By Gideon Rachman
Europe’s fightback against populism was going well for a couple of hours. On Sunday afternoon, it emerged that the far-right candidate had lost the Austrian presidential election. But the good news from Austria was drowned out by bad news that same evening, from the other side of the Alps. Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, had lost his referendum on constitutional reform and confirmed that he will resign.
Barack Obama said this week that he would like to see Matteo Renzi “hang around” as Italian prime minister even if he loses a pivotal constitutional reform referendum in December. Such a scenario would represent a reversal of Mr Renzi’s vow to leave office if he is defeated, but may be reassuring for markets and investors looking for political stability in the eurozone’s third-largest economy. But it might not be that simple. So what are Mr Renzi’s options?
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Renzi’s big test
This week Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, set a date in December for his high-stakes referendum on constitutional reform. The vote will determine the political future of a leader already struggling with painful party defeats in local elections, troubles in Italy’s banking system and a persistently weak economy. Ben Hall discusses with James Politi, the FT’s Italy correspondent and Europe news editor Joshua Chaffin.
Italy’s struggling banks pose a test for Renzi and the EU
Italy’s banking system is struggling in the wake of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and ahead of stress tests this month. What does this mean for the future of Matteo Renzi, Italy’s prime minister, and for Europe’s wider economic prospects? Daniel Dombey puts the question to the FT’s Alex Barker and James Politi.
David Cameron says that Britain’s relationship with the rest of the European Union is deeply unsatisfactory and must change. He is pressing ahead with his plans to demand reforms in Europe and to put the results to an “in-out” referendum in Britain – probably next year. But if you look at current events in Europe, Britain’s deal does not look at all bad – in fact, it is strikingly good. There are two major crises currently underway – involving Greece’s debts and refugees arriving in Italy. And yet because of opt-outs negotiated by previous British governments, the UK has been able largely to avoid the painful choices facing the other Europeans. Read more
Will Italy’s regional poll results weaken Renzi’s reforms?
The government of Matteo Renzi has done badly in regional elections. Gideon Rachman and guests discuss whether his reformist project is now in trouble and what that would mean for the rest of Europe.
It is a momentous day for the European Central Bank as it launches full-scale government bond buying. Mr Draghi started speaking at 13.30 GMT and the press conference usually lasts for an hour.
By Ralph Atkins and Lindsay Whipp
For the past 15 years, there has been little good to say about Italy’s economic performance, and even less about the quality of Italian political life.
Yet one Italian institution emerges with its reputation unscathed – and even strengthened – from this long spell of incompetence, corruption and decline.
I am speaking of the presidency. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who served as head of state from 1999-2006, and Giorgio Napolitano, his successor and the current president, have exemplified everything that is dignified, decent and honourable about their country. Their behaviour in office has put the squabbling and self-serving political classes to shame – and it has preserved respect for Italy among its allies and partners abroad. Read more
Europe’s budget wrangles
Gideon Rachman is joined by Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, and Tony Barber, Europe editor, to discuss the threat that the European Commission will reject the budgets of some of Europe’s biggest nations, in particular France and Italy. Is such a move really possible and what would be the political and economic consequences?
A spike in the cost of government borrowing is raising the spectre of Venezuela defaulting on its more than $80bn of sovereign debt
Italy’s anti-euro, anti-immigrant Northern League party is seizing on the Scottish referendum to relaunch calls for secession of the north of Italy
A meeting between the leaders of China and India next week underscores the slow thaw in the countries’ relations as their economic links strengthen
Isis is recruiting in Istanbul‘s impoverished suburbs, often through religious study groups, to boost its ranks of fighters and populate its self-declared caliphate. Read more
After all the UK press has written about him over the past few weeks, it is good to see Jean-Claude Juncker still has a sense of humour.
The former Luxembourg prime minister has largely kept his head down since he emerged as the front-runner for the European Commission presidency – and came under fire from UK prime minister David Cameron and the pro-Conservative battalions of the British media.
On Tuesday Mr Juncker broke cover to deliver a speech at a Berlin security conference – he had, he said, accepted the invitation before becoming embroiled in the latest battle of Brussels.
Explaining that he was between jobs – having handed over the reins in Luxembourg in December and yet to be installed in a new post – he added with a smile: “I am a transgender person, in the political sense.” Read more
Just when it seemed that European politics could get no harder for Angela Merkel, a new complication has emerged in the tangled world of the EU.
The German chancellor is already involved in a head-splitting row over the probable appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president. This week while Ms Merkel was in Brazil watching Germany’s opening victory of the World Cup, the first big split emerged in her ruling coalition.
Sigmar Gabriel, her deputy, pounced on Ms Merkel’s absence to challenge her eurozone economic policy, in an intervention that has the potential to sour relations long after the original dispute is forgotten. Read more
Now that most of the results have come in from the European parliament elections, let’s take a family photograph of Europe’s presidents, chancellors and prime ministers. Who have the broadest smiles on their faces, and who are sobbing into their handkerchiefs?
Among the European Union’s six biggest states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – the happiest leader must surely be Matteo Renzi, Italy’s premier. He won, and won big. Mr Renzi (above) demolished the notion that Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement is on an unstoppable roll. He also inflicted an emphatic defeat on Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party.
Even though it was not a national election, the youthful Mr Renzi can now claim to have a mandate of sorts for the political, economic and social reforms that he knows are necessary to modernise Italy. This is not to say that he will succeed – the power of entrenched anti-reform interests in Italy is formidable. But maybe he has a better chance than he did 48 hours ago. Read more
Can Renzi break Italian deadlock?
In Italy, the government of Enrico Letta has fallen and the country is set to have its youngest Prime Minister ever. Matteo Renzi promises to be a radical reformer. In this week’s podcast Guy Dinmore, Rachel Sanderson and Ferdinando Giugliano join Gideon Rachman to discuss whether Mr Renzi can break the political and economic deadlock that seems to be paralysing the country and what the stakes are for Europe
(OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Whenever any centre-left leader comes to power in Europe, there are always questions over who he or she will be compared to. Take François Hollande: only days after his election to the Elysée, commentators were already wondering whether he might be France’s Gerhard Schröder. The hope was that he could reform France’s labour market from the left, just as the former chancellor did in Germany in the early 2000s.
Matteo Renzi, who is set to become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister, is bound to draw such comparisons. When Time magazine chose to feature the then 34-year old mayor of Florence on its front page in February 2009, the US weekly asked whether he might be Italy’s Barack Obama. In an interview to the Italian daily Il Foglio, Mr Renzi compared himself to Tony Blair, saying he wanted to transform the Italian left just as Britain’s three-times prime minister did with the Labour party. The media-savvy Mr Blair certainly remembered Mr Renzi’s aspirations when he called on Europe’s leaders to “get fully behind” Italy’s new leader. Read more
Five lesser-known facts about the man likely to become Italy’s youngest ever prime minister:
- He was once a boy scout. According to his online biography, he continued his scout duties while director of his family firm.
- Some compared him with Barack Obama when he chose to run a grassroots primary campaign with the tagline “Adesso!” – “Now!” While Obama wrote books called The Audacity of Hope and Dreams from My Father, Renzi has written a book called Fuori! (Out!) about the dreams, ideas and hopes for a new generation. It tells the reader what he has learnt from football and scout camps.
- He has also written a book call Tra De Gaspari e gli U2 — Between De Gaspari and U2 — on young people and the symbols of politics.