Video & Text: A Conversation with Luigi Di Maio

May 22, 2017
Luigi Di Maio
Luigi Di Maio speaks at Harvard Kennedy School

On May 3, 2017, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and Yes Europe Lab hosted Luigi Di Maio, Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies in the Italian Parliament and a leader of the Five Star Movement, Italy's leading opposition political party.  Archon Fung, Ford Foundation Professor of Democracy and Citizenship and HKS Academic Dean provided opening remarks. 

The following is a recording and transcription of the evening's discussion.


Archon Fung:  Welcome everyone, to tonight's Ash Center Discussion. My name is Archon Fung, and I'm the academic dean here at the Kennedy School, and a faculty member at the Ash Center. Tonight we have the privilege of engaging with the leader of the Italian five stars movement, which is currently one of the leading political forces in Italy. I'm extremely excited about tonight's conversation to learn more about M5S, but also to shed light on the incredible political moment in which we live.

M5S, as the party is known, was one of the earliest in the current wave of anti-elite, anti-government populist movements that are sweeping so many Western democracies right now. I include among this number the victorious vote to leave the European Union in the UK's Brexit vote, wide support for Marine LePen, and perhaps Emmanuel Macron and Jean Luc Mélenchon in the recent French elections, and with quite different politics, Podemos in Spain, and a similar energy was part of the movement that led to Donald Trump's victory here in the US presidential campaign.

There's no doubt that there's an enormous wave of political energy around right and left, if those coordinates even make sense anymore in this contemporary context, around so-called populist parties and candidates now. Yet on a little bit of a personal relevant note, I received many complaints about inviting Mr. Di Maio here tonight to speak with us. I believe that those complaints are misguided. It is extremely important that at the Kennedy School we engage with political leaders and political ... very different from our own. Mr. Di Maio's presence here is all the more important no matter what your political views, because events with populist conservative speakers are very, very rare here. Maybe even about as common as unicorns. So we often have speakers, many speakers from the center left, somewhat fewer speakers from the center right, I believe that the Kennedy School audience is typically comfortable with populist left speakers, but to my memory, Mr. Di Maio, I think you probably resist this characterization, but some people would see you as a speaker from the populist right. From my memory, we haven't had such a speaker despite all these enormous political victories all over Western democracies. It's remarkable, so welcome here tonight.

Luigi Di Maio: Thank you.

Archon Fung:  I would very much like to think Valerio Rivaz and Jean Franco from the US-Europe lab at HKS for taking the initiative on this event, and bringing Mr. Di Maio here to campus. They reached out to our guest about visiting us here at Harvard after Dean Elmendorf encouraged the HKS community to "reach out a welcoming hand to people with views about economics, politics, and society that are less familiar to many people in our community." As with other events at this school, we expect a robust discussion and exchange with plenty of opportunity for you who have come tonight to ask questions following Mr. Di Maio's prepared remarks. It should not need to be said that we expect those questions to be sometimes challenging, but also respectful and civil. It's fine to disagree, but don't be disagreeable.

First, a few words of introduction. Our guest tonight, Luigi Di Maio, is the Vice President of the Chamber of Deputies of the Italian Parliament and leader of the country's Five Stars movement. In Italy, the Five Star movement was founded in 2009 by comedian Beppe Grillo, and Gianroberto Casaleggio, who was a web strategist who has unfortunately recently passed away. The Five Stars refer to the central items on the party's agenda. Public water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, a right to Internet access, and environmentalism. The party, also known as M5S, built itself into the country's largest party in part through very novel Internet methods that allowed them to engage directly with members. I hope that we'll hear a little bit about the Rousseau platform, which I learned at lunch has 200,000 registered members who debate and even vote on party positions and policies, which is extremely interesting. A friend of mine who wasn't very active once called up several years ago the US Democratic Party, because he wanted to engage in politics. And he said "How can I help out?" And the person on the other end of the phone said "You can write us a check, that's how you can help." I believe that that dynamic among many mature political parties is part of what leads to popular alienation from them, and makes opportunities to directly engage very appealing for many people in many democracies. Not just mature democracies, but all kinds of democracies.

In the 2013 general election, M5S won more votes than any other party. Today, it is one of the two leading parties in public opinion polls, and Mr. Di Maio may very possibly be Italy's next Prime Minister. For members of the party, M5S's online platform helped break the monopoly on political discourse long held by Italy's media, especially under soviet Barlisconi, similar, some might say, in ways President Trump has used Twitter to communicate directly with our public. Yet many controversies surround the party.

