|The Franco-German Couple at risk (Merkel and Hollande)|
By contrast, Renzi did. He was defending his policy of reforms and asking for public support - and he sure got it: over 40% of the votes went to his Partito Democratico. That number, in itself, is breath-taking on two counts: never before had his party ever reached such a level (the highest had been around 33%) and it meant 11 million Italians voted for him. Moreover they voted in an election - the European one - that normally does not attract much affluence. Indeed the average in Europe was around 43% of voters, while in Italy it was about 10 points higher.
Renzi simply got people out there to vote for him.
This is all the more remarkable that Italy has really suffered from the 2008 recession - unemployment is very high, one young Italian out of two is unemployed. It's perhaps not as bad as Greece, but it's no picnic. There is no question that Beppe Grillo's success in 2013 (when he reaped some 25% of the votes) can be attributed to the recession and protests against austerity. So before Sunday's elections, the expectation was high that Beppe Grillo would win again and beat Renzi. As we all know, he failed miserably.
But the second part of Renzi's political message was important too and oddly enough, so far, major newspapers and political commentators in Europe and America have failed to notice: Renzi called for "more Europe" and came in favor of reforming Europe to make it "stronger".
Now this is indeed a strong message when it's backed by a 40% win at the polls.
Attention has been focused on the remarkable breakthrough of Marine Le Pen in France - 25% of the votes, well ahead of the government's socialist party that has fallen to an all-time low, at 14%. And of course the focus was also on Britain's UKIP that is now paving the way for a British exit out of Europe.
These are big news, no doubt. On the face of it, one can argue that the death knell for the European Union has sounded. The media loves nothing better than bad news.
But this time the media is wrong. This is far from a deathknell - besides, it's not the first time that anti-Europeans have suddenly flooded the European Parliament (they did so notably back in the 1980s). But, as it turns out, anti-European parties have a tendency to squabble among themselves and can't get their act together.
Do you think that Marine Le Pen will band together with the nazis of Greece's Golden Dawn? She has already said that she will have nothing to do with Beppe Grillo's party because he has no program. Moreover, both she and UKIP's Nigel Farrage want to lead the anti-European movement. Which one will win? Okay, you get the drift: the anti-Europeans are likely to end up in useless litigations amongst themselves.
Yet, even if by chance they didn't, my view is that a cohesive anti-European movement in the European Parliament could have some very positive results: the pro-Europeans, now divided in three large groupings, the conservatives, the socialists (among whom you find Renzi's party) and the liberals, would have to react together against the anti-Europeans. This could really move the dialogue forward and force people to focus on reforming Europe for the better - moving it away from petty bureaucratic regulations like the shape of bananas or the definition of olive oil and go forward to address the real issues, first and foremost, the elaboration of a European foreign policy. The EU will have no say in the international community until it does. We've seen how it went for Ukraine where America stepped in ahead of Europe even though it is a European problem...
To sum up: Renzi's result in Italy will affect the way Europe goes forward. The presidency of the EU goes to Italy in July (for 6 months). Do you really think Italy is going to sit back and watch everyone talking about the so-called two pillars of Europe - Germany and France - when the French pillar has all but collapsed and disappeared?
I believe we could have an Italian pillar to prop up Europe....Amazing Italy!
Source of photo: UK Guardian