Italy's Renzi triumphs as comic Grillo loses ground
New PM scores sweeping victory in election, leaving former comic Beppe Grillo's anti-establishment 5-Star Movement and Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia trailing.
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi scored an historic victory in Sunday’s European election, taking 40.8 percent of the vote, an unprecedented result for his centre-left Democratic Party and a vital vote of confidence from Italians for his plans to reform the Italian economy.
The result, which was far better than early exit polls suggested, put Italy at odds with Europe, where anti-EU parties romped home. Mr Renzi easily saw off a challenge from anti-establishment comic Beppe Grillo, who sank to 21.1 percent, below the 25.5 percent he scored in national elections last year.
“An historic result. Emotional and determined now to work for an Italy that changes Europe,” Mr Renzi tweeted during the night.
Political commentator Lucia Annunziata saw the result giving Italy greater weight in Brussels. “Renzi can today aspire to substitute France as Germany’s interlocutor,” she wrote in the Huffington Post.
Mr Renzi has said he will respect Italy’s EU commitments while calling for an end to the austerity measures enforced during the euro debt crisis.
Mr Grillo, who has called for a referendum on leaving the euro, had packed piazzas in the run-up to the vote and had warned he would consider leaving politics if his Five Star Movement did not overtake the Democratic Party at the election.
Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has also been critical of the euro and has blamed EU officials for plotting to oust him in 2011, took just 16.8 percent of the vote, far short of the 20 percent his party had set as a target.
In a sign that anti-European sentiment could still draw votes, the anti-euro Northern League scored just over six percent of votes, up from the 4.1 percent it received at national elections last year.
For Mr Renzi, the result provides him precious legitimacy among voters and within his party ranks after he was criticised for seizing power in February from prime minister and fellow Democratic Party member Enrico Letta without a popular vote.
The result is also a boost for his reform drive, which was has shown signs of stalling in parliament, and reduces pressure on him to seek an alliance with Berluconi.
Mr Renzi is seeking to overhaul Italy’s election law, reduce the power of the senate and shake up Italy’s inefficient bureaucracy. He has also introduced a tax bonus of 80 euros per month for low earners.
“From now on he is the master of Italy, in the sense that he can do everything,” wrote Annunziata.