Some have complained that despite these bottom-up mechanisms, party leaders, especially Beppe Grillo, override members' parties and choices. We'll talk about these controversies. While M5S has been very effective as an opposition party, incredibly effective, many have questioned its ability to govern well in places where it has won, like Rome and Turin, and worry that it cannot govern the whole country effectively if it wins in the general election. The party has taken controversial positions on policy questions such as participation in the European Union, immigration policy, and vaccines.

Finally, before I turn it over, I would like to remind the audience that this event is being video and audio recorded as well as live-streamed, and that there are journalists in the room with us this evening, so if you post a question or ask a question, it will be recorded and publicly available. Please keep that in mind. Please welcome Vice President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Luigi Di Maio.

Luigi Di Maio: Thank you very much. Dear students, professors, and academic staff, first of all, I would like to thank you for this invitation. For me, and for the Five Star movement, it's a great honor. Harvard is an Institution, which has given a lot. Not only to the United States, but also to the entire world. This University is a flagship of progress, knowledge, and innovation. Its contribution is essential when looking for solutions and new models to overcome economic and social [inaudible], and threats to the environment and climate. I have the pleasure of being here to talk to you about the unique political experience. An experience of direct democracy, which can already be defined as a game-changer for Italian politics and culture.

The Five Star movement and its web platform Rousseau, since 2009 the Five Star movement went from gaining zero to over 25% of the votes. Nearly nine million in the election in 2015. It did this without using any public funds, and by encouraging citizens to participate in politics through ways that have never been explored before. The possibility of voting online for a political program to propose, discuss, and amend law proposals is a model of direct democracy that is changing not only Italian politics, but the perception citizens have of politicians. For the Five Star movement, the era of [inaudible 00:11:22] and being represented is over. And it's time to decide directly on our future. Thanks to the brilliant intuition of the two founders of the Five Star Movement, Gianroberto Casaleggio and Beppe Grillo, we are demonstrating that bottom-up politics is possible.

We don't use public money and we use a novelty platform, the heart of our idea of democracy, the platform is called Rousseau, from the name of the Swiss philosopher. For the first time, citizens can choose their representative, whom we call "spokespeople," at all levels. From the European and Italian parliaments, to the municipal and regional councils. Let me just give you two examples. The elections for the European Parliament, and the elections in Rome.

In the first case, we had about 90,000 potential voters and candidates who which about 500 represented themselves as candidates. Among them, 73 were chosen online by the voters, and 17 were elected to European Parliament. In the case of Rome, 200 citizens represented themselves online as candidates, and we elected Mayor Virginia Raggi, and 29 municipal counselors. Before the elections, the citizens of Rome could choose online the priorities for the government. They indicated mobility, transparency, and waste management. These are the guidelines for our Mayor today. She has started a transparent plan of sustainable mobility, and the resurfacing of the roads, and a novelty plan of waste management. There are other functions available on Rousseau. Citizens can propose and discuss laws. Since we arrived in parliament, 14 law proposals suggested by citizens have been brought to it, and we have discussed the [inaudible] over 250 proposals by our MPs, which received 100,000 comments. 

One example is the electoral law. The old parties kept parliament busy for years with a law that was then declared unconstitutional while the Five Star movement created a shared and fast path. Within a three month timeframe, the citizens could discuss and evaluate the law proposal with the assistance of a university professor, and with [inaudible] votes. We have presented our proposal for a constitutional electoral law.

All this has inspired hundreds of thousands of people. These people used to be disinterested in politics, and have been affected by choices imposed on them from above. The Five Star movement expresses an innovative idea of politics and democracy. The pillars of the Five Star movement are simple. Our representatives can be in charge for a maximum of two terms, because we intend politics as a service and not as a career or a way to gain power. We are the only political force which refused 42 million Euros of electoral reimbursement that we were entitled to. We showed the old parties that it's possible to be in politics with small donations. Today, the MPs of the Five Star movement are 123, and since the beginning of their mandate, they waived half of their salary, transferring it to a fund of the Ministry of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. Thanks to this contribution, which today has reached over 20 million Euros, over 4,500 companies have been created or helped, generating over 10,000 jobs. Our representatives in the local councils did the same, using the money to build a road in Sicily, to refurbish a flooded school, and for other initiatives. We also established an ethical code appreciated by one of the most important Italian magistrates of the Antimafia.

