This week something that had been on the horizon for some time has come to pass: Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2020; Deputy Prime Minister in the so-called "government of change" (2018-19); and current head of Foreign Affairs, has left the party that saw him "born" politically to create, for the moment, his own parliamentary group, called "Insieme per l'Italia". With him have gone fifty deputies and ten senators, so that Five Star, although it is still the majority group in the Senate, has become the fourth political force in the lower house after the League, Forza Italia and the Democratic Party (PD). Despite this, Draghi has not yet forced him to resign as foreign minister, although we must await developments beyond the fact that Draghi is far more concerned about other issues, such as the looming recession.
What did become known when the departure of these MPs became effective is that those who said that this departure from the party was due to the fact that statutorily they could not be in Parliament for more than two consecutive terms were wrong: except for Di Maio himself (who was already Vice-President of the lower house between 2013 and 2018) and about five others, the rest are only in their first term, so they were not going to be left out as a matter of statute, since they could try to revalidate their seats. Whether they really had a chance of staying in parliament given the party's collapse is another matter.
In reality, what has occurred is the umpteenth leadership conflict within a party that for years has been nothing more than pure decay: although Di Maio voluntarily resigned, on 22 January 2020, to remain the leader of the Five Star Movement, there were quite a few who still considered him to be the real point man of the party. Moreover, as happened to Matteo Renzi when he left the PD in September 2019, with Di Maio have gone, in essence, the parliamentarians who entered by his hand in the March 2018 elections. However, beyond Di Maio, there are only two relevant figures in the new group: Vincenzo Spadafora, Minister of Sport, and Pier Paolo Sileri, Deputy Minister of Health. Sileri is particularly well known to the public because, when the whole "coronavirus" affair started, he, as a doctor, was the visible face of the ministry, since the head of the ministry, Roberto Speranza, has a degree in political science and knows little or nothing about health issues.
Thus, most of the well-known figures of the Five Star Movement, such as the former Minister of Justice (Alfonso Bonafede) or the former head of Infrastructure and Transport (Danilo Toninelli), as well as others (Fraccaro, Fico, D'Inca) have decided to stay within the party, which at the moment is moving in its worst voting intention figures (between 11 and 12%, which contrasts with the 32. 6% it received in March 2018), and which, with Di Maio's departure, will lose even more voting intention. Some think, not without reason (among them the Senator for Tuscany and former "premier" Renzi), that Five Star will not even stand in the next elections: at least not under that acronym.
What prompted Di Maio to take this decision? According to him, the fact that his party's leadership did nothing more than "correct Draghi's position" on the issue of sending arms to the Ukrainian army (and, in short, increasing military spending) when his party has been part of the "maggioranza" that has supported the Draghi government since it came into being in mid-February 2021. And Di Maio is not wrong in this, although Five Star is not the only party that does not faithfully follow the Prime Minister's guidelines. Let us remember, for example, that in the reform of the justice system, the PD, also a member of the "maggioranza", called for a "no" vote on the Cartabia law (which, even so, went ahead), and that Renzi's Italia Viva also abstained (instead of voting "yes", which it should have done as a member of the aforementioned "maggioranza") in the final vote that took place in the Senate and which meant the conversion into law of the reform of the justice system proposed by the Draghi government.
But neither should we be fooled by Di Maio's real intentions. Despite being born in the mid-1980s (when the country, under Bettino Craxi, was experiencing a real economic boom), and a native of a town in the southern part of the country (Avellino, in Campania), Di Maio did not study at university (another of Salvini's "school", by the way). Despite this, at the age of just 26 (almost 27, as he turns 27 on 6 July), he was already not only a member of parliament, but, as we have said, vice-president of the parliamentary chamber. From there, he managed to revalidate his seat, become the leader of his party, become Deputy Prime Minister while combining this with holding two ministerial portfolios (one of them, Labour, incredible as it may seem) and, finally, move on to the Foreign Affairs portfolio in two different governments despite his famously complete ignorance of international affairs and even more so of the most basic geography.
What is the dilemma Di Maio now faces? To find himself almost 37 years out of politics, which has made him enormously popular and has even given him the possibility of finding work for a good number of his fellow Avellino citizens, as well as substantially improving his personal income. And, with this professional background, which is simply non-existent because he has done practically nothing outside politics, it does not seem plausible that any private company would offer him something that pays him even a tenth of what he currently earns. Di Maio has discovered that politics is a unique way of earning a living with a very low level of qualifications, which is what distinguishes him (and so many others). And, if he had remained in Five Star, it would not have been possible for him to continue as a member of parliament because he has already been a member of parliament for two consecutive legislatures. Now, outside the party, he will regain prominence and may even try to remain in Parliament, because no one will be able to prevent him from standing in the next elections.
The departure of someone as important within Five Star as Di Maio highlights for the umpteenth time the real fiasco that this party, which has also inherited all the vices of which politicians are usually accused, has been for transalpine politics: making pacts with whoever is needed to stay in power; turning politics into a way of life; carrying out real "pucherazos" with the votes of the militancy to get them to the place they wanted to get to (we are talking about the defenestrated platform of Casaleggio junior, who was already liquidated within the party at the time); going from ministerial portfolio to ministerial portfolio despite not having the slightest knowledge of what needs to be done; and, what is worse, forgetting that in a closed list system like the Italian or Spanish one, the seat does not belong to the MP, but to the party for which he or she has stood.
So, if Di Maio disagreed with the official line of his party, the logical thing to do would have been to leave his seat, resign as a minister and leave politics. Where is the Di Maio who ruthlessly criticised Matteo Renzi when he was doing what he was doing as Prime Minister? He surely no longer remembers, and certainly not for the sake of it.
Pablo Martín de Santa Olalla Saludes is Professor at the Centro Universitario ESERP and author of the book Historia de la Italia republicana, 1946-2021 (Madrid, Sílex Ediciones, 2021).