Monday, 8 December 2014

Conference - 2014 EU Election: Italian Politics and the European challenge

Registration is open for the conference 'The 2014 European elections: Italian politics and the European challenge' which will be held on  14 and 15 January 2015 (lunchtime to lunchtime) in Glasgow. The conference is hosted by the University of Strathclyde and sponsored by the Italian Politics Specialist Group. 

Attendance is free but participants are asked to register from this website by Friday 19 December:

The aim of the conference is to offer a timely analysis of the May 2014 European Election, and of the way in which the Italian political system, as well as those of other countries, and the EU institutions, have emerged from it.  
A full conference programme is available from this link

The conference will be opened by a prestigious key-note speaker: Prof. Michael Keating (Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen and Director of the ESRC Scottish Centre on Constitutional Change). 
In addition, the event will be closed by a round-table discussion with invited international speakers on ‘Italy: between Europhilia and Euro-Scepticism’.

For any further information, please do not hesitate to contact the conference organisers: Arianna Giovannini, Laura Polverari and Antonella Seddone.

Friday, 19 September 2014


The Italian Politics Specialist Group is organising three panels at next year's PSA Annual Conference, which will take place in Sheffield 30March-1April 2015.

Details of the panels and the respective call for papers can be found below:

(Panel organised in collaboration with the Comparative European Politics Specialist Group)

This panel aims at developing reflections on the key issues and trends concerning the populist right in Europe. Ideally, the panel can take the debate in two of our groups' previous publications in the field: 

If you are interested in submitting an abstract, please contact Dr. Daniele Albertazzi ( or Dr. Arianna Giovannini ( to discuss the topic of your paper. 
Please note that the deadline for abstract submission is Friday 3 October.


Italy is often regarded as an extreme example of the personalisation of politics, which has been apparent in all or most democratic systems and which has manifested itself in at least three ways. First, there has been a growing focus on, and significance for, election outcomes of individual candidates and their characteristics. Second, there has been a presidentialisation of party politics as processes of mediatisation, the deconstruction of traditional cleavages and therefore the alleged competitive advantages of charismatic leaders have allowed them to acquire greater autonomy from their party machines to become chiefly responsible for the substance of their campaigns and the policies they intend to implement. Third, there has been the emergence of “personal and/or personalised parties”, meaning organisations set up by individuals exclusively to further their personal political ambitions and run on a more or less patrimonial basis, of which Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, is of course the classic example. Besides, most recently, the rise of (post-modern) leaders such as Matteo Renzi (Democratic Party) and Beppe Grillo (5Star Movement) suggests that the personalisation of political leadership is now becoming the norm – with huge impacts on the power structures within the Italian political system and its parties.
While the causes of such personalisation have been extensively studied and are well known, rather less is known about its consequences for political parties or for party systems. Certainly, there have been several attempts to imitate the Berlusconi model in significant respects, but one can envisage at least two alternative scenarios: either personalisation leads to increased professionalization, centralisation and therefore cohesiveness of political parties; or else it renders them increasingly fragile as the growing independence of leaders from their parties leads their parties to feel more independent of their leaders and therefore more inclined to rebel.
Against this background, we invite papers that explore one or more of these themes focussing either on Italy or on Italy in comparative perspective. Papers may focus on individual parties or party systems. We are particularly interested in papers offering to explore the above themes for the light they throw on the “Renzi phenomenon” and how it is to be interpreted.

Paper abstracts (circa 250 words) should be e-mailed by 1 October to: Arianna Giovannini ( and Jim Newell (

(Panel organised in collaboration with the Greek Politics Specialist Group)

The consequences of the 2008 financial and economic crisis are still felt sharply by EU citizens across the continent, and have given rise to a pronounced polarisation of political, economic and social attitudes, both within and across national polities. Within this context, Italy and Greece provide clear examples of European countries whose economies have long been (and are still) struggling to emerge from stagnation. In both countries, this has hugely impacted on the stability, credibility and strength of their respective political systems. Anti-politics feelings, and a general sense of disillusionment towards ‘mainstream politics’, have spread very fast within the Italian and Greek societies, often at the benefit of radical/extremist anti-EU parties such as the 5Star Movement in Italy or the Golden Dawn in Greece.
Against this background, the March 2014 European elections were expected to provide a significant test for the ‘health’ of democracy in Italy and Greece. Many political commentators and pundits saw the election of the EU Parliament as a perfect platform for anti-establishment and protest vote – predicting the rise of euro-sceptical forces in the two countries.
In both Italy and Greece the results of the elections offered a number of surprises. In Italy, it was the Democratic Party (a mainstream, pro-EU party) that gained a large majority of the vote (40%), fending off Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (17%) and, to some extent, managing to contain the recent rise of Beppe Grillo’s anti-EU and anti-establishment 5Star Movement (20%). On the other hand, in Greece, the results of the EU elections backed the EU wide trend. The Golden Dawn elected its first MEPs, while SYRIZA, the Radical Left party, managed to win the elections. This has been the first time that such a party has won elections in Post-War Greece. In the meantime, the share of the votes of the so-called mainstream parties (ND and PASOK) continued to fall.
Hence, interestingly, despite the fact that Greece and Italy have experienced, to a certain extent, similar conditions stemming from the economic and social crisis and the austerity measures imposed on the two countries, there has been a degree of political divergence. The political system in Italy has, perhaps unexpectedly, shown signs of resilience and a certain degree of continuity, whereas the deeply traumatised Greek political system is on the verge of remarkable change. Nevertheless, beyond the first reading of the recent electoral results, one needs to note that conflicting signs have emerged from both countries with potentially unforeseen consequences.
The aim of this panel is to provide a timely discussion on the developments in the political landscape of Italy and Greece in the aftermath of the EU elections, focussing in particular on how they have impacted/affected parties and party systems; policies and reforms; the relationship between the two national governments and the EU institutions; and, more in general, the state of democracy. To this end, we invite papers that explore one or more of the aforementioned themes focussing on Italy and Greece in comparative perspective.

