Less Ideology, More Transparency

An Interview with Italy’s 5 Star Movement

, by Grischa Alexander Beißner

Less Ideology, More Transparency
Laura Agea (l.) and Isabella Adinolfi (r.) (Source: 5 Star Movement) Laura Agea (l.) and Isabella Adinolfi (r.) (Source: 5 Star Movement)

After the elections in Italy, Europe is still holding its breath. The obvious winner is the 5 Star Movement - a new political force which is difficult to place for most people outside of Italy. Their ideas will shape the role of Italy and its place and focus in Europe in the coming years, that much is certain. But who is the Movimento 5 Stelle and what do they want? Treffpunkteuropa.de had the opportunity to interview two members of their delegation to the European Parliament.

Italy is a founding member one of the European Union, one of its biggest member nations - and sadly also the poster child for political instability and corruption. “64 governments in 72 years” can be heard in almost any debate concerning the Italian republic. The recent parliamentary elections punished established parties left, right and center. The biggest winner is the Movimento 5 Stelle, the 5 Star Movement. Difficult to place within common political conceptions, this party stands to shake up both Italy and and the EU.

Many Europeans watch the rise of this unconventional movement with concern - given that they are voicing loud criticism of the EU. Until the recent withdrawal of party founder and comedian Beppe Grillo, the M5S even advocated an Italian exit referendum.

But outside of Italy, most European citizens know little about the Movement while the press is full of buzzwords like “populists” or “EU-sceptics”. At a first glance, their membership in the EFDD faction (Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy) seems to warrant these concerns. After all, the other members of the EFDD group are EU-sceptics and right-wing extremists like UKIP and the AfD.

But the M5S is also a very unique party that tries to establish a new connection between the government and the people. The goals are transparency, the fight against corruption and polity beyond ideology.

Treffpunkteuropa.de was fortunate to find answers directly at the source: MEPs Laura Agea and Isabella Adinolfi sat down and answered our questions. Laura Agea is the head of the M5S delegation to the European Parliament and the Committee on Employment and Social Affairs. MEP Isabella Adinolfi represents the 5 Star Movement in the Committee on Culture and Education.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: To many people outside of Italy, the MoVimento 5 Stelle is still a mystery of sorts. For the most part, we read news about what your party criticizes and does not want. What major goals DO you want for Europe and Italy?

Laura Agea: Actually, we are the least mysterious and the most transparent Italian political force of all those present in Italy. Our Prime Minister candidate was chosen with a vote before the national election. Concerning our candidates for the national and European elections, they were all chosen through an internal primary vote too. By using the Rousseau platform, our members put forward their proposals for new legislation, which are then discussed in the parliamentary chambers. We practice direct democracy every day by opening the doors of the Italian institutions to the citizens. Who else is doing that in Italy? Our main goal is a real change that brings the citizens’ interests to the centre of the political activity.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: Your party is difficult to classify among the usual right-left spectrum. Many call you populists, sometimes right-wing populists. How would you describe your party and its orientation?

Laura Agea: For the 11 million Italian citizens who voted for us in the last political elections, the 5 Star Movement is a force for changing Italy. We are the political force of the future and it is no coincidence that we have a broad consensus among young people, whose rights too often have been trampled by the parties that governed Italy. I think that today it is no longer possible to reason with the established categories of the 1900s: right, left and centre. They are no longer part of the citizens’ experience. The old ideologies are vanishing and part of the success of the M5S is in keeping up with modern times. The 5 Star Movement is the largest post-ideological force in Europe.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: You are a member of the EFDD group in the EP. A group that consists, the M5S aside, mostly of right-wing populist and right-wing extremist parties like the German AfD. Isn’t that an odd choice of company for a party like yours?

Laura Agea: In these years of work in the European Parliament, we have been speaking with everyone having as political compass the interest of our country and more broadly of all the citizens. As we have said several times, the EFDD group has different political sensitivities within it, and it is important for us to know that all these differences have been respected so far.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: Speaking of the European Union: What are your two main points of criticism? What should be done differently?

Laura Agea: We are particularly critical of the economic issues and the management of the migration crisis. We are strongly against austerity measures and the economic and social dumping practised within the Union borders. Moreover, we want the exemption of the public investments, aimed to increase productivity, from the calculation of the budget parameters and full transparency on tax rulings between member states and big companies.

Regarding immigration, Italy has been inexcusably left alone in the recent years by the other EU member states. However, this issue is in part fault of our centre-right and centre-left governments that in the past have signed agreements that had a negative effect on our country, such as the Dublin regulation. The European Parliament has recently voted on the new reforms of this regulation. Still, we do not consider the new changes a step forward in the right direction, because they still oblige Italy to manage all the economic migrants who arrive in our country. For the immigrants, there is no eventual relocation, no European solidarity; there is no sharing of expenses related to their management. Migrants usually do not want to stay here.

Italy is a passing nation so the management of flows, reception, responsibilities and economic burdens should be shared equally among all the EU Member States based on objective and quantifiable parameters, such as population, GDP and unemployment rate.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: And what would you consider to be the most positive aspect of the EU?

Laura Agea: In Europe, there are plenty of “best practices” that we want to implement in Italy. One of these is the minimum income that is present as a social welfare measure to fight poverty in all European countries apart from Italy and Greece. Another topic, Germany is a champion of renewable energy, you have invested a lot in this sector in recent years, well... in Italy, there is no shortage of sun and wind. In our government program, we are planning to decarbonise the energy system completely by 2050.

