Bologna – As of this week, Matteo Renzi is Italy’s third prime minister in a year. He follows Mario Monti (November 2011-April 2013) and Enrico Letta (April 2013-February 2014). At 39, Renzi is absurdly young by Italian standards, where in politics one’s sixties are seen as an apprenticeship period and one’s seventies are the time of full flowering. Renzi is full of reformist plans, as were his predecessors. He has had no national governing experience, but neither did Silvio Berlusconi when he came to the prime minister’s office in 1994.
The new thing about Renzi, nicknamed the rottamatore — the wrecker — is how he wants to change the ways of doing politics, business and administration in Italy. Another, even newer thing, is that so do his competitors.
There is no viable political force in Italy today that is politically conservative. Each of the leaders of the three major political groups says he wants to overturn the settled order. Each excoriates much of what has been the way of doing politics for much of the post-war period and proposes a leap into a new era.
The most remarkable of these leaders is the never-to-be-dismissed Berlusconi. Judged guilty last summer of fraud, sentenced to a year of community work and a six-year ban from parliament, he remains leader of his party, now re-named Forza Italia. And he is still the main force on the right with 67 deputies in each of the two houses of parliament. It seems likely that he will play the card that will most embarrass Renzi: euroskepticism.
Euroskepticism — a distrust in the European Union — has in the past two years soared in EU countries (it has always been high in the UK). In 2007, just before the financial crash, a little more than a quarter of Italians said they didn’t trust the EU. In a Euronews poll last summer that number grew to more than half (53 percent). For months, the newspapers of the right that support Berlusconi and Forza Italia — led by Il Giornale, owned by the Berlusconi family — have portrayed the EU as a malign institution and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a demonic force. Merkel had reportedly conspired with President Giorgio Napolitano to remove Berlusconi from power, so frustrated was she by his refusal to initiate reforms.