We believe that these principles and achievements have given hope to the citizens, and helped to prevent anger towards traditional parties, which could lead to [inaudible]. Please allow me now to look back at the history of the Five Star movement. It all began in 2005, thanks to the Meet Up platform that you probably know very well. The first one to use it in a structured way was Howard Dean, the candidate for the Democratic primaries. Even if he lost against John Kerry, he obtained an extraordinary result by organizing his supporters into Meet Ups. In 2005, the first Five Star Meet Ups were born, and used to discuss models completely excluded from the political debate, but essential for the citizens. Public water, clean energy sources, the abandonment of fossil sources, and the need for an honest political class that takes serious action against corruption. Because corruption is what holds back excellence and meritocracy.

Many proposals were brought to the attention of politicians, but they pretended to show an interest in the real problems of the citizens only during the electoral campaigns. During one of our first initiatives in [inaudible] in 2007, in one day we collected 350,000 signatures to demand a clean parliament. It was revolutionary. Italian citizens demanded that no one with a conviction could be elected to parliament, to set the limit of two terms, and that direct preference could be expressed. The political class did not take into account those citizens who were tired of a caste interested only in its survival. These 350,000 signatures collected in one day were totally ignored by the Italian parliament. These demonstrations of lack of interest and political brinkmanship motivated us. We had never considered the idea of running for parliament, but we decided it was necessary. They forced us to enter parliament. The municipal and regional councils and the European parliaments as agents of change. To date, the movement has had 2,200 local counselors and national MPs, a new generation of representatives who take daily action on concrete issues such as immigration, statute of limitations, and with the reform of the banking system.

I am one of them. My political path started in 2007. I was 20 years old, and I was, like many of my peers, outraged by incapable politicians looking after their own interests only. I wanted to be a protagonist, not a subject or spectator of a system that excluded young people from work, ignored the priority of families, devastated the environment, and empowered more and more the ruling elite. I could not tolerate this system fueled by corruption. A system which cuts public services to feed banks, and aggravates public debt, but then goes cap in hand to Europe looking for political complicity. In the context of economic crisis resulting from the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers and the proliferation of junk bonds like the sub primes, Italy stood there watching while other countries tried to react. This was the political context in which the Five Star movement was born. As a reaction to a system organized to reproduce itself forever, without any change in terms of progress or innovation, and today we are still stuck at the same point. Even the so-called new man failed, promising everything and its opposite. Saying "We will bring Italy out of the crisis," they had no ideas for the country. They only made the weakest pay to the crisis, and safeguarded those who supported their rights.

December 4th, 2016 marked the turning point. 20 million Italians strongly rejected the dangerous constitutional reform, proposed by the former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. A reform designed to take rights away from the citizens, and to give more power to the prime minister. Despite the media campaign in favor of the government, 60% of Italians defended themselves from this attack and said "no." Now, we are getting ready for the upcoming political elections which will be held next year. The Five Star movement wants to change the way politics is made. To bring out the best energies that Italy has, which today are blocked by corruption. The movement wants to promote Italian beauty, creativity, history, landscape, talent, and genius. These assets are currently oppressed.

On this occasion, I would like to invite you to Italy to discover the excellence of our universities, developing state-of-the-art technology, robotics, energy, environmental management, and to visit our innovative apps for startups. The Five Star movement is the first and only political subject in Italy to have promoted a study called "Jobs 2025." It aims to understand the trend of future professions, and to be ready to govern the change that is already happening. A responsible ruling class has the duty to analyze possible trends, and to favor and direct them, always aiming for growth and well being. According to this study, in developed countries 20% of the workforce will carry out jobs. 30% will perform clerical jobs, and 50% will be employed in the creative industries. The creatives will be placed in the center part of the market, more protected, and better paid with no fixed working hours or office. We must prepare for this, and for other phenomena that will reform the world of work.

The experience of the Five Star movement is totally different than the parties such as Podemos, Syriza, Fronta Nacional , FD, UK, and others. For us, these parties are already old because they are totally soaked in ideologies of the past. Obviously, we cannot confuse ideologies with values. The movement is inspired by the values of democracy, rejection of world [inaudible], and every kind of crime, and in favor of legality.

