European Parliament, Local Elections Boost for Italy’s Renzi

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

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi delivers a news conference in Reggio Calabria, May 14
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi delivers a news conference in Reggio Calabria, May 14 (Palazzo Chigi)

Recent European Parliament and local elections have been 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 the Second World War, Renzi’s Democrats took control of well over half of the 139 cities and towns that held elections on Sunday.

Turnaround

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 shows of electoral strength still underlined a turnaround in the Democrats’ 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.

Left-right pacts

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 party last year to remain in 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 Berlusconi that month to make it easier for large parties to win majorities in both houses of parliament.

Neither the left nor the right won a majority in the Senate last year, forcing them into a grand coalition that fractured after less than a year.

Mandate

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 deficit under the European Union’s treaty ceiling of 3 percent and reforming the country’s sclerotic labor market by cutting payroll taxes and enhancing protections 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.

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