s College London, says Yes.

While it’s true that these elections were only mid-term local elections, where parties in government lose support and local factors play an important role (like corruption scandals in Rome), they represented a clear defeat for the centre-left Democrats and leader Prime Minister Matteo Renzi particularly. With his assertive leadership style and reform agenda, Renzi has united all opposition against him. When the Five Star Movement and the Democrats were competing for the mayor, a very heterogeneous coalition – from the right wing Northern League to the extreme left – converged on supporting the candidate of the Five Stars. In October, Italians should vote in a referendum on constitutional reform. These local elections have provided a resounding warning for the Prime Minister, since he has personally linked his permanence in office with the referendum’s outcome. Could the anti-establishment and eurosceptic “movement” govern Italy? After the weekend's elections, that outcome is not as remote as it was before.

Denis MacShane, former minister for Europe, author of Let’s Stay Together: Why Yes to Europe, and a senior adviser at Avisa Partners, Brussels, says No.

Italy has always been a spaghetti of politics with intertwining parties, personalities, populism and pontiffs. Don’t forget that it had Europe’s longest running political populist party in the form of the PCI – the Italian communist party – which actually ran cities like Bologna rather well and worked hard at keeping full-on extremism at bay. Beppe Grillo’s Five Star party is, to put it mildly, incoherent, and the newly elected mayor of Rome says she will not support the eternal city’s bid for the 2024 Olympics – which may not go down too well in the city that invented the Coliseum for games, races and circuses to please its restless people. For six centuries Italian bureaucracy has been impenetrable. Yet many bits of the Italian economy are world class, and Italy has good universities and a lively media which survived Berlusconi. Now the Five Star populists have to show they can deliver – not just protest about red tape and inefficiency. Good luck to them.

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