Your paper proposal (paper title, 250-word abstract, institutional affiliation and full contact details) should be e-mailed by 6 October to: Dr Vasilis Leontitsis ( and Dr Arianna Giovannini (

Monday, 1 September 2014

CALL FOR PAPERS: "2014 European elections: Italian politics and the European challenge"

The Italian Politics Specialist Group is organising a one-day conference, kindly hosted by the University of Strathclyde, European Policies Research Centre, which will be held in Glasgow on 14-15 January 2015 (lunch-time to luch-time).

The theme of the conference is "2014 European Elections: Italian Politics and the European Challenge".

The aim of the conference is to offer a timely analysis of the May 2014 European Election, and the way in which the Italian political system, as well as those of other countries, and the EU institutions, have emerged from it.

Paper are invited which provide reflections on the effects that the May 2014 EU elections have had and are likely to have on the Italian political system and beyond, encouraging both case studies on Italy and comparative analyses. To this end, we welcome paper proposals that fit within the following four thematic panels: 

1) EU Elections: Results and their impact on the Italian Political Landscape (focus only on Italy)

2) Going Forward: Italy between Institutional Reforms and the EU (focus only on Italy)

3) Euroscepticism, Nationalism and Populism (comparative focus)

4) North-South Divide and a New European Union (compartive focus)

Full details about the conference and the specific thematic panels can be found HERE.

Paper proposals (max 300 words, with a clear indication of the panel of interest) should be submitted by 3 October to Arianna Giovannini, Laura Polverari and Antonella Seddone, from any of whom further details about the conference can be obtained.

The conference will be opened by prestigious key-note speakers.
The event will be closed by a round-table discussion with invited international speakers on "Italy: between Europhilia and Euro-Scepticism". Journalists from Italian and UK media will also be invited to attend.

Attendance to the conference is free of charge, but registration will be required (details on how to register will be provided in due course).

Monday, 23 June 2014

The Italian Crisis: Twenty years on

Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Modern Italy
21-22 November 2014, The Italian Cultural Institute, London

The Association for the Study of Modern Italy (ASMI) is organising their annual conference on "The Italian Crisis: Twenty years on". The event will take place on the 21-22 November 2014 at the Italian Cultural Institute in London.
ASMI is looking for original papers on the history, culture, economics and politics of the last twenty years in Italy, as well as papers which take a comparative and transnational approach to the Italian crisis. Also welcome will be papers which  seek to make comparisons with the Italian past or to read events or personalities in the light of Italian history.
The official Call for Papers can be found at this link.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Italian Politics Specialist Group at the PSA's annual conference, Manchester 14-16 April 2014

The Italian Politics Specialist Group had a very productive time at last week's annual conference of the Political Studies Association!

The IPSG held its annual group meeting in Manchester, and we are delighted to announce the following additions to our executive committee:

Dr Laura Polverari (University of Strathclyde) is joining us as our group's secretary, and
Dr Antonella Seddone (University of Turin) is joining us as SISP & Italy liaison officer. At the meeting Dr Arianna Giovannini was also appointed as co-convenor of the IPSG, whilst maintaining her role as communication officer.

The group also set its agenda for next the next year, which will involve very interesting activities and prizes -- details of which will be posted on this page very shortly.

Furthermore, the IPSG organised three panels at this year's PSA conference:
We would like to thank Dr Arjan Schakel (Maastricht University), Dr Joanie Willett & John Rowe (University of Exeter), Dr Monica Poletti (University of Milan), Dr Annarita Criscitello (University of Naples), Dr Giulia Sandri (Catholic University of Lille), Raffaele Borreca (University of Peloponnese) as well as our group's members Prof. Jim Newell, Dr Antonella Seddone and Dr Arianna Giovannini for participating to our panels presenting very intersting and thought-provoking papers.

Arjan Schakel, Antonella Seddone, Arianna Giovannini, Joanie Willet and John Rowe - "Politicisation of Identities in Peripheral Regions", Panel discussion

The IPSG at the PSA's annual dinner: Antonella Seddone, Giulia Sandri, Arianna Giovannini, Annarita Criscitello, Paul Furlong and Laura Polverari

Monday, 7 April 2014

Arrivederci, Veneto? | openDemocracy

Arrivederci, Veneto? | openDemocracy

Arianna Giovannini looks at what was behind the recent "unofficial" referendum on Veneto independence and explains why it should not be considered as a trivial matter in a article for openDemocracy.

