The fall of Italy's Matteo Renzi

Renzi ObamaROME, Italy – Less than a year and a half ago, Matteo Renzi was on top of the world.

Riding high after victories in local elections that solidified his government and sparked talk of Italy joining France and Germany as the main protagonists in the European Union, and gearing up for a national referendum on a signature political reform, Renzi, then Italy’s prime minister, was the guest of honor at the final state dinner in the Barack Obama White House.

In a Rose Garden Ceremony, Obama embraced the 43-year-old Italian, calling him a “good friend” and describing his governing style as having “a vision of progress not rooted in fears but rather in hope.”

Within two months, Renzi went from being the toast of Washington to resigning as prime minister after the reform he based his government on was soundly rejected. Renzi, whose highest political office before becoming prime minister was as mayor of Florence, has been floundering ever since.

“Renzi wasn’t prepared to be prime minister,” said Riccardo Puglisi, a political economist with Italy’s University of Pavia. “He rose too fast. He was a young star, but because of a lack of experience in politics, he just wasn’t up to the task of being prime minister.”

Six months after stepping down as both prime minister and as head of Italy’s center-left Democratic Party, Renzi maneuvered to regain the party’s leadership position. That means he would become prime minister again if the party manages to garner at least 40 percent of the vote. But pollsters said that is very unlikely, with most predicting it to gain a little more than a quarter of the vote.

The selection of Renzi, a centrist, has the party head was so controversial that some of the more left-leaning factions of the party broke away to form splinter groups.

Renzi made a lot of enemies during his 22-month stint as head of government, and so it is probably a long-shot for him to head a coalition that includes his party together with others.

“You could see some kind of umbrella coalition, but it’s unlikely they’d select a polarizing figure like Renzi to head the that group,” said Franco Pavoncello, president of Rome’s John Cabot University and a frequent commentator on political topics.

Photo: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and United States President Barack Obama during the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC, USA. In this Twitter account, Renzi said: "Thank you, President Obama. Italy will continue its commitment to nuclear safety with great determination."
Credit: Courtesy of Matteo Renzi's official Twitter account.

Story/photo publish date: 03/01/2018

A version of this story was published in the Washington Times.
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