On the 24th and 25th February, Italy held highly unusual elections.
The vote showed that many Italians were disgusted with traditional politics and a big winner from that was Beppe Grillo, the comedian and founder of the anti-political Five Star Movement.
Before the election euronews went along as he toured Sicily, an area where Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition dominated politics until the last regional elections, when Grillo’s party took 15 seats in the local parliament.
In Caltanissetta, he told our correspondent Alberto de Filippis: “I am not a candidate. Parliament’s not for me. These people, these thieves, who have robbed this country cannot even imagine that someone, even a comedian, might do something unless it was for the money.”
So – again before the election – we asked what would his movement do in parliament?
He told us: “First we will eliminate electoral refunds. We will cut off the feed hose. We will not take the roughly 100 million euros that the system would give us as a party entering the parliament. The 15 MPs we have in the Sicilian parliament have voluntarily given up 70 percent of their own salaries. They have opened a regional account and with the money they finance microcredits – for farmers, fishermen and salesmen. It’s survival credit. It’s a credit for dignity.”
Paying for parliament and political parties and salaries costs Italy around one billion euros per year. Critics wonder if the politicians are giving the country its money’s worth.
Grillo responds: “We want to give the citizens tools. They must have the last word. We want it to be possible for proposals to be initiated by referendum without requiring a certain quorum. The parliament must be constitutionally obliged to discuss proposed laws. So, if 50,000 people ask for a law, this law MUST be discussed in parliament. Today’s Constitution doesn’t provide for that. For us, the citizens must be the ones who says “yes OR no” about a project to build a highway, a bicycle path, a hospital, any big public project. We ask that citizens have the last word. They must become the ‘state’ and enough with the intermediaries.”
More than half the candidates with Grillo’s Five Star Movement are women. No other party is doing that. He also feels strongly that the media should be balanced and impartial, pointing at our video camera while roaring onstage to a crowd: “This is euronews! It’s a European news channel broadcasting in 12 languages! They are showing us all over the world. That is while Italian channels Rete3, Canale5 or Rete4 ridicule us as fools, instead of presenting objective information!”
Grillo is considered a populist by the mainstream. He doesn’t hide it or deny it. He asks: ‘Let’s hear it from you!’
Grillo’s movement is also raising jitters in European Union circles, and in EU partner states.
He said: “In Europe, this movement is scary. We want to re-open discussion of every European treaty and decision, from the Bolkestein directive to our military interventions in Libya, Afghanistan and Mali. We want to discuss agriculture and fisheries. We have to discuss debt. We are strangled by debt. We pay 100 billion euros on a roughly 2.2 trillion euro debt. We must find a solution. I don’t have one but we must discuss it. We do have economists inside the movement and we must look for a solution, because the debt is eating our lives. There is no money but there is hope. Look into the eyes of Sicilians. They look different. Change starts here. Europe was a marvellous thing as its fathers imagined it. It has become something different. Germany? It isn’t doing as well as people think. By buying its exports, we Europeans have paid for its reunification, but now they’re starting to have problems. Because the West is in crisis.”
Becoming the country’s third biggest political force, the Five Star Movement has also turned its anger outside Europe. With his characteristic exaggeration he questions whether commitments behind certain international agreements are honest.
Grillo said: “When China joined the World Trade Organisation, it signed 21 points and respected none. Have you ever talked to a Chinese trader? They don’t respect a contract. And I am supposed to respect whatever they do? Hang on a second – where is that written? Angela Merkel went to China to sell Italian bonds, not German bonds. China took those credits knowing they were worthless. Because the Italian government helped them to invest in Italy under very profitable fiscal legislation. They buy our debt through Merkel? Get real!”
The five stars of the movement’s name represent its members’ main interests: water, transport, development, Internet availability and the environment. Grillo admits that inconsistencies will need to be worked out – insists on it.
Grillo continued: “I want my sovereignty back. I want my food sovereignty back. Food distribution is controlled by French companies. They come here and they sell French milk and French cheese. Here? In Italy? Enough. I want protection. Try to sell Chinese steel in the USA. It is impossible. And that’s a democracy there. It is not the Soviet Union. Here in Sicily, fishermen are obliged to use nets with large holes imposed by the EU. These nets are useless, so fishermen have to get illegal nets in order to survive, and they are forced to destroy the environment. They cannot fish tuna – but the Japanese can. And they come here with fishing boats as big as aircraft carriers!”
The comedian from Genoa is the figurehead leading a team of politically-untested candidates – and Italians have heard big promises so many times. Feeling terribly let down by the mainstream, many potential voters, undecided, seemed caught in the glare.