Italy in stalemate as Grillo refuses coalition

Italy's 5-Star Movement, wants blockchain to be used in streamlining public services. [Shutterstock]

Beppe Grillo, leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, ruled out a coalition yesterday (27 February) with the Italian centre-left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani. The move comes days after Bersani rejected Silvio Berlusconi’s plea to form a grand coalition, leaving Italy with a political impasse.

In an outburst of insults, Grillo called Bersani a "dead man talking" on his blog, in reference to the Democratic party’s limited coalition options. The ex-comic also noted that the leader of the centre-left should quit, as the Five Star Movement was not prepared to enter into a reparatory coalition.

The move comes days after a turbulent election (24-25 February), which has left Italy’s political system frozen, as electoral blocks seem unable to form a stable coalition.

A political stalemate occurred as Bersani and Berlusconi divided the two Italian parliamentary chambers, with the Democratic party winning a majority in the lower house, while the People of Freedom control the Senate.

The Five Star Movement, or M5S, topped the election with 25% of the vote but is regarded as the main obstacle for political stability. Its leaders have opted for a ‘no coalition’ alternative where parliamentary affairs will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

"The M5S will give no confidence vote to the PD or to anyone else. It will vote in the chamber for laws which chime with its programme, whoever proposes them," Grillo wrote on his blog.

The Five Star Movement wants to avoid giving any confidence votes to shape a new government, while instead relying on multiple allies in parliament to pass new legislation on an ad-hoc basis.

The decision by Grillo to snub Bersani’s coalition offer has proven controversial, as his followers remain divided about potential cooperation with the Democratic party.

"This is not just Beppe Grillo, but the whole grass-root movement of the Five Star Movement who seem to be opposed to the idea of forming a coalition with the centre-right and centre-left. They are interested in working case-by-case on laws, rather than entering into larger coalitions,” Sonia Alfano, an MEP for the Italy of Values party, told EURACTIV.

“Any further attempts at coalitions and backroom negotiations will only further offend the Five Star Movement. If anything, Bersani should have tried to offer a more diplomatic and constructive solution,” said Alfano.  

Economic woes

High unemployment and public debt across Italy are believed to have been a vital factor in the success of Grillo and his Five Star Movement.

According to Demopolis, the Italian National Institute of Research, 43% of Italians felt economic insecurity in 2008, rising to 63% in 2012. Similar figures also estimate that over 50% are afraid to lose their job, while 63% remain "pessimistic about youth unemployment."

“When taking into consideration the dire economic situation in Italy, it cannot come as a surprise to anyone that the Five Star Movement performed so well in the elections. He was more than a protest vote,” said Alfano.

Grillo here to stay?

The government coalition proposed by Bersani this week included sweeping institutional and governmental reforms, some of which have also been voiced by the Five Star Movement during the election. Yesterday’s snub by Grillo however means that coalition options remain unlikely between the Five Star Movement and the centre-left.

Berlusconi’s continued coalition offer could instead prove to be a realistic game-changer, as both the Democratic Party and the centre-right could stabilise markets, while potentially changing the electoral system in favour of larger parties.

Bersani now faces the choice between a grand coalition and an unstable minority government in order to pass legislation. Nichi Vendola, leader of the Left Ecology Freedom party (SEL), said there would not be a bipartisan coalition with Berlusconi after a meeting with the Democratic Party on Wednesday.

Political parties should consider the need for “responsible governance,” Berlusconi said in an online video message released on his Facebook page. “In the coming days we must reflect on political scenarios and proposals for the future of our country.”

Alfano told EURACTIV: “I hope there will be no grand coalition. It would be the end of Italy and the return of elections. On the other hand, the Five Star Movement has a massive weight now and whether you like it or not – they are here to stay."

“Backroom negotiations are not the right way forward," Alfano said. "We should look at Sicily as an example of how Grillo’s movement has performed. They have been quite pragmatic and rejected a coalition, while instead relying on case-by-case legislation, which seems to have worked."

Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement, has made it clear that his political party is not interested in forming a coalition with any of the opposition parties. He instead wished to rely on a case-by-case method to pass laws in parliament. "The M5S will give no confidence vote to the PD (or to anyone else). It will vote in the chamber for laws which chime with its programme, whoever proposes them," Grillo’s wrote on his blog. Silvio Berlusconi, leader of the People of Freedom party, has expressed his support for a larger coalition, offering the possibility to the Democratic Party to form a 'grand coalition'. Pier Luigi Bersani, leader of the Democratic Party, voiced concern about the instability of Italy, while reaching out to the Five Star Movement for support. 

On 21 December 2012, Mario Monti resigned as prime minister due to the withdrawal of coalition endorsement from the centre-right People of Freedom party.

With waning support for the technocratic Monti cabinet and the dissolution of parliament in December 2012, the Italian constitution demanded that elections were held within 70 days.

Based on proportional representation and electorally divided into 26 districts for the Chamber of Deputies and 20 regions for the Senate, Italy elected 945 members into the lower and upper houses of parliament on 24-25 of February 2013. The election resulted in a slim majority for the centre-left Democratic Party in the Chamber of Deputies, while the centre-right dominate the Senate.

The outcome has frozen Italy’s political system, as electoral blocks seem unable to form a stable coalition.

  • 15 March: First Parliament meeting
  • 15 April: Parliament and regional delegates meet to elect the new President of Italy
  • 15 May: End of mandate of the current president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano

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