Friday, 28 March 2014

CONGRIPS panel at APSA 2014 (Washington DC, 28-31 August)

Conference Group on Italian Politics and Society Panel at 2014 Annual Conference Announced

The CONGRIPS panel at the forthcoming APSA Annual Conference 2014, to take place in Washington DC on 28-31 August, has now been finalised.
Centred on the theme of ‘Retrenching States versus expanding societies: new forms of political participation and dissent in Italy in the digital era’, it will comprise the following papers:

  • The Challenge of the 5 Stars Movement to Representative Democracy”, by Professor Nadia Urbinati, Columbia University
  • Democracies in crisis and the meaning of party activism: the case of the Lega Nord”, by Dr Daniele Albertazzi, University of Birmingham
  • Twitter and the Traditional Media: Who is the Real Agenda Setter?”, by Professor Andrea Ceron, Luigi Curini & Stefano Maria Iacus, Università degli Studi di Milano
  • Corruption Charges and Re-election Chances among Italian Legislators: Evidence from Local, Regional, and National Assemblies”, by Raffaele Asquer, University of California, LA
The panel - chaired by CONGRIPS Program Chair, Dr Laura Polverari - will benefit of the insights of two prestigious discussants: Professor Sergio Fabbrini, Director of the School of Government at LUISS Guido Carli in Rome, and  Professor Vanna Antonia Gonzales, from Arizona State University in Tempe.
As is CONGRIPS’ custom, the panel accommodates both high-profile, established scholars, as well as junior faculty, with a view of allowing high-level debate as well as targeted learning. 
Given the topical nature of the themes discussed and the excellent contributors, this will certainly be yet again another tremendous CONGRIPS panel. 
We encourage anyone attending the Annual Meeting to get involved.

For more info, see CONGRIPS' webpage 

Monday, 17 February 2014

Matteo Renzi’s transition to power is a gamble not just for his party, but for the Italian political system as a whole**

