Can Europe Make It?

Populist snapshots: Movimento 5 Stelle (Italy)

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This excerpt is taken from the encounter between Beppe Grillo and Matteo Renzi on 19 February. Commentary follows.


Matteo Renzi Beppe Grillo Giulio Carini
9 April 2014

This article looks at the populist rhetoric of Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) in discussing Europe, a populist party with starkly different views to others in our series.

M5S is an Italian party launched by the comedian Beppe Grillo in 2009. The anti-establishment party is known for its criticism of ruling elites and its anti-austerity stance. Following its extraordinary performance in national elections, where it won a quarter of the vote, the party is expected to win a significant number of seats in the European Parliament. Ahead of the elections, the party posted its seven points for Europe, which include proposing a referendum to decide if Italy should stay in the Euro. M5S is not currently represented in the European Parliament, so here we focus on how it has debated Europe in the past.

The debate

Before officially becoming Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi of the Italian Democratic Party held government formation consultations with leaders of Italy’s major parties, including Beppe Grillo of M5S on February 19, 2014. While Grillo did not want to go to the meeting, he attended after his supporters – in an online poll on Grillo’s blog – voted that he should meet Renzi. The meeting was streamed live via the Internet.

Matteo Renzi (party: Italian Democratic Party):


We’re not asking you for votes of confidence or otherwise. We want to tell you what we aim to do in the next four months. We have the European term in July [referring to Italy’s upcoming presidency
of the EU in July 2014]. In the European term in July, our goal is to arrive there to talk about a different Europe – I don’t think we think about it in the same way – but we also want to change the idea of Europe and to do this having fixed our problems at home, having done our homework at home... 


Beppe Grillo (party: Movimento 5 Stelle):   I did not come here to talk about policies. We are your natural opponents... You want to reduce our sovereignty, we want to protect it. You talk about Europe, but Europe needs to change. You have to change Europe first in order to change Italy. You are not a credible person, so anything you say is not credible.


After Grillo interrupts Renzi on several occasions...

Renzi:  Can I speak now?


Grillo:   No, I will not let you talk. I came here to show you my and our complete indignation for what you represent, the system that you represent. We are not interested... You are no longer credible because you are a pawn of business elites such as De Benedetti,12 people who have destroyed this country... I’ll give you one minute, we don’t have time for you. I am not democratic for you.


Renzi attempts to engage Grillo in a discussion about how to reform Europe, especially given that Italy will hold the next presidency of the EU in July 2014. In the debate, Renzi acknowledges that Italy must provide reassurances to the EU that it can deal with its economic woes at home.[1] Grillo refuses to engage with Renzi, branding Renzi as not credible and positioning M5S as the “natural opponents” to Renzi’s established form of politics. He also places his party on the side of “the common people” when he mentions that his party wants to change Europe to protect popular sovereignty, while Renzi caters to Europe and wants to take power away from ordinary Italians. Without letting Renzi speak, Grillo repeatedly identifies Renzi as a pawn of the elite, whom he claims are the reason for Italy’s economic woes. He tells Renzi that he has contempt for everything he represents, doesn’t have time for him, and does not want to be “democratic with [him]”. 

[1] This is in contrast to Renzi’s statement on March 6, 2014 when he said: “Stop the homework from the EU, Italy knows what to do and will do it alone.” ‘Renzi: “No compiti Ue, sappiamo cosa fare” Padoan: crescita, non servono alter manovreLa Repubblica, March 6, 2014.

For the full Counterpoint feature in the series on populist rhetoric leading up to the European elections, including recommendations for how to respond to populist rhetoric, please see here.

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