Open Europe’s Mats Persson, writing in the Daily Telegraph:
According to internal opinion polls carried out by centre-Left parties, seen by Il Corriere della Sera, the Five Star Movement led by anti-euro comedian-cum-politician Beppe Grillo could become the second-largest party in the 24-25 February Italian elections…Like all populist politicians, Grillo’s star could fade quickly, and he may end up getting far fewer votes than expected. It’s also true that Europe isn’t top of the Five Star Movement’s list of priorities. But as my colleague Vincenzo Scarpetta – who’s all over these elections – has pointed out, Grillo is definitely toying with the idea of Italy ditching the euro, and believes the country should hold a referendum on its euro membership, saying stuff like this:
“In order to remain in the euro, we are starving the country…If we had the lira, we could solve our debt problem through a devaluation of our currency.”
This is getting frightfully complicated. Silvio Berlusconi (they say he’s back, but the truth is, he never went away) and Grillo could well be competing for the second place in the Italian elections, behind the centre-Left Democratic Party. Both are uber-populist, but in many ways, also each other’s antithesis – one representing the old sclerotic system, the other a new, impulsive future. But both are strongly anti-austerity and hugely unpredictable – and scare the bejesus out of Brussels and Berlin. The big question is whether Mario Monti’s centrist bloc – seen as the great hope in Europe – will win enough seats to be the kingmaker in the Italian Senate.
A week or two back the FT provided a little background on some of Grillo’s supporters:
A detailed survey of nearly 2,000 Facebook fans of Mr Grillo, who has more than 1m “likes”, shows that only 8 per cent trust the government, 3 per cent trust political parties, and 2 per cent trust banks and financial institutions – lower on every measure than the Italian general public. The same is true of the mainstream Italian media, which Grillo regularly rails against, with only 11 per cent trusting the press and 4 per cent television, which is dominated by the state broadcaster and Mr Berlusconi’s Mediaset network. Analysts Fabio Bordignon and Luigi Ceccarini, cited by Demos, found that 32 per cent of Five Star Movement voters define themselves as centre-left or left, and 28 per cent as centre-right or right. Demos says the rise in the movement’s popularity is unparalleled for a new movement in western Europe.
“The combination of his charismatic anti-establishment rhetoric and the power of new social media to reach out to audiences beyond the confines of more traditional media has proved a lethal cocktail, and leaves him a force to be reckoned with,” concludes Jamie Bartlett, an author of the report.
“The one thing I am certain of is that the political class is finished. They have liquefied in political diarrhea. There is nothing left… nothing.”
Readers will remember that the euro was, the Brussels oligarchs liked to proclaim, essential to assure political stabilityin the lands of the EU (as opposed, I presume, to the chaos that was—who knew— such a feature of the 1990s). Instead what we’ve seen are tumbling governments and, throughout the euro zone (from Finland to France to Greece to Germany to Ireland to the Netherlands to Spain) a series of populist eruptions including Grillo’s, a movement that sprung out of 2007′s “V-Day” protests against Italy’s rancid status quo (the V stood for vaffanculo, a phrase untranslatable on a respectable website but useful enough as an expression of inchoate rage). As I mentioned last year:
These demonstrations predated the eurozone’s meltdown (if not the euro’s steadily corrosive effect on the Italian economy), but have since been reinforced by it.
And so they have.