Italy’s Leftists Open Door to Necessary Alliance

The left won’t stand a chance divided, but it will be hard to set aside personal feuds and policy differences.

Pier Luigi Bersani addresses a Democratic Party congress in Rome, January 17, 2013
Pier Luigi Bersani addresses a Democratic Party congress in Rome, January 17, 2013 (Ilaria Prili)

Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of Italy’s dissident leftist party, has opened the door to a pact with the ruling Democrats, saying, “If they want to talk to us, they must know that they should come with proposals.”

Bersani’s nemesis, Matteo Renzi, who toppled the older man in 2013, called for left-wing unity on Monday.

“There is more harmony with people with whom we have been divided by arguments and controversies than with our traditional rivals,” he argued.

Political imperative

There is a clear political imperative for an alliance.

Leftists paid the price for their disunity in Sicily last week: Renzi’s Democrats placed third in regional elections, behind the center-right and the populist Five Star Movement; Bersani’s Democrats and Progressives got a mere 6 percent of the votes.

In national polls, the Democrats are locked in a three-way contest with the Five Stars and the right.

Small left-wing parties are polling at 5 to 7 percent support, which could make the difference between the left defending or losing its majority.

Bridging differences

The challenge is setting aside personal feuds and bridging policy differences.

Bersani will have forgive Renzi for leading a party coup against him in 2013. Renzi may need to promise dissidents positions in a future government.

Compromising on policy could be (even) more difficult.

Bersani singled out labor reforms Renzi enacted as prime minister, arguing they didn’t do enough to bring down unemployment. But that’s not because they went too far. It’s because, in a concession to the left, Renzi did not apply his reforms to anyone already in work.

He also did little to shrink the labor-market divide between older workers on secure contracts who are almost impossible to fire and youngsters who can only find temp jobs — again, under pressure from old-school leftists like Bersani, who resist liberalization.