(And why that's a good thing)
ROME — It has already been noted: that if confirmed by the President of the Republic, Matteo Renzi would be the youngest ever Italian Prime Minister. But the sheer volume of adjectives, hyperbole and metaphors raining down are about something more than just his age: because at Palazzo Chigi, the Italian Prime Minister’s official residence, an alien may be about to land.
We can use the term alien, because this is a leader who works in a radically different way, and is guided by a different philosophy, than those who have come before him in Italy"s own unique brand of politics.
On Thursday, the 39-year-old leader of the Democratic Party (PD) disposed of the sitting government led by now outgoing Prime Minister Enrico Letta in a meeting that lasted barely 20 minutes. Usually the introduction of Italian politicians' speeches take that long.
The way he announced his intentions to challenge Letta, also a PD member, revealed his way of tackling questions: “You know the emails that I get with the concerned advice: ‘Matteo, be careful. Matteo, you might get burned.’ I understand the sense but if I hadn’t risked anything then today I would still be at the provincial government in Florence.”
Indeed, Renzi has risen over the past five years to national prominence after ignoring advice to stay in his secondary role in the provincial government of Florence, to successfully challenge for the mayor's job of the Tuscan city – and ultimately winning the vote to become national leader of the center-left PD last year.
It is because of this logic of how he speaks and interprets politics that objections have been put forward about this man, and his lack of political decorum. It’s not that Renzi doesn't agree with those old standards, it's that he simply doesn't understand them.
If we take the word that has largely defined his rise to power – "rottamazione" (the "scrapping" of the old leadership) – most have focused on the lack of elegance, and even violence, of the term. But what most have failed to understand is that this word is perfectly in tune with the current state of mind of the country.
But now, looking forward, the biggest (and most worrying) issue is what is to be expected of a Prime Minister who currently does not hold a seat in Parliament, who has never been a cabinet minister, who has no international experience? For now, there’s only one answer, and it’s based on Renzi’s journey so far: expect surprises.
If these surprises are good for the country, it’s one thing, but if they’re not, it won’t take long for signs to start showing.
Presumably, Renzi has already given some thought about which steps to take first, and in which direction to try to lead the country. No doubt, these steps could be influenced by the presence of other forces in the current coalition government. Center-right leader Angelino Alfano, Silvio Berlusconi’s former ally, recently declared: “If gay marriage is legalized, we’ll pull out of the coalition.”
Finding a balance between change and the interests of the supporting parties is not easy. Still, Thursday's announcement spoke about “the duty of a radical change,” and that’s what will be remembered.
In any case, Renzi’s race to the top is now over. It happened in record speed. The scrap dealer has scrapped everyone he's met along the road between the town hall in Florence and Palazzo Chigi in Rome. His enemies, both inside and outside of the Democratic Party, have tried to stop him with all the old tricks. There are those who never understood him, and others who pretended not to understand. The result is there for everyone to see: and for now, for Italy, it doesn't look so bad at all.