THE BLOG
02/14/2014 02:26 pm ET | Updated Apr 16, 2014

Captain Letta, Renzi Thor and the Battle for Italy

Unless you are familiar with Marvel superheroes, it is hard to understand recent events in Italy. The Prime Minister, Democratic Captain Italia Enrico Letta -- who was striving between a harsh economic crises and a shaky parliamentary majority -- has been just ousted by RenziThor, the Democratic Party leader. Problem is, we are talking about Thor as he was before being ousted to Earth, not the leader he would become afterwards.

Letta tried an unlikely last minute offensive, but it was far too late. For the first time, Italy witnessed a harsh, open and frontal battle for leadership. Indeed, since Matteo Renzi's election to the Democratic Party (PD) leadership last December, it was clear that Letta was doomed and it would have been only a matter of time -- Renzi is in fact too fast and unpredictable for the "old" Christian-Democrat. They somehow reflect the main divisions in Italy today: Those who have everything to lose from a change -- essentially those with a life-long job and a pension -- and those, in their 40s or below, who won't have a real chance unless Italy is turned up-side down.

To these people, Renzi has been appealing since his early start in politics. Five years ago, when he decided to run for Major of Florence he defied his own party -- united against him -- and, against all odds, he won. He was able to do so also thanks to his ability to be voted outside the normal PD's boundaries.

Florence is polarized about whether Matteo did or didn't do a good job -- but it is beyond doubt that he proposed a different approach to politics and governing, one of proximity and direct dialogue with the citizens, that in Italy was totally unheard of.

It soon appeared that Renzi would not stop in Florence. His real objective was Rome -- that is to become Prime Minister. In the fall of 2009, he organized the first "Leopolda" -- an American-style convention marking a clear break with the old Italian tradition of political gatherings.

Together with the following three editions, it attracted and motivated lots of people who otherwise would have never been involved in politics. His capacity of motivating people, making them believe in the actual possibility of changing Italy, is one of Matteo's main strengths.

To be fair, that is very similar to what happened, on the other side of the political framework, when Silvio Berlusconi first got into politics 20 years ago. Since Berlusconi -- against all odds -- is still a major political actor, one could assume that Renzi will last 20 years, too; however, these similarities should also warn Renzi in several ways.

1. Ruling a country is different from ruling a small city such a Florence, especially if the country is dominated by a bureaucracy determined not to change anything and with no spoiling system to ensure that the "machine" will follow the political will of the leader rather than its own agenda.

2. With the current numbers in Parliament, ruling will be extremely hard and many PD's voters are unhappy about being in the same coalition with former Berlusconians such as Angelino Alfano. It would have probably been wiser to win the premiership following a new election; however, Matteo is hardly "wise" in his actions and the polls showed that Berlusconi would be the likely winner, with Beppe Grillo's "5Stars" shortly behind.

3. Failure is not an option: Matteo raised such enormous hopes in much of the country that failure would be a total disaster, a point of non-return. Yet, the economic situation is really bad and it is hard to see how that can be changed in a reasonable timeframe.

Matteo has largely shown that he is not afraid of taking risks, just like Thor, and in truth each time he proved able to win his bet. Should he manage this time as well, he may change Italy for good and enter the Olympus of Italian political demigods.

Should he fail, however, the risk is giving the country to Malekith. Italy can only hope for RenziThor to succeed in his mission impossible. Yet, the first result of Captain Letta's ousting has been a sudden raise in Grillo's "5Stars" numbers in the polls, alongside a strong Berlusconi. The first test will be the European elections in late May. Thor only became a real leader when he learned compassion and humility on Earth. May the European elections serve such purpose and save Italy from the Dark World.