Last week Italian prime minister Enrico Letta resigned, with the general secretary of the Partito Democratico, Matteo Renzi, expected to take over as the country’s new PM. Arianna Giovannini and James L. Newell assess Renzi’s transition to power and the stakes for both his party and the wider situation in Italy. They note that although Renzi was the obvious successor to Letta, he was expected to wait until new elections before making a bid to become prime minister. By moving now he is taking a calculated gamble that his image as a ‘reformer’ will not be undermined by the fractious coalition that hobbled his predecessor.
Nearly one year after Italy’s watershed elections – elections which produced no clear winner and led to the creation of a wavering grand coalition government – the country faces yet another unexpected political turn. After a mere ten months in office, the PM Enrico Letta was ousted by his own party (the Partito Democratico, PD) on Thursday last week, and tendered his resignation to the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, the day after. Matteo Renzi, the young and ambitious new general secretary of the PD – the main party of the centre left, and Italy’s largest – is now expected to receive a mandate to form a new government in the next few days, becoming the country’s youngest PM at 39. What explains this development, and what is its significance for Italian politics and more broadly?
Who is Matteo Renzi?
As far as the first (and, indeed, the second) of these questions is concerned one has to appreciate, in the first place, who Renzi is. He had first acquired attention at national level as mayor of Florence from 2009 – big-city mayors having been well-placed in recent years to cultivate very high profiles and considerable personal followings for themselves thanks to a 1993 reform giving them enhanced powers and enabling them to run councils on presidential lines. From such a position he had been able to build a considerable following within the PD, earning himself the nickname, il Rottamatore (“the scrapper”), with his calls for internal party reform based on a generational turnover among its leadership ranks. Though in 2012 he had been defeated by PD general secretary, Pierluigi Bersani, in primary elections to choose the centre left’s candidate prime minister for the general election of 2013, the fact that the PD failed, against expectations, to win, paved the way for an election to replace Bersani – for a challenge, that is, that Renzi was only too willing to take up.
Matteo Renzi, Italy's new PM
Victory at the 8 December general secretary elections, open to ordinary voters, had been a foregone conclusion: he was the “change candidate” promising to overturn the traditional oligarchies in a party born, a few years previously, from the simple merger of the bureaucratic apparatuses of its predecessors and which therefore struggled to appear to be something genuinely new. He successfully projected himself as a politician offering a “soft” form of the anti-political sentiments espoused by Beppe Grillo and the Five-star Movement, enabling him to articulate the centre-left electorate’s growing mistrust of the political class.
Unexpected challenge to Letta
In the second place, his successful challenge to Enrico Letta has come as a surprise to many. Not long ago, in a previous blog post, we argued that it would be unrealistic to expect Letta to cede place to the Florentine mayor without putting up a fight for the premiership, or to expect Renzi to lead a revolt against his own party’s PM. On the one hand, it seemed that the lifespan of the incumbent government had probably been shortened by the mayor’s emergence, since his credibility as an agent of change necessarily implied distancing himself from an executive which, by its very nature as a grand coalition, was driven by a constant search for compromise. After all, Renzi sought to project himself as a young and charismatic leader, one capable of delivering a Blair-style policy revolution which, by inaugurating a “third way” designed to appeal to both sides of the left-right divide, would also revolutionise Italian politics generally.
On the other hand, though winning the 8 December contest handsomely, Renzi had only minority support among PD members and it seemed he would want to avoid jeopardising his popularity outside the party by being seen to be responsible for an early government collapse. Biding his time as the leader of a reformed PD, a leader standing outside the Government, it seemed likely that he would be in a position potentially to lead the centre left into fresh elections, free of the burden of having to defend the record of an outgoing austerity administration in which his own party had been the senior partner. In January he appeared to have succeeded, where so many others before him had failed, in achieving cross-party agreement for much needed reform of the electoral law. The expectation was, then, the one he had encouraged in the aftermath of his coronation as PD secretary when he had publicly declared his hostility to “wide coalitions”, arguing that he wanted to become prime minister by winning an election, so as to assume office with a public mandate.
Renzi’s gamble   
In the third place, then, one has to have some answers to the question why, against these expectations, Renzi has chosen to take the risk of losing his credibility (and, as a consequence, any forthcoming electoral contest) by making a strategic move which is reminiscent, in a most alarming way, of the First Republic and its ruthless political class.
One possible answer is straightforward personal ambition. Media commentary since the move has been dominated by observations concerning the risks he is running. His actions have exposed him to charges that he has grabbed power by cunning rather than through an above-board contest following an electoral-law reform, and that he is therefore little different to the politicians he vowed to “scrap”. He has also faced the accusation that his sweeping reform proposals (which include a new electoral law, reform of the labour market, a revision of the bicameral system, and cuts in public spending) are unrealistic and indicative of personal arrogance, given they are dependent on a profoundly divided parliament and the same fractious coalition that hobbled his predecessor.
But, in an age of personalised and mediatised politics, perhaps such commentary in fact explains precisely why Renzi has made his move: he is a man with little ideological baggage; his popular appeal lies precisely in his reputation for wanting to take on and shake up the existing power structures against the odds. Adopting a strategy framed in the media as “foolhardy”, then, paradoxically adds to his stature as a politician – adding to a perception that he is someone in whom hopes for “salvation” can justifiably be placed, given his seeming preparedness to put his entire career at stake in the cause of breaking the power of the old guard, the hated “political caste”.
How the move took place
Finally, then, with a possible answer to the question of “why?”, one has to have a sense of how the change has come about. The first problem was Letta’s removal from office – which could not realistically be expected to be achieved through a parliamentary vote of no confidence at the hands of one of the governing parties, in the absence of a specific pretext for calling such a vote. It could only come through the first-hand actions of Renzi himself through the extra-parliamentary organisations of the party he now led. Of these organisations, the one chosen was the Direzione nazionale – the executive committee for the party’s supreme policy-making body, the Assemblea nazionale, elected in concomitance with the general secretary.
The motion proposed by Renzi spoke of “the urgent need to initiate a new phase with a different executive, one that has the political strength to deal with the issues confronting the country with a view to completing the legislative term together with the current governing coalition and a programme open to the requests of social and economic interest groups”. It was approved by 136 votes to 16 with 2 abstentions. Although it made no mention of the possibility of Renzi taking Letta’s place, this, given the context in which it was passed, was understood by all concerned to be the motion’s political significance. And there were several reasons for expecting this understanding to be borne out by events.
Renzi was gambling on being able to exploit his popularity to head an executive capable of lasting longer and being more incisive than that of his predecessor. He had persuaded the Direzione to back his gamble and thereby, indirectly, had persuaded his party’s parliamentary representatives to do so: the longer they kept their seats without facing fresh elections the more their pensions would be enhanced; they could be expected to fall in line with the wishes of a Direzione and general secretary on whom their political careers were more or less dependent.
Letta understood he had been deserted and resigned. Napolitano could be expected to confer a mandate on Renzi given that all the signs were that he would succeed in winning the confirmatory vote of confidence that all new governments must, constitutionally, ask for, once they have been sworn in. And the expectation concerning Napolitano’s conduct was reinforced by the stated ambition for the new executive to see out the legislative term (which would end in 2018).
What now for Italy?
If the latest turn in Italian politics has been driven by forces that can be more or less accurately reconstructed, then it is somewhat harder to pin down its likely future significance. Three things, however, seem clear. Renzi’s administration will be the third government in just over two years to have taken office as a consequence of events other than the winning of a parliamentary majority through victory in an election contest. This in itself will constitute an element of weakness the new government will have to contend with: a confirmation of the democratic deficit currently expressed by Italy’s political institutions.
Second, the associated risks seem especially great in the present as compared to the previous two instances. Mario Monti took office as a technocrat with the specific remit of dealing with an economic emergency. Letta took office as the head of a grand coalition aware that economic and political stability required it. Renzi, on the other hand, will take office thanks to a mere shift of power from one party faction to another: a shift orchestrated by Renzi and his team from within the ranks of the PD, with a degree of (indirect) support from the President. Moreover he will take over from Letta thanks to an extra-parliamentary decision for which – arguably – no real political explanation has been given other than the need put in office an individual deemed to be a good communicator, but of whose political principles and capacities for national office little is in reality known.

Finally, therefore, if Renzi fails in his reform programme, if he fails to reduce the pressures of Italian citizens’ disenchantment, lack of trust and occasional overt rejection of their political class, then the consequences could be very serious indeed: not just for himself and his party but for the political system as a whole. As the Italian journalist Eugenio Scalfari points out, referencing a well-known song from the 1930s, before long Italy and Renzi may be heading for ‘stormy weather’. 

