Greece’s current troubles were precipitated when Syriza, then in the opposition, opposed the usually pro-forma election of a new President (a largely ceremonial position in a parliamentary system) as a way of bringing down the government in December. In Italy, opponents of PM Matteo Renzi’s reform package had hoped to do something similar following the retirement of Giorgio Napolitano earlier this month. Napolitano was a stalwart supporter of Renzi; by forcing a less-friendly successor on the PM, opposition forces aimed to scupper Renzi’s already stalled reform package, if not bring down the government entirely.Instead, Renzi pulled off a political masterstroke, ramming through his chosen candidate and dashing Silvio Berlusconi’s pretensions of playing kingmaker at the same time. The Financial Times reports:
Mr Renzi’s choice was Sergio Mattarella, a 73-year-old Sicilian judge known for his austere personal life as much as for his solid credentials as a defender of lawfulness and a foe of organised crime.The election was a feat because Mr Renzi united his own Democratic party behind Mr Mattarella after months of internal battles with leftwing dissidents who had grown increasingly frustrated with his centrist reforms, including a sweeping overhaul of the labour market passed in December.[…] Mr Berlusconi thought he had a hand in choosing the next head of state — and Mr Renzi let him believe it until the very end — but he was sidelined and left looking weaker than ever. After all, Mr Mattarella has been a consistent critic of Mr Berlusconi throughout his career.
With this move, Renzi now looks to be back in the driver’s seat, and will certainly launch a renewed push for his reform agenda. That does not mean that the Italians have converted to Germans overnight, only that the momentum has shifted—for now. Keep an eye on what should continue to be a big year for Italy, one way or the other.