Italian Elections: Europe’s Lost Generation Finds Its Voice

March 6th, 2013

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Fiona Ehlers, Julia Amalia Heyer, Mathieu von Rohr and Helene Zuber, March 04, 2013 (Photo Gallery: Italy Turns to Grillo).

For years, Europe’s young have grown increasingly furious as the euro crisis has robbed them of a future. The emergence of Beppe Grillo’s party in Italy is one of the results – and is just the latest indication that disgust towards European politics is widespread.

Only a few weeks ago, they hardly would have thought it was possible. But now here they are; their first public appearance following their surprise success in the Italian general election. In a hotel in Rome, not far from the Piazza San Giovanni, eight of the 162 newly elected parliamentary representatives of Movimento 5 Stelle (the Five Star Movement, or M5S) are squinting into the spotlights and speaking softly – and what they are saying actually sounds reasonable.

They are talking about empowering Italians and giving people more of a say in political decisions – and they want to know how their tax money is being spent. Grassroots politics is the goal. Their efforts remain somewhat clumsy, but they are sincere.

This group includes a male nurse, an IT specialist and a single mother – all in their 30s or 40s with good educations and no previous political experience. Soon, they will enter the newly constituted parliament, which will be younger, have more women and, on the whole, be best less politically experienced than any other in Italian history. M5S emerged as the strongest single party in the lower house of parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, and the second strongest party in the upper house, the Senate. The party garnered nearly one-third of its votes in Sicily. The “Grillini,” as the followers of former comedian Beppe Grillo are called, are the true miracle of this otherwise so chaotic election.

They are not clowns, but rather sincere young people who see themselves as a mouthpiece for everyday Italian citizens. These fledgling politicians do not rant and rave like Grillo, the founder of their movement.

In fact, it was just over a week ago that Grillo gave one of his loud and passionate speeches to half a million fans only a few hundred meters from here. He is their whip, their firebrand, “our megaphone,” as his people call him — and many of them can hardly stand him anymore. Grillo, who looks like he leapt straight out of a Baroque fountain by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and whose voice has grown hoarse from screaming, only offered the usual populist slogans: “Politicians are parasites – we should send them all home!”

Let Them Do Their Work!: … //

… A New Political Class:

  • Yet whereas the Greeks have not yet stirred up the old political system, the Grillini have found unexpected success. They were long underestimated in Italy, yet they long ago started having an effect. They have, for example, fundamentally shaken up the old party system, with its irreconcilable right-wing and left-wing factions. A new political class has emerged with them. Since the advent of the Grillini, Italians are debating Europe more than ever before, including their country’s possible exit from the euro zone.
  • What’s more, an increasing number of women are rising through the ranks of Italy’s political parties. In the recent election, 40 percent of the party-list spots for Italy’s center-left Democratic Party were reserved for women candidates, most of them political novices.
  • The Five Star Movement has only existed as a party for three and a half years. Ignored by the press and, not surprisingly, completely shunned by Silvio Berlusconi’s TV stations, the movement has relied on its own efforts to fuel its meteoric growth, primarily based on its savvy use of the Internet, and refused to accept government money available to help finance its campaign.
  • Silvana de Nicolò is one of the Grillini who is introducing herself at the hotel in Rome. She is in her mid-40s and was elected in the Lazio region, whose governor recently had to resign from Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) party after fellow members allegedly used taxpayers’ money to throw a bawdy Roman toga party. Given such examples, it is perhaps astounding that there are still those with enough idealism to pursue politics in today’s Italy.
  • SPIEGEL met de Nicolò in a café near parliament. In the wake of the election, the government district was immediately overwhelmed with a hectic energy as politicians struggled to position themselves for the coming change. De Nicolò sips her espresso while she calmly and rather naively explains her political platform. It calls for reducing the number of parliamentarians from today’s roughly 1,000 to half that amount, and slashing their monthly salaries to a maximum of €2,500 ($3,255) in net income. Reimbursement of election campaign costs will simply be abolished, she says, and the money saved by this measure will be used to finance micro-loans for social projects and people who can no longer acquire bank credit.
  • Nevertheless, she and her fellow party members usually avoid proposing concrete ideas for resolving the crisis. The party is often criticized for its “grilloeconomics,” and rightly so. How do they intend to finance their guaranteed minimum monthly income of €1,000? Their proposal is to reduce pensions and public-sector salaries — an adventurous proposal.