** this article was originally published by LSE's EUROPP blog.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Italy after the 2013 indecisive, but dismal general elections **

by Gianfranco Pasquino (James Anderson Senior Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, Bologna) 

As all elections in parliamentary democracies, the February 2013 Italian elections were meant to give birth to a new Parliament. As in all parliamentary democracies, the distribution of seats in the new Parliament should have led to the inauguration of a new government. The contribution of the existing electoral system dubbed Porcellum (proportional plus a majority bonus) to the overall outcome has been quite significant. Thanks to a fistful of votes, the coalition made of the Partito Democratico, Sinistra Ecologia Libertà and the Socialisti Italiani won the majority bonus for the House of Deputies obtaining 340 seats. Because the allocation of the majority bonus for the Senate takes place region by region, there is no majority in the Senate. The Partito Democratico and its allies could not reach the absolute majority of seats in the Senate even after adding the seats won by Scelta Civica led by former Prime Minister Mario Monti. Since the Italian symmetrical bicameralism requires that all governments must receive an explicit vote of confidence from the absolute majority of parliamentarians in both Houses, the formation of a government appeared from the beginning close to impossible. Moreover, because of a curious coincidence, that had already manifested itself in two previous situations (1992 and 2006), the new Parliament also had the task of electing the President of the Republic. 

Giorgio Napolitano (President of The Republic) and Enrico Letta (PM)

Following the dismal failure of Bersani, the Secretary of the Partito Democratico, to muster a clear, solid, and reliable parliamentary majority in the Senate because the majority bonus had fabricated a sizable PD+SEL majority in the House of Deputies, the leaders of the Partito Democratico, of the Popolo della Libertà and of Scelta Civica felt to be obliged to elect first the President of the Republic. Napolitano had preempted any request for his re-election stressing personal (age) and institutional (not to create a precedent) reasons. A mixture of chaos and havoc within the Democratic Party quickly “burned” two official candidates (Franco Marini and Romano Prodi), none of them having, in my opinion, the “presidential” qualities required by the Constitution. What appeared to be a dramatic moment for the institutions obliged Bersani, Berlusconi and other party leaders, with the exception of Grillo, to ask Napolitano to accept to serve another term. Napolitano gave an affirmative answer on one fundamental condition. The Partito Democratico, the Popolo della Libertà and Scelta Civica had to commit themselves to the formation of a government, immediately called “delle larghe intese” (“broad agreements”), led by someone the President himself was going to choose and appoint. The government of the larghe intese was yet another instance of the “government of the President”, such as, some significant variations aside, Monti’s had been (November 2011-December 2012). The two parliamentary bases were quite similar, but the composition of the two governments was completely different. Monti’s government had been a fully non-partisan government, that is, entirely made of non-politicians, while Enrico Letta’s is an avowed partisan and political government.
The somewhat surprising element is that in the two moments of truth of the life of the new Italian Parliament, the Five Stars Movement played absolutely no role. Its 108 Deputies and 54 Senators remained completely at the margins of the political and parliamentary developments. Their lack of experience and political knowledge and the fact that their leaders, the comedian Beppe Grillo and the web guru Roberto Casaleggio, are both “extraparliamentarians” go some way to explaining the irrelevance of their activities. Their rejection of any political agreement with the other parties puts them at the margins of parliamentary politics. Widespread protest brought them to Parliament. The inability to formulate any acceptable proposals makes their presence ineffective.

In a way, the 2013 elections seem to have put an end to a twenty year period of hostile bipolar confrontation. To some extent, the so-called bipolarism was the product of the electoral rules. The electoral law called Mattarellum (1994, 1996, 2001) had encouraged the formation of two pre-electoral coalitions in order to support the candidates in single-member constituencies. The Porcellum gave a similar impetus towards the formation of two competing coalitions because the party/coalition winning more votes is granted a large bonus of parliamentary seats. There is no way of denying, however, that the most important, positive and negative, contribution to the establishment of bipolarism was made by Silvio Berlusconi. From the very beginning he shaped his political appeal and deployed his activities both in the government and in the opposition around a clear divide: “us against them”. On all possible occasions, he tried to polarize Italian politics, almost always reaping a fair amount of success. The paradox is that the return of his party into the government put an end, how temporarily it is difficult to say, to bipolarism and produced a situation similar to the one that had existed from 1947 to 1992: all oversized governmental coalitions  besieged by two oppositions (the Communists and the NeoFascists). Following  the November 2013 split of the Popolo della Libertà and Berlusconi’s withdrawal from the government, there are now two oppositions, the Five Stars and Forza Italia, both led by extraparliamentary leaders, both encircling and attacking Enrico Letta’s government.

The latest development has been engineered by the new secretary of the Partito Democratico, Matteo Renzi. Having been elected by a massive 68 per cent of almost three millions voters, Renzi has decided to “resuscitate” Berlusconi in order to draft with him a new electoral law that will give advantages to both major parties. The illusion that an electoral mechanism will solve major political problems and will restructure Italian parties and the party system seems hard to die. In the meantime, though nobody is willing to recognize the truth, the Italian political system remains fully dependent on the institutional wisdom and political acumen, and, above all, on the health and strength of an 88-year old President of the Republic. 

