Washington, D.C. – Today, as President Barack Obama prepares to meet with Italy’s new prime minister, Matteo Renzi, the Center for American Progress released an analysis highlighting his background and, more importantly, his plans to reform Italy’s politics and revive its struggling economy.
“As progressive leaders, I hope that Prime Minister Renzi and President Obama find the time to talk politics,” said Matt Browne, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who has been working closely with Prime Minister Renzi and his team for several years. “Renzi faces similar challenges in his first years in office to those the president faces in his last two—how to get things done when faced with a hostile legislature. In contrast to Obama, though, Renzi is a scrapper not a consensus builder. Renzi is very likely to pick fights, use executive powers, and shake the system up whatever the consequences may be. In Italy, this will be a shock to the system, but it’s what is needed.”
At just 39 years of age, Matteo Renzi became Italy’s youngest-ever prime minister in late February. Yet only months before, the then-mayor of Florence had been embroiled in a primary race for the leadership of the Italian Democratic Party. He secured victory with a convincing majority in early December 2013; Renzi won 68 percent of the popular vote, while rivals Gianni Cuperlo and Giuseppe Civati scored just 18 percent and 14 percent, respectively.
Following his December victory, Renzi quickly became frustrated with the government’s prolonged stalemate, due in part to his own party; neither the government coalition nor the prime minister, Enrico Letta, were capable of pushing through much-needed reforms. In mid-February, having lost patience, he called a meeting of the Parliamentary Party, during which he briefly thanked Letta for his leadership but also called for—really, effectively demanded—his resignation.
The dramatic events that led to this meteoric rise are nothing new for Renzi. Over the course of his relatively short political career, the former lawyer and regional counselor earned the nickname “il Rottomatore”—meaning “the bulldozer” or “the demolition man”—thanks to his reputation for taking on the establishment and pushing through political reforms.