Italy’s 5Star Movement loses its shine – POLITICO



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Italy’s 5Stars are facing an identity crisis that threatens to split the movement in two.

After long defining itself as an anti-establishment movement, the party last week decided to back a distinctly establishment government led by Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who was brought in after a 5Star coalition government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte collapsed amid disputes over pandemic relief plans.

But a rebellious group of 31 purist 5Star MPs refused to go along with the decision and voted against Draghi. Another 20 didn’t show up for the vote. Now they’re all facing expulsion from the party. And the 5Star Movement is grappling with what it means for a self-styled outsider, Euroskeptic group to be working closely with Draghi, the ultimate European insider. Draghi once ran the European Central Bank, is vocally pro-European integration and is linked to pushing economic policies on Italy in 2011 that didn’t sit well with the 5Stars’ anti-austerity, Euroskeptic origins. 

Joining Draghi’s government also means working with a sworn adversary, Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party. 

Yet being in Draghi’s coalition also gives the party a platform to pursue some of its key goals — such as an environmentalist agenda — and have a hand in how to spend the €209 billion Italy is expected to receive from the European Union post-pandemic recovery fund.

The schism over the decision marks the culmination of a long-expected rupture between the party’s pragmatist and purist wings, which were always held together by an unlikely mixture of ideologies. And it could result in a breakaway faction of the 5Star movement forming a new party. Even before the Draghi rebellion, more than 40 5Star MPs had previously abandoned the movement in dribs and drabs. 

“5Star was created to overcome the powers of financial institutions over people and states,” said Senator Matteo Mantero, one of the 5Stars members who voted against Draghi. “To vote for this government is to deny one of the reasons we came into existence.”

Making a decision on Draghi

When Draghi was tapped earlier this month to form a new coalition government, the 5Star Movement was confronted with a dilemma: support Draghi to stay in government and compromise some long-held ideals, or oppose him, losing power and influence but retaining ideological purity.

The 5Stars put the question to its members, and nearly 60 percent followed the call from party leaders to support the new administration. 

That’s when the defections began. Alessandro Di Battista, a prominent figure in the 5Stars’ purist wing, quit the party, proclaiming, “My political conscience could no longer carry on.”

Following his lead, 15 senators and 16 MPs voted against Draghi in confidence votes on Wednesday and Thursday, leading the 5Stars to announce the expulsion process on Friday.

“This is not the right person to manage the [EU] recovery fund,” Mantero said, citing Draghi’s past economic positions and concerns about Draghi’s push for greater European integration and more migrant repatriations. 

But party loyalists countered that being in power allows them to advance the 5Stars’ environmentalist agenda, and set some conditions, such as the creation of a new green transition super-ministry.

“Being in government, we can defend the results obtained by 5Stars, improving this country and the daily life of its citizens,” said MP Valentina Barzotti in a speech to the lower house ahead of the vote.

In going against Draghi, the dissidents were also breaking with a 5Stars internal rule to respect the online votes of the movement’s members.

One 5Stars senator said that following the votes of members was sacred: “The net must decide. Whoever votes against the wishes of members goes against the values of the party and that is sufficient grounds for expulsion.”

The defectors weren’t the only ones tempted to defy Draghi, according to two 5Stars MPs. “There are a lot of doubts — we all have doubts,” said the senator.  

Former Infrastructure Minister Daniele Toninelli, a 5Stars member, has been open about his misgivings. 

In a video on social media, Toninelli said his vote for Draghi was “not unconditional” and would have to be earned daily.

The 5Star Movement’s future

If expelled, some dissidents say they will try to form a parliamentary group to help oppose Draghi’s government. It may include some of those who have previously left 5Stars. Di Battista signaled he might help, writing on Facebook that it was “time to build a robust opposition.”

Yet those close to the 5Stars Movement said such a breakaway group would struggle to find common ground.

“It will be difficult for them to coordinate harmoniously,” said one former 5Stars insider. “They are too different — not many things unite them.”

Others facing expulsion, including Mantero, plan to appeal their dismissal and return to the 5Stars.

For now, the defections have already given 5Stars less clout in government — there are now more right-wing senators backing Draghi than center-left representatives. 

Longer term, backing establishment parties like Forza Italia Could Cost the 5Stars at the polls, said Lorenzo Pregliasco of polling company You Trend. 

“Supporting old political parties could have an impact on their vote,” Pregliasco said, adding that Draghi was less popular with 5Stars voters than Conte, the previous prime minister.

Currently, the 5Stars are polling at just 15 percent nationally — down from the 32 percent that brought them to power in 2018. If those numbers hold, almost three-quarters, or roughly 200 5Star MPs, would lose their seats in the next elections. 

Such a result could signal the receding of a populist wave that brought the 5Stars to power in 2018.

Analysts say the 5Star Movement’s best chance for remaining a mainstream party is to align itself with Conte, who has no party affiliation but is close to 5Stars and held approval ratings above 60 percent over most of the past year.  

Conte has for now returned to his work at the University of Florence, without making his next political moves clear. But at his last press conference as prime minister, he suggested he could return, saying “to my friends in the 5Star Movement: I am here and I will be here.”



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