In the aftermath of the vote on December 4, 2016, when the Italian electorate rejected constitutional reforms proposed by the Renzi administration, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi resigned a week later. He was succeeded by Paolo Gentiloni, who was his Minister of Foreign Affairs. Though he resigned his appointment as Prime Minister, he remained the Secretary of the Democratic Party (PD) until being pressurised by the left-wing of his party to resign that position too on February 19, 2017, to cause a leadership contest in the Democratic Party – which he subsequently won, with 70% of the vote on April 30, 2017. Meanwhile, dissatisfied with Renzi’s centrist politics, portions on the left-wing of the PD, including former leaders Pier Luigi Bersani and Massimo D’Alema, broke away to form their own left-wing social-democratic party.
Given polls currently suggesting the populist, anti-establishment, anti-EU 5 Star Movement party (M5S) is more popular that Renzi’s PD, Renzi’s challenge now is to unite the centre-left and create a force capable of fighting the general election due in May 2018. With the election of Emmanuel Macron in France, the European Union can breathe a sigh of relief, for now, at least until the German elections in September. If the opinion polls remain relatively stable until then, Germany is likely to avoid a populist, anti-establishment, anti-EU surge. Italy, and its election, currently due in May 2018, will then be the primary source of political risk in Europe.
In comments made the Italian newspaper Il Messaggero in an interview at the end of May 2017, Matteo Renzi has echoed comments by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and M5S leader Beppe Grillo, suggesting Italy’s electoral system could be more like the German system based on proportional representation and a 5% minimum for parties to gain seats in parliament. Renzi also added that a general election could be called to take place on the same day as the German elections in September to minimise market uncertainty. However, the decision to call an early election is in President Sergio Matterella’s hands, and news outlets report he prefers for Gentiloni to continue until May 2018.
Though Renzi’s eager to sleep in Palazzo Chigi again, he may have to wait a while longer.