Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi talks during a confidence vote in Rome on February 24, 2014
Courtesy Reuters

In the weeks prior to last month’s elections for European Parliament, Italy’s chattering class was looking forward to a neck-and-neck race. The polls seemed to suggest that Democratic Party candidates loyal to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi would struggle to defeat candidates loyal to Beppe Grillo, a former television comedian and founder of an anti-EU protest movement called Five Stars. The anticipated tie didn’t inspire confidence. Italians, commentators argued, were destined to become ever more skeptical of the EU, and the prospects for political reform would be severely diminished. In the influential weekly magazine L’Espresso, Piero Ignazi, a professor of political science at the University of Bologna, wrote that “Grillo’s approval will keep rising” until the Italian government submitted to his demands. 

The elections proved the pundits dead wrong. Renzi’s party scored an impressive 40.8 percent of votes, a feat that was last achieved in 1958 and that initiated 50

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