December’s referendum on constitutional reform has led to an ongoing reconfiguration of Italian politics, writes Lia Quartapelle.
The government’s defeat in the vote led to a shake-up at the top, and new leadership in the form of former foreign affairs minister Paolo Gentiloni. It also ignited a leadership contest in the centre-left Democratic party (PD). This is the natural outcome of the result and it is also a necessity in order to elaborate and refine the party’s political platform for the 2018 elections. The discussion between the three candidates for the leadership – incumbent Matteo Renzi, justice minister Andrea Orlando and president of the Puglia regional government, Michele Emiliano – is mainly centred around different models of party management.
The three candidates share the idea that Italy, together with France and Germany, should be at the forefront of the efforts to relaunch the European integration process after Brexit; they also share the view that the PD has to be the driver of further structural reforms that Italy still needs.
However, the leadership contest is no distraction for the Gentiloni government, which will remain in office until the end of this legislature in February 2018. While the main partner in the government, the PD, is busy with its internal election, Gentiloni and his ministers are working hard in order to complete the reforms of education, justice, the labour market, poverty and redistribution which were initiated by Renzi. The parliament is discussing a new electoral law since the one approved under Renzi is no longer valid following the result of the referendum. Discussion of the electoral law is complicated by the uncertainties connected with the state of the parties to the right of the political spectrum. While the centre-right has not yet managed to find a new leader to succeed Silvio Berlusconi, the more radical Northern League is outflanking the Five Star Movement on many populist issues.
The risk of political fragmentation on the right, coupled with the challenges coming from populist movements, suggest that there are many more issues at stake in the PD leadership contest than just party management. It is important that we can project the idea that we have a strong leadership, legitimised in open and popular primary elections. It is also crucial to design a political platform, based on the successes of the Renzi and Gentiloni governments, that can carry forward a reformist programme. Finally, it is strategically vital that the PD use the 2017 electoral cycle in France and Germany to devise common ideas to re-energise the European integration process.
The anger and anxieties coming from parts of the electorate can only be defused with a strong project which recognises the European Union as our greatest defence against contemporary challenges, both in terms of economic competitiveness and of international security. The leadership contest will help us focus on these issues.
Lia Quartapelle is a member of the Italian parliament. She tweets at @LiaQuartapelle
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