A Mistrust of Politicians: … //

… The True Loser:

  • The Grillini like to point out that they too intend to cut spending. What that means can be seen in the city of Parma, saddled with €800 million in debts. For the past three-quarters of a year, Parma has been governed by Mayor Federico Pizzarotti, 39, a member of the movement who has been busy trimming the fat from the municipal budget. He rides a bicycle to work and has exchanged two official sedans for an Opel natural gas vehicle. He adheres to the rules of the movement and doesn’t spend more than what he collects in taxes, but he’s still not seen as the Germans’ cost-cutting commissioner.
  • Chancellor Merkel is the “true loser of our election,” says Lucia Annunziata, editor in chief of the Italian edition of the Huffington Post, and one of the country’s most influential journalists. It is Wednesday, and she’s sitting in an editorial meeting and discussing the front-page headline for a piece on the clowns comment made by German Social Democratic Party (SPD) chancellor candidate Peer Steinbrück — and on Italian President Giorgio Napolitano’s response. The headline reads “Napolitano Saves Italy’s Honor.” Annunziata says that the Italians have “voted against the German crisis policy.”
  • Indeed, what the Germans somewhat euphemistically refer to as “reform policy” translates throughout Southern Europe as cost-cutting, reducing and foregoing, concepts that have an ugly ring to them. While many German policymakers and economists assume that Italy, Greece and Spain will be able to emerge from the current crisis as strong and competitive nations after a few hard years, it is primarily Anglo-Saxon economic experts who are convinced of the opposite: They see the austerity policies as a vicious circle that is dragging these countries deeper and deeper into recession.
  • For the time being, however, all of Europe is anxiously waiting to see what type of government will be formed in Rome. The politicians who have consistently ignored Beppe Grillo are now wooing him. Yet many of his young parliamentarians still lack a long-term political outlook and strategy. The future member of parliament Silvana de Nicolò says that after only two years she will be a non-politician again, and someone else will take her place. What’s more, she insists that she is not interested in governing, but only in waving through individual laws that appeal to her. It sounds as if she were giving up before she even started.

The Right Approach:

  • In reality, the Grillini protests are not likely to fade away overnight. But will they actually pursue long-term political goals, instead of merely fleeing abroad for work, like so many of their fellow Southern Europeans who see no future for themselves in the region? Or will they end up throwing stones like many young Greeks?
  • The experiment that has just begun in Italy already appears to be over in Athens. During last year’s two parliamentary elections, many voters supported Alexis Tsipras, head of the Coalition of the Radical Left, Syriza. He was the Greek politician who drew large crowds to campaign rallies with speeches about “ending the financial occupation” and “liberating the country from Merkel’s yoke.” Syriza has much in common with Grillo’s movement, despite being much further left on the political spectrum. Still, it is just as radical in its criticism of the European austerity drive – and just as popular.
  • Like Grillo, Tsipras has no effective concepts for combating the crisis. He says he intends to keep the euro, but no longer serve the debts. The EU is the only thing that has prevented Syriza from becoming the strongest political force in Greece. In contrast to the recent election in Italy, the Greeks were literally intimidated. Brussels gave them an ultimatum: Either you elect parties that will continue to pursue the course of austerity, or you will be out of the euro zone. Tsipras narrowly lost to the leader of the conservative New Democracy, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
  • For many young Greeks, the election in Italy now provides a model. If the population of the third-largest economy in the euro zone so openly opposes the austerity measures, then the exit of individual countries from the euro zone is no longer taboo. “That then,” says Aris Chatzistefanou, the Greek documentary maker, “is perhaps exactly the right approach.”

(full text).

(My comment: I read again the sentence above: … “Politicians are parasites – we should send them all home!” …
… ok, youngsters, good! But just try – the moment everybody can watch that you probably could succeed – to convince some guys having some REAL power to help you to stop a military putsch … similar how Boris Yeltsin did in Russia on August 18, 1991
… please do not be credulous, naive, innocent about the rainmakers intention to let you the power you just got by votations …!
See also my thoughts about Corruption, on HBB Blog, by HBB, Sept. 17, 2011.
– Heidi).

Find Beppe Grillo on it.wikipedia;
on en.wikipedia;
on de.wikipedia;
on fr.wikipedia;
on es.wikipedia;
and today in 29 languages, find links in the left column (Languages);
as on the External Links of en.wikipedia;
and Altri progetti and Collegamenti esterni of it.wikipedia;

Beppe Griloo’s Blog in english;

Elite Italian Media Also Throwing Hissy Fits About Beppe Grillo and Populism, on naked capitalism, by blog owner Yves Smith, March 1, 2013;

other Web-Links:

Senior judge warns over deportation of terror suspects to torture states: Britain’s most senior judge Lord Neuberger says policy would mean pulling out of UN and European court of human rights, on The Guardian, by Owen Bowcott, March 5, 2013;

UN demands prosecution of Bush-era CIA crimes, on Russia Today RT, March 4, 2013;

Burma’s oil rush: Nothing else in this country gives you money like this, on The Guardian, by Kate Hodal in Thayet and Rangoon, March 5, 2013: Thousands seize chance to profit from abandoned wells in spirit of enterprise denied under former military regime;

Union leaders (USA): Time is now for immigration reform, on People’s World, by John Wojcik, Feb 28, 2013.

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