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Profile: Italy’s ‘Scrapper’ Renzi faces his toughest scrap

© AFP

Text by Benjamin DODMAN

Latest update : 2014-02-19

At 39, Italy's youngest-ever prime minister is no doubt a radically new force on the political stage. But the manner of his rise to power is more akin to the all-too-familiar wheelings and dealings of Italian politics.

The restless, outspoken and – in his own words – "hugely ambitious" mayor of Florence is known to Italians as the "Rottamatore" (the Scrapper) for his pledge to rejuvenate Italy’s ageing and discredited political class.

Renzi presents himself as a clean break with the past in a country blighted by unemployment, slow growth, and chronic political instability.

He is half Silvio Berlusconi’s age, and 31 years younger than another recent prime minister, Mario Monti.

A former marketing executive, he is energetic, relaxed and informal, equally at ease on a TV set or cycling around the cobbled streets of Florence.

He has been likened to Britain's Tony Blair for his stated aim to shake up the left, and to the Fonz, from the American sitcom Happy Days, for posing in a glossy magazine wearing a black leather jacket over a white T-shirt.

Renzi poses as "The Fonz" in the glossy magazine, "Chi". © Chi

A moderate, he enjoys broad appeal on both sides of the political spectrum.

As the communist-chaser Berlusconi had to admit, "Renzi is no communist".

Many Italians see him as charismatic and inspiring, others say he is all style and no substance. Either way, he has caught the eye of the public and the press in a way not seen since the Cavaliere.

As he accepted the offer to form a new government on Monday, Renzi vowed to lead the country with “energy and enthusiasm”.

He will need all that he can muster if he is to succeed in one of the most difficult – and precarious – jobs in the political trade.

'Original sin'

Whether a Renzi administration will last any longer than the previous 61 governments Italy has seen since 1946 remains to be seen.

Last year, the mayor of Florence conquered the centre-left Democratic Party, Italy's most powerful political organisation, with a promise to end its miserable record at the polls.

But instead of sweeping to power on the back of a decisive electoral victory, he has become only the latest in a long list of unelected Italian prime ministers.

Critics in this staunchly Catholic country have already described Renzi's lack of an electoral mandate as his "original sin".

They also point out that he is largely untested.

Italy's youngest PM is also its most desperately inexperienced, having never served in a government or been elected to parliament.

His other nickname is the "Sindaco" (the Mayor), essentially for want of another title on his CV.

‘Leap of faith’

So far, this has proved a blessing in a country that harbours little love for its ageing political class.

But his new appointment puts him under an unprecedented degree of scrutiny.

It will also force him to cobble together the same kind of unwieldy coalition that plagued his predecessor, Enrico Letta.

Renzi has already proved he can reach out to the right – as when he struck a deal on electoral reform with Berlusconi, the left's arch-enemy.

He has also shown that he can be ruthless with his own allies – effectively masterminding Letta’s fall, even though they belong to the same party.

Above all, he is a fresh face in a country craving for something to look forward to.

As an editorial in the left-leaning daily La Repubblica put it, the mayor of Florence is dragging a whole country along in his “leap of faith”.

“Renzi does not make promises of change, he is the promise of change,” La Repubblica wrote. “In a biological, pre-political, almost primitive way.”
 

Date created : 2014-02-18

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