The Five Star movement is not a political force against the European Union. Rather, it aims to make a union of citizens, and not of lobbies and protectionists. The movement asks Europe to implement the provisions of the Treaty of Lisbon, let's make it a Europe of citizens. And, we add, not of the banks. For this reason, we believe it's very important to start a debate about remaining in the Eurozone. Europe is going through a phase of profound changes. Following Brexit and in view of the upcoming elections in France, the UK, and Germany. In a few days, the French Presidential Runoff will take place. The Five Star movement has never expressed any preferences during the first round, and will not do so now. The reason is simple. We are a positive political ideological force that looks at the facts, not political alignments. The next President of France will be our interlocutor. Our project for a country like Italy is clear. Unlike the old parties that are still fighting over their seats, we think of the whole program, and for the first time in Italian history, we are already getting our plans voted through.

Up to now, we have already voted online on energy policy, foreign policy, labor policy, agriculture, and transport. The path is simple. In the first phase, our blog publishes contribution from experts and university professors in various topics so that the citizens can get the information. Then, we ask five questions for each topic, and participants can choose "yes" or "no." For example, tens of thousands of citizens voted on a program that targets energy efficiency with a saving of final energy consumption, and to complete the abandonment of fossil fuel sources by 2050. The program focuses on renewable sources and energy efficiency, creating tens of thousands of jobs. This is the best response to a government absent of energy politics, and one which is light years away from European best practices. We can see in Elon Musk's Tesla an example of extraordinary progress. By the way, the same Elon Musk indicates a way to the welfare of the future based on the basic income that we want to introduce in Italy.

In addition to these issues, our 200,000 registered people will shortly vote online on our justice program. Including anti-correction measures, such as the whistle blowing law, and the [inaudible] agent. The extraordinary results we have achieved so far convince us to expand our path of direct democracy. We will continue to use this way to choose our candidates for parliament, the role of prime minister in the upcoming election, and the government team. We will continue to discuss the laws to be proposed and the future government program. Our network today has more than 1,500 local groups in more than 1,000 cities. Our activists are asked for constant engagement in promoting thematic events involving people, and proposing candidates for the elections at every level. The Rousseau platform will be implemented to make this big direct democracy experiment more and more effective.

Also, our own administration is about to deliberate on city referendum with our core resolution proposals, participatory budgeting, and online petitions that will then be discussed in the council. [inaudible] with us be a point of reference for direct democracy in Italy.

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to share our political experience, and analyze the future of my country. A future which is more and more linked to the big challenges facing Europe and the rest of the world. Harvard is a [inaudible] for excellence, meritocracy, and vision. Values that the Five Star movement has state since its foundation, which our experiment of direct democracy, we are following our vision of the future, which we have a duty to build for ourselves, and for the next generations. This made us become the first political force of the country with over 30% of consensus. In the next months, we will complete the shared approaches of drafting the program of government. It will be ready by the end of July. In September, we elect the candidate for prime minister, and then we will identify the ministers which will be presented to Italians before the general elections. In 2018, Italy could have the first government powered by direct democracy. Thank you very much for your attention.

Archon Fung: Thank you very much for that very illuminating history of your own biography, but also of course the Five Stars movement. I think I'll ask a couple of questions, and then open it up to the audience, which I'm sure people have lots and lots of questions.

I imagine most people will be asking you policy questions, but I want to ask about a democracy question. In the United States, probably one of the organizations that is most analogous to the internet-driven, participatory method of the Five Star movement is the MoveOn organization, which is an advocacy group that engages participants and members, and asks them what they want the organization to do, and then the organization does those things. As a result of that engagement, MoveOn is an enormous advocacy group, very powerful now. But they've been criticized because the method of direct participation can generate membership and enthusiasm, but may not allow the group to think strategically and in the long term because the issues are determined by more or less a plebiscite, a directly democratic vote, so where's the room for leadership and strategy? And this comes up in two different ways for M5S.

The first is political strategy, and we talked a little bit today about the need to make coalitions to govern, to make choices, to maneuver in ways that your direct democratic platform may not allow if you're going to be politically victorious. So the first question's about direct democracy and political strategy.

The second is about the feasibility of the policies. Through a directly democratic process, people may want all sorts of things that a government cannot deliver. Part of the M5S platform is almost a universal basic income. Part of the M5S platform is that people above a certain threshold, or below a certain threshold, a citizen's income, every Italian below a certain threshold should receive 780 Euros a month. Critics have said that this policy, while it is very popular, could not possibly be implemented in a way that's fiscally sustainable for Government. So the second question is about political feasibility ... maybe people want things that can't be done.

