Today in Italian politics: Candidate chatter, a Roman ransom and half of Five Stars

In the run-up to the Italian general election on March 4th, The Local is bringing you a daily round up of who's done what and why in the fast-moving world of Italian politics.

Today in Italian politics: Candidate chatter, a Roman ransom and half of Five Stars
Street art of the mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Days to go until Italy votes: 17

Catch up on yesterday's recap here, or have a look through all our election coverage so far here. Go on, do it.


  • One candidate to rule them all?

Berlusconi has promised to announce the Forza Italia candidate for PM before the election (he's ineligible to stand for a fifth term due to a tax fraud conviction). No pressure, Berlusconi – just 17 days left. 

But he's been dropping some strong hints, and said he thought his pick for premier was “understood in journalistic circles” in a TV interview on Thursday morning. The billionaire promised his candidate was “ideal” and that they “will have splendid relations with all European countries and with the European People's Party”. 

The man he's almost certainly referring to is European Parliament President (and founding member of Forza Italia) Antonio Tajani, who's remained tight-lipped about the possibility. “I'm not participating in the electoral campaign,” he told Rai radio.

The possibility of Tajani in the top job won't sit well with Matteo Salvini (leader of junior coalition ally, the Northern League), who is far more eurosceptic than Berlusconi. Salvini's made no secret of his own ambitions to lead the country – the official party logo features the slogan 'Salvini premier' – and speaking in Palermo, he said he should get the job if his party gets “one vote more” than Berlusconi's Forza Italia.

  • The 2.5 Star Movement 

The Five Star Movement (M5S), embroiled in a deeply embarrassing scandal over its MPs failure to reimburse parliamentary stipends they'd promised to to renounce, has made a last-minute dash for the moral high ground: leader Luigi Di Maio proposed that all parties should agree to halve lawmakers' salaries in the next parliament.

“We have shown that an MP can live more than respectably while halving their salary, as we did,” Di Maio wrote on the party blog today. (Did they though…?) He's styling it as the M5S's first cross-party priority for after the election. 

But when was the last time turkeys voted for Christmas? In any case, five stars for spin. 

  • Brothers in graft

The M5S aren't the only ones being asked awkward questions about money: one of the Brothers of Italy (FdI)'s candidates in Naples is being investigated on suspicion of corruption, it emerged today. Luciano Passariello, a regional councillor in Campania who's running for a seat in the national lower house, is also accused of illegal waste trafficking.

  • The road to Rome is paved with good intentions

Rome's pitiful finances are the subject of spat today between Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda and the capital's M5S mayor, Virginia Raggi. 

The row stems from Calenda's claim, published in a letter to an Italian newspaper, that he had allocated €1 billion to the notoriously broke Eternal City. Raggi – who has accused her opponents of deliberately obstructing her efforts to repair and reinvent the capital – angrily responded that it was the first she'd heard of it, two weeks before the election, “after five years during which the government absolutely forgot about the capital”.

Calenda promptly called off scheduled talks that were supposed to address Rome's budget woes. Meanwhile, Rome is sinking, and we don't mean metaphorically: with perfect timing, a huge sinkhole opened here last night

  • Anti-fascist or broke

If you're wondering where the Democratic Party's candidate has got to, he's in Tuscany. Matteo Renzi visited the village of Sant'Anna di Stazzema today, where Nazi soldiers massacred 560 people in 1944. 

On the anniversary of the atrocity, Renzi said that: “Those who are not anti-Fascists are not worth of being part of the Italian democratic community” – indicating once again that he plans to frame the last few weeks of this campaign as a moral battle against extremism. 

IN DEPTH: How does this thing work again?

Italy's political system is a complex beast. There are lots of political parties, ever-changing alliances, and complex laws (what's a 'special status region' again, and what exactly does the president do?).

But worry not, we've gone down to the basics and explained what you need to know in our introductory guide. Read more here.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Nothing can change in the next two weeks.”

That's from the ever quotable Silvio Berlusconi, who with all his years in Italian politics, really should know better. 

Did we miss something?

If there are any areas of Italian politics you'd like The Local to explain or take an in-depth look at, get in touch at [email protected], or via Facebook or Twitter.  

By Catherine Edwards and Jessica Phelan



Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.