Europe full of Grillos?

Some people claim Beppe Grillo is the only winner in Italian vote. It seem that Grillo basically doesn’t have any real political plan (not to mention something like foreign policy agenda), he is even more vague than other politicians, he is very successful in using social media, his supporters claim that they could not be defined as left or right-win, he call himself a populist. Would you say that the similar movements like Grillo’s have a real future in the European politics or not, and why?

Alessandra Mignolli, Ricercatrice di Diritto internazionale, Dipartimento di Scienze Giuridiche, Sapienza Università di Roma

It is not easy, right now, to imagine how the political and institutional situation will evolve in the next days. I have the impression that leaders of the political forces involved are sending contradictory messages. Probably they are the first to be disoriented. When I called you on Tuesday, I was in one of the popular shopping streets in Rome: everybody in the street was talking of the elections outcome and the prevailing feelings were of uncertainty, worry for the future, even desperation. Someone told me that yesterday was a historic day, that we are going to remember it as the day when everything started…

I would not be so pessimistic, we can stare at the situation coldly and try to trust that president Napolitano is going to figure out how to shape the new government. But I do think that it will not last long.What is certain, in my opinion, is that you are perfectly right, Grillo was the true winner of this election, because people did not accept the measures adopted by the Monti government, which, as you recall, was supported by both the centre-left and the centre-right forces in Parliament. What is important to understand, though, is that the Italians were ready to make the sacrifices necessary to react to the economic situation, but the sacrifices that were requested by the Monti government involved only one part of the society, the middle and lower classes, and didn’t affect at all, or very little, the political class and the upper class of the Italian society. This iniquity was what made easy for Grillo to win the elections, because his objective, as he declared, is to send all the old guard politicians, perceived as corrupt and inept, back home with a kick in the ass, if you excuse the language, but it is actually Grillo’s language!

So, yes, Grillo won the elections, he has a very vague political agenda (but the others didn’t have any better), he has in my opinion also a quite dangerous agenda regarding Europe and the euro. At the same time, I am intrigued, as many fellow citizens, by a group of young new members of Parliament full of enthusiasm. I don’t think that the phenomenon can be exported elsewhere in Europe, because if it is true that disaffection towards “traditional” political parties exists, or may exist also in other countries, it is also true that the Italian political life in the last couple of years (and more, if you count all of the Berlusconi era), was sick, it did not follow the “normal” patterns of institutional respect and rules that should govern a mature democracy. Scandals, laws ad personam, corruption, institutional conflict between government and judiciary, and add the economic sacrifices asked to people in the last year, all this contributed to build a general sense of annoyance, disaffection and despise towards the current political class, and the desire to radically change. What is interesting about the Movimento 5 stelle, and may find application elsewhere in Europe, is the use of the  web as means to share ideas and build relationship. This method permits  to cut costs and easily get in contact with people, and has been the winning weapon of Grillo’s Movement.

Aline Sierp, Lecturer in European Studies, Maastricht University

The claim that Beppe Grillo is the only winner in the vote related to the fact that he managed to get an impressive amount of votes almost ‘out of the blue’. His party is neither well established nor does he have a clear programme. He nevertheless managed to use social media effectively in order to rally support. The real reasons for his success however lie somewhere else. They have to be found in the growing Italian disenchantment with politics, the feeling that all politicians, regardless of their ideological conviction, are corrupt and cannot be trusted. Years of mismanagement, financial scandals and deeply encrusted political structures have had a devastating effect on Italians confidence in the political system. The growing support for Beppe Grillo can be attributed to the fact that he was addressing exactly these problems. His message was anti-establishment, against everything that many Italians had started to despise (regardless of the fact that they had repeatedly voted for people who had contributed to the very degradation of the system). Most Italians, when asked why they vote Grillo, give a pure anti-establishment answer: “Italian politics has to change. The Right was not able to do it, the Left neither, so I am voting Beppe Grillo.” The mere fact that Grillo is not a politician, that he has underlined several times that he was not going to become one, propelled his message forward effectively.

I do not believe that Beppe Grillo would have had the same support also in other European countries. Grillo’s success is closely tied to the very specific Italian situation. He grew out of a certain political attitude that has its roots in long-term political and social developments. However, under similar circumstances as the ones described above, other populist movements might use the growing disenchantment with politics for rallying support in an equally successful way also in other countries.

Mark Donovan, Senior Lecturer, Cardiff School of European Studies, Cardiff University

I think it unlikely that other countries will produce this kind of movement with this kind of success.

To produce this sort of result you need several things:

1.  A seriously disillusioned and de-aligned electorate (to some extent this does exist in several other countries)
2.  The absence of  a “learning process” by the public re the candidates/elected officials of the party i.e. a very large and very rapid influx into parliament without a long “apprenticeship” stage in local and then regional governments.
The rapid influx in Italy reflects:
3) the breakdown of party government in Italy in Autumn 2011 (rare, near unique, in Western Europe at least), plus
4) strong dislike of the technocratic alternative to party government, ruling out Monti being seen as a politico-plebiscitary technocrat. No De Gaulle.
5). A media system that is not sufficiently critical and independent of the party establishment – also a problem elsewhere!

THEN, given 2 and the way 5SM has been created – on the web, 6) the 5SM is a kind of “virtual party” that got “magicked” into reality:

5SM is not simply “populist”. That isn’t the problem. The problem is the parliamentary cohort is made up of largely unknown candidates many, even most of whom are likely to be found inadequate once in office. The candidates are well-educated (80% have degrees) and far from ignorant of the “real world” – 1/4 are self-employed, perhaps 1/3 white-collar workers, but they are highly unlikely to have much understanding of key policy areas, though this may not be true of all with regard to certain aspects of e.g. environmental or business-related policy.

If things go badly, as they might do, then Italy’s 5SM will be an example of why amateurs cannot help run a modern state!

There are other scenarios: a split in 5SM in which the more competent and responsible back a government giving it an adequate majority, thus showing such movements can overcome barriers and enable an influx of fresh blood into a sclerotic, self-obsessed institution; yet that they are highly ambivalent forces which reveal both the importance and delicacy off modern government institutions – which facts are routinely overlooked.

Key questions: who will be 5SM’s parliamentary Group leaders? How will they interact with the movement? Will Article 68 of the Constitution become a key issue in the Movement?

Early elections aren’t on the immediate agenda since only the new President of the Republic will be able to call them – in 3-4 months time. But he and others may want time to pass to reveal that the 5SM candidates are not capable of contributing to good government.  Time might also allow for splits to develop in the movement, perhaps with the more competent and amenable being co-opted into government.  However pressure on Italy by “the markets” might fuel all kinds of reactions.

Italy has gone from one “pied pier” (as Monti described Berlusconi), that is an effective electoral mobiliser with little governmental ability, to another (Grillo) – with very possibly no governmental capacity. Yet Grillo is not the dominant figure Berlusconi was. He won’t be PM for nearly a decade.

Pavlos EfthymiouPhD Candidate in Politics and International Studies, St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge

That for as long as the era of austerity, negative economic growth, grim socio-economic prospects, negative psychology and overall climate of insecurity, uncertainty and instability, political morphomas such as Grillo’s will have an audience. On the other hand, on the issue of vagueness, it is the very unfortunate truth that many mainstream political parties in Europe also have vague and continually changing agenda’s on domestic and foreign issues alike. Berlusconi and his party are a case in point – the art of ‘going with the wind’…
Overall, the future of political morphomas like SYRIZA, Golden Dawn, Independent Greeks in Greece or the Five Star Movement in Italy have a future for as long as Europe seems unable to overcome the crisis and move beyond the politics of austerity.


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