** this article was originally published by the PSA Blog.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Silvio Berlusconi’s revival of Forza Italia is unlikely to bring him back to power, but his career in Italian politics is far from finished**

For the past few decades, Italian politics has been marked by the presence of Silvio Berlusconi. As the IPSG convenor Daniele Albertazzi writes, Berlusconi’s revival of his old political party, Forza Italia, is his latest attempt to retain political influence within the country’s party system. He argues that while Berlusconi is unlikely to enjoy the same success that he first had with the party, with Forza Italia currently polling around 21 per cent of the vote it would be reckless to dismiss his political prospects.

On 18 November 2013, the Italian right-wing leader Silvio Berlusconi dissolved his party, Popolo della Libertà (PDL – People of Freedom), the founding of which he had announced to his supporters in Milan exactly six years earlier. He also relaunched the party he had first created in 1993: Forza Italia (FI – Go Italy). Allegedly born from the ‘fusion’ of FI with the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale (AN – National Alliance), throughout its short existence the PDL turned out to be extremely divided, lacking purpose and a clear sense of identity.

Following the loss of roughly half of the PDL’s votes in the 2013 general election (6 million in total), and after its negative experience in government between 2008 and 2011 (characterised by the worsening of every national economic indicator), Berlusconi came to the conclusion that the PDL brand had become toxic. Moreover, the decision to bring the experiment of the PDL to an end was also dictated by Berlusconi’s desire to take full control of the party he was leading once again.
As his failure to bring down the left-right executive currently governing Italy (in retaliation for the left’s decision to press ahead with his expulsion from the Senate) had painfully shown once again, only a few days before the PDL’s disbandment, by 2013 Berlusconi was no longer the ‘owner’ of the PDL and he could no longer be sure that it would consistently pursue the line he was dictating to it. Making it crystal clear that he wished to ‘resurrect’ the FI of 1993 and recapture the ‘spirit’ of those years, in his speech in November 2013 Berlusconi repeated word for word many of the promises and claims that he had made back in 1993 when he launched his political career.
As shown in the Table below, according to recent polls, the re-established FI attracts roughly the same level of support the party enjoyed in the first election it contested in 1994, and it will most probably remain key to the centre-right’s chances to beat the left and form a government in the foreseeable future. However, unlike 1993, Berlusconi’s initiative is very unlikely to turn him into the fulcrum of Italian politics yet again.

Table: Voting intention in Italy (January 2014 / December 2013)
Note: Figures are from Agora (IXE) polls carried out on 10 January 2014 and 20 December 2013.

The main reason for this is that in the mid-nineties FI had managed to fill the huge gap that had opened up following the collapse of all governing parties in Italy, first and foremost the centrist Democrazia Cristiana (DC – Christian Democracy), due to high-profile investigations that had uncovered political corruption at the highest levels. Today, there is no such ‘opening’. The Italian political landscape remains crowded with other large parties which, on the basis of what we know at the moment, have a good chance of doing well at the polls if a general election is held in the near future.
Of these, the most important is the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD – Democratic Party) which, according to current data, carries more than 30 per cent of the vote (versus FI’s 21 per cent). It has strong coalition potential, since any centre-left electoral alliance would need to gravitate around it. As explained in James Newell and Arianna Giovannini’s recent article, the mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi recently won the PD’s leadership contest (by a large margin), having argued for years that the party ‘needed to undergo fundamental renewal based on a generational turnover among its leaders and principal spokespeople’.
Whereas in 1994 Berlusconi could brand himself as the novelty of the forthcoming election, a savvy entrepreneur ‘loaned’ to politics and ready to do for Italy what he had done for himself; today he would be leading his party into an election as the longest-serving former PM in Italian post-war history, someone who led his first cabinet when François Mitterrand and Boris Yeltsin were in power. Even turning a blind eye to Berlusconi’s age (which is twice that of Renzi), it has become impossible for the right-wing leader to convincingly argue that he is, in any sense, ‘new’.
Although he will not be the centre-right candidate for prime minister in a forthcoming election, as he has lost the right to stand for public office for several years as a consequence of his recent conviction for tax evasion, he remains the leader of the largest party of the right. Given the widespread disillusionment of the Italian electorate with the traditional political class, the fact that Berlusconi is now very much a member of it will hardly help his cause, and that of the alliance which the right-wing leader will need to build to beat the left.
The second major competitor on the right is the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S – Five Star Movement), Western Europe’s most successful new party – one that has managed to grow from 0 to 25 per cent approval in four years thanks to its criticism of the political class, the communication skills of its leader Beppe Grillo and the movement’s ability to effectively integrate the use of new media with face-to-face campaigning. Although support for the M5S has diminished by a few percentage points since the general election of April 2013, it still matches Berlusconi’s FI. Importantly, it is now the M5S that gives voice to those voters (and there are many) who are disappointed by politicians as a whole, many of whom had previously voted for the PDL.
Not only is there no political vacuum for Berlusconi’s ‘re-founded’ FI to fill but, due to the decision by some former PDL ministers and MPs to break away from Berlusconi in recent weeks and create a splinter centre-right party (NCD), FI now leans more heavily to the right than its predecessors and, as such, it may find it more difficult to attract moderate voters (the target of Berlusconi’s efforts, according to him).
The most interesting similarity between the recreated FI and its predecessors concerns its nature as a personal party created by Berlusconi for Berlusconi – as the speed at which the PDL was shelved shows. In short, the re-established FI will certainly be yet another vehicle through which the right-wing leader will try to fulfil his political vision, pursue his interests and defend himself from the justice system. The fact that Berlusconi has already provided around €110 million worth of bank guarantees to the new party would seem to support this claim.
Speculating about the possible consequences of this ‘return’ for the political system as a whole is especially challenging because the current electoral law (passed by a Berlusconi government in 2005) was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court in December 2013, making it unclear under what legislation the next election will be held. If, like the present one, the new law encourages the creation of pre-electoral alliances, then not much is likely to change because of FI’s re-establishment.
In that case, Berlusconi would be forced to try and revive a large coalition of the right as the general election approaches, and this will most probably have to include anyone who is willing to oppose the left. In the end, as a member of this right-wing coalition, FI would find itself fighting the election alongside those who have recently broken away from their leader. The real game changer may instead turn out to be Matteo Renzi’s election as the PD’s leader, if he can attract those who have turned to the M5S in recent years, or supported the right, not to mention abstainers and the undecided – the latter constituting two in five voters at present.
Like Berlusconi in 1994, Renzi has portrayed himself as the ‘enemy’ of the traditional political class, and strengthened his credibility by waging war on his own party’s nomenclatura for several years. If he can convince a sufficient number of disillusioned voters to give a ‘renewed’ PD a chance, the centre-left coalition may manage to win outright this time. That would be a turning point in Italian politics – a clear-cut victory delivering strong majorities in both Houses of Parliament to the centre-left, which has failed to achieve this since Berlusconi launched his political career in 1994.
At this stage, however, this is merely speculation. While some foreign journalists have persistently announced Berlusconi’s political demise – a sport that started spreading shortly after the collapse of his first government in 1994 and continues to prove popular to this day – more sophisticated observers of Italian politics have always been aware of his ability to give voice to an important section of the Italian electorate on crucial issues such as, for instance, taxation.
Having lost many votes, his Senate seat and the chance to hold public office for several years, it is now safe to say that Berlusconi’s star is waning. However, he is far from finished, as he has a good understanding of what centre-right voters want, he remains very much in control of the media and financial empire through which he launched his political career twenty years ago, and he seems determined to keep leading the largest political party of the Italian right in the foreseeable future.
Given the stamina and determination he has amply demonstrated during the last two decades as a political leader, and despite the many setbacks of recent months, those who write Berlusconi off now as irrelevant and announce the end of his political career do so at their own peril and are likely to be proven wrong yet again, as they have been many times in the past.

