Italy

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

Tony Barber

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

Ferdinando Giugliano

About twelve months ago, as I was travelling across the Northeast of Italy during the electoral campaign, I went hunting for evidence of mounting euroscepticism across voters. Overall, my search was rather unsuccessful. Italy’s long love-story with the euro and the EU more generally was certainly under strain, but its end did not look in sight. By and large, the people I spoke to continued to consider Brussels a source of economic stability and peace.

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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

Ferdinando Giugliano

(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 U2Between De Gaspari and U2 — on young people and the symbols of politics.

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(EPA)

Do last week’s German constitutional court ruling lambasting – but failing to overturn – the ECB’s crisis-fighting bond-buying programme and Matteo Renzi’s ousting of Italy’s prime minister Enrico Letta have anything in common?

In the view of many ECB critics, particularly in Berlin, the two are not only related, but one may have caused the other. Read more

Tony Barber

(Getty)

According to the old saying, if you knew how a sausage was made, you’d never eat one. It is no easier on the stomach to watch the political intrigues that lie behind the formation of Italian governments.

A new government is on its way in Rome because Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, has decided to pull the plug on Enrico Letta’s premiership. It is difficult to see who other than the youthful, super-ambitious Renzi will replace Letta.

For Italy’s eurozone partners, this is a fateful moment. If Renzi, as prime minister, fails to deliver the reforms that European policy makers know are essential to keeping Italy in the eurozone, the likelihood that some other Italian politician will do so are exceedingly small.

But Renzi’s very public political assassination of Letta, his party comrade, was a kind of theatrical “stab in the front” that may one day return to haunt him. For if these are the methods he deems suitable to clear his path to national office, it is reasonable to assume that they will sooner or later be used against him. Read more

Tony Barber

Matteo Renzi (Getty)

Outside Italy there is an understandable enthusiasm for the constitutional and electoral reform proposals of Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party. Italy unblocked – at last! Inside the nation itself, there is more caution and scepticism. This reflects the experience of Italians, who have travelled such roads in the past without being rewarded with better government and a better class of political leaders.

Renzi, 39, and Silvio Berlusconi, 77, leader of the revived conservative Forza Italia party, struck a deal this month which is beguiling in its simplicity. Read more