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. The Financial Times has dubbed him “a young man in a hurry,” but a number of commentators have questioned whether his lack of experience at the national level could undermine his ability to modernize Italian politics and kick-start economic growth.
Others, however, suggest his very willingness to shake things up is what Italy needs and that this willingness to push for reforms will be precisely the source of his success.
Matt Browne is a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress, a member of the Canada 2020 Advisory Board, and has been advising Matteo Renzi for the past 3 years.