** this article was originally published by the LSE EUROPP blog.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

IPSG Conference "2013 Italian general elections: Italian politics at the crossroads?"

On Friday 17 January, the Italian Politics Specialist Group organised a 1-day conference focussing on the results of the February 2013 election, and the effects these have had on the Italian Political system. The event attracted scholars and attendees from many UK and Italian universities, as well as members of Italian political parties in the UK, and practitioners.

Prof. Gainfranco Pasquino and Prof. Martin Bull 
The day started off with a great key-note address delivered by Prof. Gianfranco Pasquino. Quoting J.M. Keynes, the presentation opened with a deliberately controversial claim: "general elections are always dismal affairs". Drawing on this, Prof. Pasquino provded the audience with a compelling analysis of the most relevant data concerning the election and post-election scenario. Firstly, he argued that the February '13 election showed that the Italian society is highly fragmented, and the Italian political parties are particularly good at representing such fragmentation. Interestingly, drawing on primary data, he showed the audience that this trend is not a new one -- in fact, very little has changed between 1994 and 2013. Another interesting point raised by Prof. Pasquino concerns the number of new parties in the Italian political system. Between 1994 and 2013 a plethora of new parties have emerged, whilst many other have changed their name and/or structure -- so that, currently, the Northern League is the oldest party in Italy. On the whole, in 1993 the average age of the party system was 38.1, while in 2013 such average has dropped to 6.4. This shows the fragmentation and instability of the Italian political system in the post-tangentopoli era, and led Prof. Pasquino to develop a reflection on what it should take to overcome an instability that seems to be intrinsic to the logics and structures of Italian parties. In this sense, one of the key issues seems to concern what he defined the "partyness of governments", underlining how, especially in recent years, many Ministers do not have purely political expertise, resulting in the creation of governments made of non-party members -- i.e. inexperienced politicians who do not have neither the 'know-how' or the 'know-whom', as Pasquino put it, to deliver. Prof. Pasquino concluded his speech identifying two main consequences of the 2013 election: 1) Italy has now a "government of the Quirinale", which relies (and depends) on President Napolitano; 2) the system remains totally in flux, and is characterised by an unstable government with a PM (Letta) and three extra-parliamentary leaders: Grillo, Berlusconi and Renzi.

Audience & presenters
The day then continued with excellent papers being presented by some of the foremost experts in Italian politics.

The first panel (Political Parties and the Challenges ahead) looked at key topics such as:
1) the election of the new leader of the PD, through a paper presented by Prof. Fulvio Venturino and Dr Natascia Porellato;
2) the way in which the FiveStar MoVement is 'changing' now that it is in office, thanks to a paper co-authored by Dr Fabio Bordigno and Dr Luigi Ceccarini
3) primary elections within the PD, 5SM, and Left, Ecology, Freedom, with a paper co-authored by Marco Valbruzzi and Dr Natascia Porcellato

The second panel (Media & Campaigns) focussed on political communication strategies during the electoral campaign, and focussed on the role of entertainment media (paper by Dr Antonio Ciaglia and Dr Marco Mazzoni) and questions of issue ownership (paper by Dr Antonella Seddone and Dr Giuliano Bobba).

