European Parliament, Local Elections Boost for Italy’s Renzi

The Italian prime minister wins a strong mandate to continue his economic and political reforms in two elections.

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers questions from reporters after a G7 summit in Brussels, June 5
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers questions from reporters after a G7 summit in Brussels, June 5 (Palazzo Chigi)

Recent European Parliament and local elections were a boost for Italy’s Matteo Renzo, the leftist prime minister who came to power in February.

Despite gains for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement in a number of cities, including Livorno, where the left had governed virtually unchallenged since the end of World War II, Renzi’s Partito Democratico took control of well over half of the 139 cities and towns that held elections on Sunday.

A bribery scandal in Venice, where the left’s mayor was placed under house arrest, possibly dented the results for the ruling party after its triumph in last month’s European Parliament elections but the two electoral performances still underlined a turnaround in the party’s fortunes since Renzi maneuvered Enrico Letta out of office earlier this year.

The Democrats won almost 41 percent support in the European election, up from 25 percent in last year’s parliamentary vote.

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia placed behind the Five Star Movement with under 17 percent support, losing more than half its European assembly seats.

Interior minister Angelino Alfano’s Nuovo Centrodestra, which split from Berlusconi’s populist conservative party late last year to continue to support the government, got under 5 percent of the votes — enough to win three European Parliament seats but barely meeting the 4.5 percent electoral threshold that was introduced for national elections in January.

Renzi struck a deal with his foe Berlusconi that month to make it easier for larger parties to win majorities in both houses of parliament. Neither the left nor the right won a majority in the Senate in last year’s election, forcing them into a coalition that fractured after less than a year when Forza Italia went into opposition.

The two most recent election results give Renzi a strong mandate to continue his political and economic reforms. Among his priorities are keeping Italy’s public deficit under the European Union’s treaty ceiling of 3 percent of economic output and reforming the country’s sclerotic labor market by cutting payroll taxes and enhancing protection for newly hired workers.

Italians are notoriously difficult to fire, making firms reluctant to hire young workers. 43 percent of Italians under the age of 25 were out of work in April when the general jobless rate stood at 12.6 percent.