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Not all crickets make spring come: why Grillo would threaten Europe and transatlantic relations

As negotiations for the new Italian government get under way, their possible outcome could seriously affect the future of Europe and of Transatlantic Relations.

The elections saw the success of a new political movement - the 5 Stars Movement (5SM) - lead by comic actor Beppe Grillo, whose name in Italian mean cricket. Much like the first Berlusconi, Grillo is anti-establishment, promises a renewal of politics and used his personal wealth to set-up the movement. Unlike Silvio Berlusconi, he has no personal economic interest to defend and this makes him more credible, but also possibly far more disruptive, especially in foreign policy terms, potentially transforming Italy into an unreliable partner for both Europe and the US

Traditionally, Italian foreign policy is based on five pillars, each responding to one or more domestic needs: European integration, Transatlantic Relations, Mediterranean & Middle East and the Balkans.

The 5SM program does not mention foreign policy. Yet, Grillo’s ideas are easily retraceable on his blog ( and on a number of interviews he gave in recent times. Grillo’s father in law, an Iranian who recently passed away, had a lasting influence on him. The other “inspirer” is 5SM co-founder Roberto Casaleggio, a communication and IT expert with a messianic view of his mission, calling for no less than WWIII in 2020 as the way to bring democracy and equality to the world.

Grillo’s thinking on foreign policy is characterized by three simple ideas: we need less Europe; America is evil; Iran is a victim of an international conspiracy lead by Israel. These three ideas would clearly have a number of important policy implications should they be enacted. Grillo would withdraw Italy from the Euro; he would go back to the old anti-US, anti-NATO (and anti-NATO basis) left rhetoric; he would supports US’ rogue states from Iran to Venezuela and Syria; his anti-Semitic pronouncements – as the Times of Israel recently underlined – could be disruptive for the already shaky Middle East peace process.

These foreign policy ideas that are however tempting to the left of the Democratic Party (PD), who are in fact pushing their leader Pierluigi Bersani to try to form a government supported by (part of) Grillo’s MPs. Fortunately, it is not very likely to happen. Should he not manage that, Bersani favors a return to the polls as early as June in order to prevent his rival Matteo Renzi – the young, moderate, popular major of Florence - to take over the party and run for Prime Minister. However, retaking the vote under the present conditions – Italy’s economy is on his knees, as the NYT well explained in the past days - and with the current electoral law, it would only give Grillo the possibility to win the majority prize and thus get the keys to the country. The daily Il Foglio published the results of a poll giving as much as 40% for the 5SM should a new vote be taken now.

Italy’s geopolitical position is today pivotal, just like it was during the Cold War and thus cannot be lost. Italy under Grillo would make campaigns like the Libya War impossible. Italy would likely oppose sanctions to Iran, in a time when pressure is increasing on Asian countries to join the effort. Should Italy withdraw from the Euro, consequences would be catastrophic not only for the country and the EU, but also for the US economy. Last but not least, populist tendencies are alive and well all over the European continent; Grillo’s takeover could unleash a chain effect like, in the 1920-30s, did the “democratic” seize of power of Hitler and Mussolini.

As President Obama travels the Middle East, a reflection should take place on the risks of having a rogue state right in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.

For the good of the country and for the stability of the international community, one can only hope that the Italian Parliament will at the end vote for a short term government supported by PD, Berlusconi’s party PDL and Monti’s Scelta Civica, but without any of their older leadership, to give citizens a clear sign of change with the past.

Such government should focus on three “symbolic” issues: securing the economic reforms; change the electoral law; sharply decrease the cost of politics by abolishing that hideous waste of public money that goes under the name of “electoral reimbursements”.

New early elections could then be called - possibly in May 2014, alongside EU elections - having given citizens enough time to call for Grillo’s dangerous bluff and thus hopefully vote for a new, stable, government that would change Italy domestically, while reaffirming its role as a strong, reliable, European and Transatlantic partner.

Federiga Bindi Prof. Bindi is a Sr. Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS Johns Hopkins University in Washington DC and a Jean Monnet Chair at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. She is author of “Italy and the EU”, Brookings Institution Press, Washington, 2011.

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Federiga Bindi
Direttrice Centro Europeo di Eccellenza Jean Monnet dell’Università di Roma Tor Vergata e ricercatrice in Scienza della Politica presso la stessa università
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di réduction toysrus, le 21 agosto 2013

Nice article :). I’ve studied abroad in Espagna y eso fue una experiencia unica: tanto al nivel laboral como humano! Je recommande ça à tout le monde :)


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