Dr Elisa Lello, Prof. Martin Bull and Dr Daniele Albertazzi
The third panel (Key Themes & Open Questions) looked at the way in which younger Italian perceive politic, thanks to a fascinating paper presented by Dr Elisa Lello. Then, Eva Garau presented a paper on the paradox of the rhetoric of immigration in Italy, and finally Prof. Martin Bull and Elisabetta Cassina-Wolff analysed in-depth the main issues surrounding the process of institutional and constitutional reforms in Italy.

The day came to a close with a thought-provoking round-table discussion on the future of Italy, focussing in particular at the short-term and long-term effects of 1) the reformation of Forza Italia: 2) the election of Renzi as the secretary of the PD. Prof. Guglielmo Meardi, Prof. Anna Cento-Bull, Prof. Gianfranco Pasquino and Prof. Martin Bull contributed to the debate with timely reflections.
Some of the main conclusions were: 1) that the reformation of Forza Italia is a way in which Berlusconi is trying to prolong his political life, and to 'mark his territory' -- showing former allies (and potential 'heirs' like Alfano) that he is still in the game. 2) that Renzi on the one hand is possibly one of the last hopes for the Italian left, and yet, quoting Prof. Pasquino he "does not know what he wants, he does not know what he thinks he wants, but he knows that he wants it now".

Round-table panellists.
From left to right:
Prof. Meardi, Prof. Cento-Bull, Dr Albertazzi, Prof. Pasquino and Prof. Bull

Thursday, 16 January 2014


The Italian general election of February 2013 can fairly be described as a watershed event, resulting as it did in a political stalemate. With the country more or less divided into three equal segments among which there appeared to be no viable governing combination it was not until the end of April that a government could be formed, and then it was only thanks to the fact that the election’s aftermath coincided with the need to elect a new President of the Republic. The centre-left appeared to have won the election by a wafer-thin margin - but it had no Senate majority and, most importantly, it emerged in front only by virtue of the fact that the haemorrhage in its votes was slightly smaller than the haemorrhage of votes for the centre right. Support for the newly formed Five-star Movement (M5s), at its first general-election outing, exploded dramatically, to make it the largest single party. As a consequence of the outcome, neither of the logics on which government formation had been based in the ‘First’ and ‘Second Republics’, the consensual and the majoritarian respectively, was any longer available. If therefore, the election seemed to mark the end of an era, the one that appeared to be being ushered in pointed in the direction of a highly uncertain future.
Against this background, the University of Birmingham will host a one-day conference on 17 January 2014 focussing on the future of Italian politics after the general election of February 2013. 

You can follow the conference on Twitter using the hashtag #ItalianPolitics

CONFERENCE PROGRAMME (Including links to papers**):

9.30 – 9.40                 Welcome address (Arianna Giovannini)

9.40 – 10.40               Key-note address

                                   Gianfranco Pasquino (John Hopkins University, Bologna, Italy)

10.40 – 12.10             Session 1: Political Parties and the challenges ahead

·       A New Start?The Selection of the fifth Secretary of the Democratic PartyFulvio Venturino & Natascia Porcellato (University of Cagliari)

·       After theElections: A Test for the Five Star MovementFabio Bordignon & Luigi Ceccarini (University of Urbino)

·       The Window onthe Secret Garden of Politics: MPs’ Primary Elections in the Democratic Party, Five Star Movement and Left Ecology Freedom – Marco Valbruzzi (EUI) & Natascia Porcellato (University of Cagliari)  **please note that this paper will be presented in Italian. An English version of the paper will be available to download ahead of the conference. 
12.15 – 13.15              Session 2: Campaigns & Media

·      Agenda’sDynamics in the Mainstream Media During the 2013 Electoral Campaign – Giuliano Bobba & Antonella Seddone (University of Turin)

·      New Forms of Media Partisanship? The 2013 Electoral Campaign from the Perspective of Entertainment Media – Marco Mazzoni (University of Perugia) & Antonio Ciaglia (SUM, Florence)
 14.30 – 16.30              Session 3: Key Themes & Open Questions

·      Do YoungerItalians Prefer ‘Technocratic’ Politics? An Interpretation of Young People’s Voting Behaviour – Elisa Lello (University of Urbino)

·      The Paradox ofthe Rhetoric on Immigration in Italy. From 2013 Electoral Manifestos to Lampedusa, via Kyenge – Eva Garau (University of Cagliari)

·      ‘Eye of theStorm’: the Italian 2013 Elections and Institutional ReformMartin Bull (University of Salford)

·      Letta’sGovernment and Constitutional Reforms Elisabetta Cassina Wolff (University of Oslo)
17.00 – 18.00              Round Table Discussion (Moderated by Daniele Albertazzi)

Gianfranco Pasquino (John Hopkins University, Bologna); Anna Cento Bull (University of Bath); Gugliemo Meardi (Warwick University); Martin Bull (University of Salford)

18.00 – 18.15              Concluding Reflections

                                    James L. Newell (University of Salford)

**   Please note that all the papers are works in progress, and should not be quoted for any purpose without the authors' permission.