The recent surprise success of the Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Star Movement, or M5S) in Italy's recent elections and the heavy losses suffered by both Berlusconi and his centre-left counterparts in the Democratic Party have produced a kind of Mexican standoff in which the stakes are not just who will form the next Italian government, but how the country's politicians will deal with enormous social and economic challenges in an EU country which is truly 'too big to fail'.
In the past few days, both flagship newscasts by Italy's state-owned public service RAI, Tg1 and Tg2, have made 'mistakes' in reporting the dates for the four referenda, stating they would be held on June 13 and 14, while they will actually be held on June 12 and 13. Tg1 made this mistake two days ago, but even more incredibly Tg2 repeated that mistake yesterday. How is it possible for both programmes to get it wrong, not least on two different days?
Ratings agencies may have been roundly (and rightly) booed over the past few years for the deep flaws in their work, but markets and governments still pay attention, especially when ratings for weak economies are downgraded.
Berlusconi's personal reputation and political position took a blow today: in the run-off elections between his right-wing party candidates and left-wing independents, Letizia Moratti and Nicola Lettieri were roundly trounced. In Berlusconi's Milan stronghold, Moratti was roundly defeated by 55.1% to 44.9% by lawyer and former communist Gianluigi Pisapia. In Naples, former anti-corruption judge Luigi De Magistris gained 66% against a right-wing candidate whose political patron is being investigated for links to the most powerful Camorra clan, the Casalesi.
We have recently been treated to the unedifying spectacle of EU governments scrambling to 'revise Schengen': no sooner had France and Italy called for this, than Denmark put customs officers on its borders with Germany and Sweden. Thinly-veiled xenophobia has been lurking in the background throughout. As soon as refugees began arriving in Italy, Italian politicians began crying blue murder. Roberto Maroni, in particular, spoke of a "human tsunami".
As the temperature heats up in the Northern hemisphere's spring, so does the political temperature. Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have all seen various protest movements over the past few months (or, in Italy's case, years).
Not that much yet - although some demos are being organised using solidarity with Spain as a rallying motive. There is also evidence of inspiration across borders, particularly from the south Mediterranean to the north, but no direct links. This kind of opposition movement in Italy has been around for a good few years -- Girotondi, Purple People, Cinquestelle, etc. -- and have achieved often great support in numbers (e.g. the 1 million ca. who demonstrated in Rome on December 5th 2009), but have almost always gone unnoticed by the Anglophone press.
Spain's recent pro-democracy movement, 'Los Indignados' (the outraged), has attracted a lot of international attention because it is directed against both Left and Right, both culpable of ignoring their voters, pushing austerity measures which hit the poorest hardest, and doing nothing for unemployment which stand currently at around 20% nationally. And foreigners have begun to notice that #ItalianRevolution is trending on Twitter. But Italy has had a series of protest movements over the past few years -- e.g.