Luigi Di Maio:  Can I respond?

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: First of all, with regards to strategy, decisions of course are made through direct democracy, but then based on evocations coming through direct democracy, we draw up a program, a political program that has [inaudible] long-term perspective. This is the approach that we followed in the program that I mentioned earlier about employment and work in 2025.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: Well, don't think that in direct democracy citizens are consulted each and every day for every single thing. We have our own program, which has our own edict, long-term vision, and then of course if there are some contingent issues that are of particular interest to the citizens, then they are consulted as well.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: Then regarding visibility, and you mentioned basic income as an example of that, our proposal is to dedicate 17 billion Euros per year to that. And in the last few years, our detractors, the past governments, have dedicated much larger amounts, like 25 million euros, to all kinds of things. They're the ones who are saying that 17 billion cannot be done. But as a matter of fact, we have already identified all the funds that are necessary to cover the 17 billion euros that we want to allocate for that. By the way, you also have to consider that this would generate 1% of GDP per year.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: Your question is very interesting and I think that it is perfect for this context. Direct democracy does not mean that everybody gets to express their views on everything, and share their book of dreams, and basically ... and we act on that. No. Because we are a political force, and our aim is to guide, let's say the wishes of the citizens as they're being expressed, in a way that they can be feasible. This is why we involve constantly experts who can then see whether these things are feasible, and guide this process towards feasibility.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: And by the way, we once again go back to the metaphor of our democracy as a way for people to write their book of dreams, that will be a failing strategy. Because of course if these things are not feasible the day after election, once they see that these things cannot be implemented, at that point they will feel as if they've been lied to, and that's going to be the end of it.

Archon Fung: Good. The second question does go to policy, and it goes to a couple of policies which people may want to follow up on that Five Star's movement has received a lot of criticism about. The first question is whether you regard these policies as coming out of the bottom-up, directly democratic impulse, or whether they are policy preferences of leadership. The first one is the relatively tough stance that M5S has taken on immigration into Italy. The second one is one in which probably most of the Kennedy School community, anyway, has a very difficult time understanding, which is the stance on vaccines.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: Regarding the first topic you mentioned, the Five Star movement was established with the ambition of becoming a leaderless movement, we don't want to have a leader [inaudible], that's part of the way we were born. Now of course, our main goal is that of keeping the promises that we made when essentially we were founded. Which is to engage the highest possible number of citizens in the choices that pertain not only to Italy, but also to the movement itself. We have a few basic rules, and at this point in our history we have to make sure that these rules are complied with. There are many examples of instances when rules were violated, and a few members of our movement were expelled. I will not mention them, but I imagine the audience already knows about these examples. We have these basic rules which are transparency, our ethics code that I mentioned earlier, whereby if you have been convicted you cannot run for office, and the fact that you have to have let's say a relationship of trust, a bond with the movement. If you are elected in office a member of the Five Star movement, you cannot turn coat and change your mind and say "No, I will represent a different political force."

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: Regarding vaccines, in Italy they are mandatory by law, and we have no intention whatsoever of eliminating this obligation. Not at all. What we want to do is to promote a culture of information so that people are aware, and have greater awareness. At that point they can make an aware choice, they actually have to because it's mandatory by law. But they will vaccinate their children being aware of everything that is implied. Therefore, we urge everybody to talk to their physicians, to the pediatricians, and therefore children are vaccinated because of the indications coming from the doctors.

Archon Fung: And on immigration? You have a relatively tough immigration ...

