July 7, 2014
The European elections in May saw a number of winners. The biggest amongst them, however, can be found in Rome. The young Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, is set to become for the Socialists what Angela Merkel is for Christian Democrats.
It was in February, when the then-Mayor of Florence schemingly rided himself from his predecessor, Enrico Letta, only to lift himself to Premiership. Being at the center of a formidable political crisis a year earlier and managing to overcome it only to leave the country, that is everything but short on problems, in stagnation for the rest of the year, his Partito Democratico has already been in a troubled state. If politics would follow any logic, the party must have ceased to exist after the unelegant ousting of Mr Letta.
But since politics and logic hardly go together, Mr Renzi did not have to await the party’s collapse and reconstruction to take over, but is already today, a little more than 100 days into his tenure and with 39 at age, one of the most powerful players in European politics.
Entering office, he promised an ambitious plan with one major reform per month. Three months and one-and-a-half reforms on, the European election resulted in a double victory for the new Prime Minister. On the one hand, he managed to surpassed his party’s result in the parliamentary election the year before. For a country that is used to change its Prime Minister more often than his chauffeur such a result is almost revolutionary.
On the other hand, with 40.8 percent the Partito Democratico gained more votes than any other party anywhere in the Union. Its gains were so high that it now makes for the biggest delegation in the Socialist group in the European Parliament, even with the SPD also ending up with tremendous gains.
In the European Council, Mr Renzi has also already found his place. He acted very clever on the nomination of the Commission President, did not settle on Jean Claude Juncker for some time and sold his support for a good price. He put Italy into a swing-state position to initiate a debate on the criteria of the Stability and Growth Pact. And now, is obviously just about to get his Foreign Minister Frederica Mogherini to become the EU’s new foreign policy chief – despite the fact that with Mario Draghi in the ECB, Italy already has its piece of the topjob-cake.
With his power in the Union already at its peak, Mr Renzi arrived just in time to now obtain the Presidency of the Council of the EU for the upcoming six months with growth, investments and job creation as his priorities.
Today, Matteo Renzi is the most powerful among European Socialists. With other alpha-Socialists trapped – either in Grand Coaliatons (Sigmar Gabriel) or in themselves (Francois Hollande), it seems that the leading role in his party community and thus the role of a socialist counterpart for Angela Merkel, has already waited for him. The latter has been longoverdue.
Ever since the Eurocrisis, concensus as the central mean for political progress in the Union is fading. European politics is ever more turning into a battle between political parties. If it was for the member states in the past to find a concensus, it is now for the pan-European parties including their respective heads of states, Commissioners and MEPs, to take on the issues. Undoubtedly, the Eurocrisis has been adressed with conservative and neo-liberal policies. Today, we are about the experience the first major backlash.
As the election campaigns by Jean-Claude Juncker and Martin Schulz have shown, the concencus-area of Brussels does not make for a battleground in this fight. With Mr Renzi’s rise and Ms Merkel’s reign, it will rather be Rome vs. Berlin. The Prime Minster’s dig at Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann on Friday in Brussels, telling him that Italy will not let German bankers dictating its politics, is likely to be only the first shot with many to come.
Because of such statements, Mr Renzi has repeatly been blamed as populist. In fact, after only few months in office but with expectations, he has yet to proof his ability to implement major policies and reforms. Moreover with his energetic appearance and the specific polities he intends, he will not be met with apprecation by every European Socialst party, since he might remind them a little too much of the young Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder.
Nevertheless, it is without doubt that the debate on how to ulitimately overcome the Eurocrisis as well as the social and economical north-south divide in the Union, will gather new pace with Matteo Renzi’s arrival. It will seriously challenge the neo-liberal concensus that has shaped the economic policies over previous years and even turned into a form of technocracy at some point. It will finally get politics back into the debate – and that is about time.Bernhard Schinwald