The Gospel according to Matteo Renzi

EPA/JULIEN WARNAND

The Gospel according to Matteo Renzi


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Whenever there is an EU council, Matteo Renzi is the youngest, the cutest and the most decorative chief of state. He is Italy’s youngest ever prime minister. He is only 39 years old, madonna, younger even than the Romanian prime minister Victor Ponta (42), but, hey, Renzi is more handsome and has that Mediterranean skin.

He has exactly Mussolini’s age when he marched on Rome. Renzi had an amazingly rapid ascension, mayor of Florence, then secretary of the Democratic Party, Italy’s version of a Socialist party with red wine and long lunches, where deals are done and traitors identified over a bottle of rosso.

He reinvented the cloak-and-dagger way of doing politics that we expect from the Italians. Previously, Berlusconi had brought in a Soviet-style bulldozer manner of doing politics. Matteo Renzi reestablished the national style. He thus transformed his personal dislike for the then unelected Italian prime minister Enrico Letta into an inner revolution. Renzi brazenly announced that he would overthrow Letta, then he did just that.

He has real credentials. As mayor of Florence, he halved the number of city councilors, installed 500 free WiFi access points across the city, reduced kindergarten waiting lists by 90%, and increased spending on social welfare programs and schools.

Once at the helm of the government of Italy, he maintained, with shakespearian gusto, his sovereign dislike of Letta. From the beginning, he wanted his protégée Federica Mogherini to take Catherine Ashton’s seat as chief of the EU’s diplomacy. Italy needed to shine again.

None of this, told him sternly the other leaders. They wanted Letta, and they promised him a big, visible position. Give us Letta, although he’s a Socialist, said Merkel.

But Renzi could not accept that. He had overthrown the bald, colourless Letta, perbacco, and he couldn’t possibly give him the occasion to shine on the EU scene and then come back to national politics with the aura of a successful martyr. For Renzi, it had to be Mogherini or nothing. And Mogherini it was in the end.

Federica Mogherini’s nomination as chief of the EU’s diplomacy was a personal victory for Renzi, whose stubbornness in having her accepted in place of the British Catherine Ashton even led to the failure of an EU summit, devoted exclusively to this, on 17 July.

“Renzi wins the first round”, was the title on the first page of Italy’s La Stampa immediately after the 28 EU leaders nominated, on 30 August, the young Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini as “Lady Pesc”, or “High Representative”, chief of EU’s diplomacy (from the French acronym Politique Etrangère et de Sécurité Commune: PESC).

Renzi also scoffed at critics in the EU capitals who accuse him of being overly optimistic about his reform program. “Maybe they will say we are too ambitious or even too arrogant,” Renzi said. “But we have the correct attitude for a government that really wants to change the country.”

He managed to impose an unconventional style in EU politics, helped by the fact that Italy is now holding the EU’s rotating presidency. The Commission sent last week a letter chastising Italy for its budget deficit? Renzi decided to publish the letter, to Barroso’s great displeasure. But Renzi couldn’t care less for Barroso’s displeasure. He relishes taking on opponents, so he immediately dismissed Barroso’s displeasure that the letter had been made public.

“The era of secret letters from this building is over,” he said as he entered the EU council headquarters ahead of the summit. “It’s time for total transparency.”

With the unconventional Matteo Renzi, Italy is making a real come-back on the EU scene.

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