When Matteo Renzi won back control of Italy’s Democratic Party a year ago, I argued he had two challenges:
- Uniting the left.
- Convincing voters who are desperate for reform that he could still deliver.
He has failed on both counts.
Uniting the left
Renzi has made pacts with smaller center-left parties, but their support adds up to no more than 3 or 4 percent.
Left-wing purists who split from the Democrats to form their own party, called Free and Equal, are polling at 6 to 7 percent support — enough to deny the Democrats a plurality.
The Democrats are polling at 23-25 percent; the populist Five Star Movement at 26-28 percent.
To be fair, Renzi did try to win over his critics. Their shortsightedness and unwillingness to compromise on key issues — immigration and labor reform — will be primarily to blame if the left loses power in the election in March. But personal animosity toward Renzi played a role.
Renzi’s labor reforms, which made it easier for firms to hire and fire workers, have not been without effect. Unemployment has come down from 13 to 11 percent.
But a third of young Italians are still out of work and Italy’s economy is growing at half the pace of Spain’s: 1.5 percent in 2017.
The reason: Renzi watered down his reforms in the face of left-wing and trade-union pressure.
- The reforms did not apply to anyone already in work.
- Tax breaks to incentivize hiring were phased out after a year.
- Licensing requirements that make it almost impossible for young Italians to become a lawyer, notary, pharmacist or taxi driver were unchanged.
Little wonder Italians are wary of giving Renzi a second chance.