Another point, in Helsinki, European funds are used to transform the public bus fleet into an electric and driverless one. In many parts of Europe, there is a strong focus on the issues that will affect the future. Italian parties instead are stuck in the past.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: Germany is a major player within the EU. It also feels like Germany is often imposing its agenda on the EU for its own benefit, via exports or undercutting the inflation targets, for example. Is there something Germany needs to do differently?

Laura Agea: Germany is one of those countries that has accumulated excessive current-account surpluses in recent years, preventing the economic rebalancing between States and hindering the recovery in the periphery of the Eurozone. We will speak with the German authorities to solve all the problems and challenges that exist today in Europe. We are looking forward to discussing and sharing ideas with them.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: For a long time, your party advocated an EU exit referendum in Italy. Recently, they rescinded that idea. Does that mean the Movimento 5 Stelle shifted its view on the EU or is it more a result of the chaotic nature of Brexit?

Laura Agea: In Britain, there was a referendum and UK citizens have expressed their decision. We must respect their will. Rather, it does not seem to me that this ’wake-up call’ has been heard in the offices in Brussels. Commission and Council are resistant to changing the political agenda. The 5 Star Movement has never changed its mind about Europe. You can just read the 7-point manifesto on which we based our campaign for the European election back in 2014.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: Now that you won the Italian elections and stand to gain in the European Elections in 2019 as well, what will change? And what can Europe expect from you? Will you take a more active role?

Laura Agea: Italy must return to be a protagonist of the European scene. We are one of the founding members of the EU, the third largest European economy and a net contributor to the European budget. Still, agricultural and commercial policies penalise us. With us running the government, Italy will be more present in Brussels. We will participate in all the Councils of the European Union and we will hear and weigh the voice of Italian citizens and the interests of our SMEs.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: With regard to Italy itself: What are the next steps? You offered a conditional cooperation to the Partito Democratico, but they declined so far. Salvini wants to work with you, but you do not want to work with him. Forza Italia is the very poster boy for the corruption you want to fight... how will Italy find a new government?

Isabella Adinolfi: Our position is very clear. We have offered both PD and Lega the possibility to sign a government agreement similar to the one signed in Germany by CDU and SPD. The solution is to make neither a political coalition nor a secret agreement. We want to completely change the method and we propose a different approach, a concrete one.

We want to put at the centre of the discussions the concrete themes, the solutions for the problems of the Country. We have mandated the professor Giacinto Della Cananea to compare our programme with the programmes of PD and Lega under the aspect of identifying the basis of the possible government agreement. We want to change Italy.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: In Italy, your party started with the main goal to fight corruption in a country that seems swamped by it. What are your strategies and could such strategies against corruption be implemented on a European scale as well?

Isabella Adinolfi: One of the main goals of our political action in Italy is to fight against corruption, which produces huge economic, cultural and social damages. We have some proposals to ease the job of the judiciary, such as the introduction of a new legal tool: the agent provocateur. At the European level, together with other MEPs, we are calling for the introduction of a new legislation on the protection of whistleblowers, which represent a precious ally in such a fight. Furthermore, my colleague Ignazio Corrao has been the rapporteur of the new directive on money laundering.

This directive is very important because by introducing a harmonised European legislation it allows to close the existing loopholes and favours cooperation amongst Member States. It represents an important step forward in the fight against corruption as well. Finally, it is important to recall our longstanding call for equipping the EU with a common definition of organised crime, because it is clear that the organised crime plays a crucial role in relation to corruption.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: In many aspects, you break with classic political convention. The Movimento 5 Stelle does many things differently. Is it true that all of your party members in government positions are donating part of their government funded income to a fund that tries to help people? How does that work and do you feel it is effective?

Isabella Adinolfi: Following one of our electoral commitments, we decided to donate part of our salary to a public fund that lends money to the microenterprises. This allowed the birth of new enterprises and it something very concrete that make us very proud. Politicians indeed need to be a positive example for the people and show that change is possible where there is the political will. Take for instance the new elected President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Roberto Fico, who refused an additional salary that he was entitled to receive because of his new role. This type of acts are important because, on the one hand, they allow savings of public funds and, on the other hand, they reconnect citizens with the Institutions. It is a powerful message to the people and it shows that another way of doing politics is possible.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: On the European scale, your party recently flirted with “En Marche” - another new and untypical party. So far, Macron’s party seems skeptical about cooperating with you. Is this an idea you still want to pursue and what are your reasons to look for a new political “home” in Europe?

Isabella Adinolfi: During these years of work in the European Parliament we have talked with all the political actors. Our main guiding principle has been the defence of the citizens’ interest. This is the same method we are going to apply in the next European elections.

We will discuss with all the political actors without any ideological prejudice. We will try to find a common ground on those themes, which will allow us to realise the change that European people are awaiting.

Treffpunkteuropa.de: Most people who support the EU are young - while the EU itself is dominated by old men. What would your message to the European youth be?

Isabella Adinolfi: The Five Star Movement looks, with particular attention, at the young generations. It is born to give hope to all those young people who did not feel represented by an old and self-referential political class. As you well said, in Europe we have a political class that is dominated by old men, but we do not have to give up because things will change.

Take my experience, for instance: I was not a professional politician, but I managed to get elected thanks to the opportunity the Movement gave me. The Five Star Movement wants to give a message of hope to all the young generations, especially to those ones who are neglected and marginalised. The European youth needs to be placed at the heart of the European project and must contribute to shape the future of the European community. This I believe will be more and more possible also by increasing the chances to use direct democracy digital tools.

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