Can Europe Make It?

Two parliamentarians resign in Rome – a story of vision, disillusion and intellectual honesty

The recent resignation of a senator and a deputy from the Five Star Movement highlights the party's increasing descent into the very politics it criticises.

Alessio Colonnelli
30 December 2014
grillo.jpg

Beppe Grillo - leader of the Five Star Movement. Flickr/pasere. Some rights reserved.

A senator and a deputy have resigned from Rome’s parliament on 22 December. Both from the same relatively young party, the Five Star Movement (M5S). They are mother and son: Ivana Simeoni and Cristian Iannuzzi.

They’ve both had enough of  M5S’ ideological leaders’ line of conduct, that of Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio: these two like lording it over the Movement, apparently. Too dictatorial, they say. No dissenting voices permitted; not even constructive counterviews.

It brings to mind two recent controversies: one sparked by the beppegrillo.it website, the heart of M5S, not just a digital platform: was it really Mussolini who wanted Matteotti dead? The other involved Beppe Grillo directly, as he maintained that “the Mafia used to have morals, then it got corrupted by the financial markets.” Insinuations that have upset many in Italy, and possibly Iannuzzi and Simeoni too.

As the Italian journalist Marco Travaglio pointed out on his blog on ilfattoquotidiano.it, M5S is still the great firebrand we all know, but it’s so wrapped up in its one-dimensional crusade against the Establishment, “it’s forgotten to publicize the good work its parliamentarians are doing in Rome.”

Tellingly, Iannuzzi claimed from his Twitter account that he’s given up his parliamentary seat because “personal tenets and respect for rules” count for more than anything else. An ethically sound statement.

It was Iannuzzi, more than his mother, who vocalized his outrage about how M5S is run by the duo Grillo & Casaleggio. Some parliamentary colleagues have thus far been unjustifiably expelled from the Movement by its leaders; others have left of their own initiative and by December 17 the number who have departed totals 23. Iannuzzi says M5S isn’t the same as it’d been portrayed by Grillo during his rallies across Italy in the run up to the 2013 general election.

From his Facebook page, the now former deputy hits back at the M5S: “We believe in exiting the euro via a referendum. That’s pie in the sky. We talk to people mainly by means of sound-bites and decide what policy to draft thinking of what consensus it might obtain. We’ve become worse than the very old-school parties we criticise.”

Worse than the corrupt and nepotistic establishment that M5S wants to challenge and bring down once and for all. M5S appears ever more quixotic; a movement that’s lost sight of pragmatism; that’s been overwhelmed by its own visions.

This is all the more dramatic after its astounding start: 25% of the votes in the last general election, resulting in 109 deputies and 54 senators. M5S could’ve easily run the country in a coalition government; it didn’t want to share power with anyone, and is now inexorably, relentlessly, bit by bit, falling apart. A fine example of how to squander talent and lose momentum. Inspirational politics going backwards – rolling back, that is. Masochism is not the word.

Senator Simeoni claimed on her Facebook profile she hopes that the 84,000 euros she’s given back to the state can be a small sign of civilization in Italy – a country battered by corruption, embezzlement of money and misuse of public funds.

M5S members of parliament have indeed made a point in returning half of their salary. A principle very much high up on their manifesto’s intents. An amazing pledge that sounds even harder to implement nowadays. With parliamentarians in Europe generally looking to earn more – in spite of austerity –, the choice of giving back half of what is owed you by law is no small feat.

One is left wondering whether journalist Owen Jones’ commentaries about British MPs could also be applied to Italian representatives. In his latest book The Establishment – And how they get away with it (2014), Jones points out that “MPs have become corporate politicians, envious of the hyper-wealthy elite they helped to create, frustrated at missing out on the spoils of their own policies. It is hardly stretching a point to say that many MPs now see their role not as a vocation, a duty or a service – but, rather, as just another upper-middle-class career option that is not being remunerated as well as other comparable professions.”

In Italy, a land mired in scandals like the alleged involvement of the state in a series of halfway-house deals with Cosa Nostra, corruption on a massive scale – see the 2014 episodes of Venice (Mose), Milan (Expo 2015) and Rome (Mafia Capitale) – and tax evading of humongous proportions (partly explaining why Italy’s 2013 public debt is nearly 130% of GDP), the 2009 British outcry against several MPs who’d been found misuseing their parliamentary expenses would make people smile at best, or cynically shrug their shoulders, at worst: pretty bad, sure, and yet trifles in comparison with Italian public officers’ misbehaviour, most would think.

Italians are a seemingly resigned people. Recently in Emilia-Romagna, a large region in the North where politics has always played a big role in society, turnout at the regional elections was dramatically low – less than 40%. Unheard of.

Simeoni and Iannuzzi are only to be admired. Firstly, they placed all their genuine hopes for better politics in a new party that’s at some point reinvented progressiveness without knowing it, above any old logic of left and right.

Secondly, mother and son regularly paid back to the state half of their legitimate salary as members of parliament – never thinking for a minute of debating a stipend increase like political representatives invariably tend to do.

Thirdly, having realized they couldn’t politically get anywhere near what they thought they could achieve with M5S, a movement that’s been arbitrarily hijacked by a pair of gentlemen who don’t sit in parliament and dictate what can be said and where, they simply resigned. 

How logical, and how respectful. Simeoni and Iannuzzi have reminded us that honest, passionate and non-mercenary politicians do exist and firmly reject the infamous caste.

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