Italia Viva leader Matteo Renzi believes that in the midst of the pandemic he must also give Italy a government crisis. In doing so, he has gambled.
Plunging Italy into a government crisis: Matteo Renzi Photo: dpa
What devil is riding Matteo Renzi? The former prime minister and current leader of the small party Italia Viva believes that in the midst of the pandemic, in the midst of the deep economic and social crisis it has triggered, he must also give Italy a government crisis.
Italy does not need this crisis. Under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the government has done a decent job overall, especially in the face of the corona pandemic; it has reacted decisively overall, both in the first wave in March and in the second wave from October onward; not least, it has succeeded in Brussels in launching the major European package "Next Generation EU," from whose fund 209 billion euros will flow to Italy.
Certainly, like other governments in Europe, it could have done much more in the summer to better position the country for the second wave, and it should have taken tougher measures earlier in the fall – but it was and is Renzi’s Italia Viva, of all people, that resisted further restrictions in schools, the economy and private life.
Fighting the pandemic cannot be the sole raison d’être of a government, Renzi sounded at his press conference announcing the breakup of the coalition on Wednesday evening. But then he got down to business – better to the person who really bothers him: Giuseppe Conte. The head of government, unlike the unpopular Renzi, enjoys high popularity, and he was allowed to be painted by his opponent as a "populist," even a petty dictator, who "inflicted wounds on democracy" and who governed "with one decree after another."
Conte must go – this is Renzi’s real message. After the breakup of the coalition between the Five Star Movement and the right-wing populist Lega (also under Conte), he himself stood at the cradle of the second Conte government with its coalition of the Five Star Movement, the moderate left-wing Partito Democratico (PD) and the small radical left-wing Liberi e Uguali (LeU) list.
Buying time for his own small party
At the time, Renzi probably just wanted to buy himself time to split the PD, to which he still belonged at the time, and to found his own party, Italia Viva, without being thwarted by quick new elections with a victory for Lega leader Matteo Salvini.
Italia Viva ("Living Italy") did come to pass, but it quickly proved stillborn, cruising around 3 percent in the opinion polls. Renzi had to bury the dream of becoming Italy’s Macron. Worse still, the PD and the Five Stars did not work smoothly together in the pandemic, but overall they worked quite well together – and Renzi stood on the sidelines, had hardly anything to say, and worse: was hardly noticed in public.
At least he was able to change that with the government crisis he unleashed. But neither Italy nor his party will benefit much from this step, or rather this desperate act. For the time being, all Renzi has achieved is that the other three coalition partners are more united than ever behind Conte, that they brand Renzi’s actions as "extremely serious" and "directed against the country. And he can enjoy the applause of the right-wing opposition, which, under the leadership of the Lega, now smells the morning air of quick new elections.
But he has not solved his problem: His Italia Viva will remain marginal in any solution – a new edition of the coalition, a continuation of Conte’s government without Renzi and instead with the confidence of newly recruited center deputies, an all-party emergency government or new elections. Only 13 percent of Italians believe that Renzi is acting in the country’s interest; 73 percent see him as being driven by personal interests. And new elections in particular would probably mean the political death of his party.
Renzi is regarded as a gambler who likes to gamble high. But this time he may have gambled, just like the other Matteo, Salvini of the Lega, in the government crisis of August 2019. Unlike Salvini, however, who heads a party that is good for 30 percent, Renzi may have embarked on a suicide mission with his 3-percent party, to which he himself will be the first victim.