In Catania, in the south-east of Sicily, unemployment stands at 25 per cent. Politicians are accused of not being able to solve the economic crisis.
The Five Star Movement has thrived in this climate. The citizens’ movement became Sicily’s first party in the 2012 regional elections. It then achieved national success in the 2013 general elections.
Massimo Violetta lost his job after an investigation into mafia links in politics and business, a case which has affected even the former president of the region. Violetta believes the Five Star Movement is the only one with any answers: “It’s the only political movement that can give hope to a state like ours, which has collapsed because of the politics,” he told euronews.
Lawyer Simona Suriano, 34, will run as a candidate in the European elections later this month.
In 2007 she set up a blog with Beppe Grillo, the leader of the movement. The blog was named one of the 50 “most influential blogs in the world” by the Guardian newspaper.
Suriano says she will fight to re-negotiate European rules that have imposed a drastic reduction of public debt. “The debt wasn’t created by us, the citizens. We don’t know why it has got so out of control. We consider the debt to be immoral, and we are not able to repay this debt now,” said Suriano.
The Five Star Movement has called for a referendum against the euro. It also wants to see renewable energy and digital technologies developed as a way to revive growth in the economy and provide jobs.
The activists meet regularly to discuss their aims and oversee the work of their elected officials.
“You can ask them to account for their actions, where we meet in the square. They give you the microphone and you can ask anything you like, which other politicians do this?” said 23-year-old activist Antony Rapisarda.
The reality of democracy however has its downside. In Ragusa, around 150 km from Catania, the movement won control of the town hall last year. The new mayor, Frederick Piccitto, has had to handle disagreements with his own party on waste management, and has been criticised by unions for not dealing with unemployment.
Euronews asked him if he was worried about being held hostage to his own activists.
“When you are in charge it is very different to being in opposition” Piccitto answered. “This sometimes generates debates, because we often have very clear ideas about what we want to do but in reality, when you put these ideas into action you meet with practical difficulties.”
So what are the weaknesses of the Five-Star Movement? Raniolo Francis is a local professor of political science and says the group is politically inexperienced: “The tension between the leaders of the movement, and the base, the rest of the party is a very strong factor. Also there is a dilemma between the call for participation and being able to stay true to the values of the movement set up by leaders Grillo and Casaleggio.”
As a way of showing they are different to the rest of Italian politics, Beppe Grillo asked his future MEPs to commit to paying a fine of 250,000 euro to the movement, if there are any serious breaches of the rules.
The weakness of Italian politics has allowed the Five-Star Movement to grow. But now it must prove it is more than just a protest movement and capable of building a different Europe.
So what can we expect from the Five-Star Movement in Europe? Euronews’ Margherita Sforza discussed this and other issues with journalist Concetto Vecchio from one of Italy’s main newspapers, La Repubblica. She began by asking if despite being one of the EU’s founding members, Italy has lost its trust in Europe?
Concetto Vecchio, La Repubblica: “Europe is seen as the wicked stepmother that imposes draconian rules at a time when the country is exhausted. The people feel that these constraints are impeding growth.”
Margherita Sforza, euronews: “The Five Star Movement is said to have an authoritarian leadership style. How will that help them in Europe?”
Concetto Vecchio: “It’s definitely an authoritarian movement with two leaders, Beppe Grillo and Gianroberto Casaleggio. On the surface it appears to be democratic but there are unwritten rules. Whoever disobeys is expelled from the party.”
euronews: “There are other eurosceptic movements in Europe. Is there a chance they could join forces?”
Concetto Vecchio: “From what we’ve seen of Beppe Grillo in Italian politics, he doesn’t appear to be a person who wants to join forces with other movements and doesn’t appear to be interested in alliances.”
euronews: “Will Beppe Grillo and his movement be able to make people feel closer to European politics?”
Concetto Vecchio: “Grillo just causes destruction but at the same time the movement has a positive effect on Italian politics because it forces the other political parties to function better. Despite their criticism of the political system and their attempts to change it, the Five Star Movement hasn’t managed to do anything substantial.”