The rise of Matteo Renzi is one of the most significant political events of the year. This chapter analyzes Renzi's leadership of the Partito Democratico (PD), looking at both the internal politics of the party and the party's position within the Italian party system. Within the PD itself, Renzi has brought take-it-or-leave-it proposals to the party executive, which has upset a vocal minority. More broadly, Renzi has moved the party to the center on the left-right scale, while adopting a more expansionary fiscal stance, effectively marginalizing other parties. The chapter concludes that the most serious opposition to Renzi today may come from within his own party.
The Renzi government formed in February 2014 was the youngest cabinet in Italian post-war history. It also had an equal number of male and female ministers—a first in Italian history. This chapter sets the scene by recounting the end of the Letta government before moving on to analyze the formation of the Renzi Cabinet, the competing inter- and intra-party considerations that affected the choice of ministers, and the need to signal technical competence in key economic roles.
1 Fiat announces the 100 percent acquisition of Chrysler.
2 In a letter to the other political leaders, Matteo Renzi, the secretary of the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), presents three proposals for electoral reform: a revamped Mattarellum electoral system, the Spanish system, and Sindaco d’Italia (Mayor of Italy).
4 Offended by a remark made by Renzi, Stefano Fassina (PD) resigns as vice-minister of the economy.
Beyond the Vincolo Esterno
The relationship between Italy and Europe has changed since the 1980s. Where Europe used to provide a constructive external constraint (or vincolo esterno) on domestic Italian politics, now European constraints are less constructive and more problematic. At the same time, Italy has a more important role to play in contributing to European debates. The government headed by Matteo Renzi demonstrated both sides of this change in 2016. Renzi argued that European policies regarding macro-economic policy coordination, financial stability, and international migration did not help Italy. He also insisted that Italian proposals in these policy areas warranted closer European attention. Renzi was not successful in redefining Italy’s role in Europe, but he did win recognition for his efforts. The question is whether the government headed by Paolo Gentiloni will keep pushing in the same direction.
Georg Picot and Arianna Tassinari
Reform of the labor market has long been an important and controversial policy area in Italy, and it was one of Matteo Renzi's core concerns when he took up the leadership of the Democratic Party. This chapter recounts the main changes in Italian labor market policy since the 1990s before discussing the Jobs Act, which started as a highly publicized reform project concentrating on changes to public employment services and unemployment benefits, but which the left strongly challenged when dismissal protection was later weakened.
Chris Hanretty and Stefania Profeti
In the summer of 2010, in an interview given to the newspaper La Repubblica, the then little-known mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, erupted onto the political scene by claiming that it was time for the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) to take a large number of the party’s leading figures to task—or, to use the phrase that would
soon become a battle cry, to “bulldoze” (rottamare) them from the picture. The interview was considered by many in the party to be arrogant and excessively self-aggrandizing—or at least incautious. Yet from that moment on, and probably thanks to this message, Renzi has been able to capture to an ever-greater degree the dissatisfaction and frustrations of a large number of center-left activists and sympathizers, while attracting the curiosity of a large number of Italians of all political persuasions.
Maurizio Carbone and Simona Piattoni
In 2015, Matteo Renzi’s government continued to elicit contrasting reactions while dealing with both internal and external constraints. Some say it passed crucial reforms for economic development in fields such as the labor market, the banking system, education, and public administration, in addition to passing a new electoral law. However, others criticize the substance and, even more, the way reforms were passed by constructing variable parliamentary majorities according to the vote at hand, thus avoiding the need to build consensual decision-making relationships with interest groups and further centralizing power in the office of the prime minister. Be that as it may, the government was able to impose its own agenda in domestic affairs. Although the success of the 2015 Universal Exposition in Milan helped to bolster the image of the country, Italy continued to play a marginal role in key international areas, such as migration, European austerity policies, and the fight against terrorism.
Between Stasis and New Opportunities
Under Matteo Salvini’s leadership, the Northern League has sought to move away from its status of regionalist party to become a truly national (even nationalist) party, following the example of the National Front in France. For the new leader, the issues of federalism and devolution seem to play a less relevant role than opposition to the European Union and, more generally, to the so-called political establishment. This chapter shows that 2016 has been a transition year for the party. After two years of significant electoral expansion, the 2016 local elections seemed to mark a moment of stagnation. Salvini’s popularity ceased to grow and even started to decline. This posed some challenges to his right-wing populist project. Yet the concluding section of the chapter highlights the new political opportunities arising from Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election and from Renzi’s constitutional referendum defeat at the end of 2016.
James L. Newell
Gauging the effectiveness with which the challenge of the Five Star Movement (M5S) has been met by other parties, especially the Democratic Party (PD), is essential to understanding the evolution of both the M5S itself and the party system. In the case of the PD, the first strategy—attempting to co-opt the M5S—was partially successful in that its overtures to the M5S opened up significant internal divisions in Beppe Grillo's party. The second strategy—competing for votes—was more successful thanks to the superiority of the PD's organization on the ground. The third—diminishing the challenger's political resources—met with mixed success. The events surrounding the 2 October confidence motion and the election of Matteo Renzi as prime minister suggest that the fourth strategy—reinforcement of the party's own political resources—was deployed to good effect. The overall result was to contain the M5S's growth but leave the future uncertain.
The success of the Five Star Movement, with its anti-political and populist challenge to the establishment, did not lead to multipolar competition. Rather, it furthered a moderate bipolar party system dynamic between the center-left and center-right. Although it lost millions of votes, the center-right fared relatively well, allowing Silvio Berlusconi to regain a relevant position in the party-political game. Although stripped of his seat and expelled from the Chamber following a tax fraud conviction, Berlusconi realized, thanks also to the election of centrist Matteo Renzi as the new secretary of the Democratic Party (PD), that it would suit him better to moderate his claims. This new development may lead to an unexpected alliance between the PD and Berlusconi's revived personal party, Forza Italia, and may perhaps result in regaining the electorate lost to the M5S.