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: Regarding immigration, Italy right now is paying the highest price in dealing with this situation. Our main aim is that of involving the entire European Union in dealing with this issue. Right now, there is a regulation in place that's called W3 which does not allow us to distribute the immigrants that reach our shores in other countries of the European Union. Bear in mind that last year, in 2016, we have received 180,000 immigrants. That's the inflow. There is a wall right now which is not a physical wall, which is a regulatory wall, that prevents Italy from distributing these immigrants also in other EU countries.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: Basically, we believe in the European Union, we believe that this wall that I mentioned previously, this regulatory wall, can come down in some way. This can be done by changing the W3 regulation that I was mentioning before, so that the 180,000 migrants who arrived last year and many more are coming this year, can be redistributed throughout the EU territory based on quotas. Each one physically has to take their share of immigrants. Another thing that we rely on and that we want to see from the European Union is to have one, single asylum law. So that there can be a uniform legislation to deal with the requests that inevitably come from these people.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: These migrants mostly come from the Mediterranean basin, that's why we are basically affected directly by this situation. It would be also a good thing if Europe established some points or some places where people in North Africa who would like to apply for asylum, at that point it would be asylum regulated at European level, they could do so. However, we know that most of the 180,000 migrants actually cannot apply for asylum because they are, let's say economic migrants. However, this inflow of people constantly unchecked coming into our cities, it's like a big pressure cooker, with pressure mounting, and inevitably, it's going to explode at some point if no action is taken. That would be bad for everyone, the local citizens, the migrants, everyone. We also have to bear in mind that a lot of migration is due to climate change. Because of course, climate change is bringing drought in many areas of the world, in many areas of Africa especially. Therefore, if Western countries did something to limit the C02 emissions, emissions coming from our cities, our factories, that would also contribute to eliminating or reducing one of the reasons whereby more and more migrants are knocking on our doors.

Archon Fung: Thank you very much, thank you. Why don't we open it up to the audience now, if people have questions. I'll try to do the best I can to keep the queue. Yeah, go ahead.

Speaker 6: I'm one of the co-founders of the yes, [inaudible]. I'm French, I learned Italian at school, and then went on to live in Italy for a while as a part of the amazing Erasmus program, delivered by the European Union. Not so much French or Italian, deep down I feel European. I think that Mr. Di Maio, you and I, us, have a common past, present, and future that we need to nurture. The plan that you have put forward to organize a referendum to withdraw Italy from the Eurozone, is very, very worrisome to me. In the current context that you have summarized, what Marine LePen just said against Macron, should pretty much do the same. You are threatening to destroy the entire European construction. You see, my grandfather fought against and killed Germans. My great grandfather fought against and killed Germans. I really don't want that to happen for my kids. What you are threatening to tear down is not only a piece of paper and treaties, it's my identity as a European. I would humbly enjoin you to think very, very carefully about the fire that you are playing with. Do you want to go down in history as the Italian David Cameron, who destroyed the European Union because of Italian politics?

I agree, the Union is far from perfect, far from perfect. I hear the anger, I hear the frustration. It requires profound reforms. But you should really fight to change it, not to destroy it like this referendum points to. You see, in the current context, where we are squeezed between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin, united we stand, Mr. Di Maio, divided we collapse. Thank you.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: We do not want to destroy the European Union, not at all. Actually, we would like to bring the European Union back to its founding values so that it can be a European Union of citizens, where European Union worries about the poverty of European families, it worries about unemployment, and it's not just concerned with monetary policy is the case nowadays. The referendum on the euro is something that has been part of our agenda ever since 2013.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: This kind of referendum literally can be launched only by passed in a constitutional law, it cannot be done through other ways. Therefore, it would take at least a year for this to be done.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: Let's say that one year is due to the technical timeline that's needed in order to launch this referendum, and also there would be an extensive debate before this can happen.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: Therefore, by having this idea of a referendum of the constitutional law that will be needed in order to launch this referendum which will take a year, at that point this year we would sit at the table with everyone all over Europe at whatever table is possible that we can sit, in order to save Europe. To change Europe. To change the economic parameters that have guided the European Union so far, that have been based in this austerity policy that has penalized mostly the poor and southern European countries.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: Saying that you cannot talk about the euro because that would be threatening Europe itself, and the European Union, that just reinforces the point that the European Union is the euro, pretty much, whereas we believe that the European Union is a lot more than that, it goes beyond the euro. The euro should be democratic, just like a country can decide to leave the European Union, if you want to leave the euro, you actually cannot do that, despite the fact that there are countries that have opted out of the euro on a permanent basis in the beginning when they were asked to join. We simply want to make the euro democratic so that countries can opt out if they want, and therefore each country can decide and make the euro democratic, and make it more democratic as the European Union is supposed to be.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: I think that it's the responsibility of EU leaders to change our minds about this topic, and this idea of the referendum that we have is also to make our voices heard. We want to be heard as a country also, as Italy, we want our voices to be heard.

Archon Fung: Thank you very much, I think that we'll revisit this debate, I think it's a pretty fundamental difference between people who think that the right policy answer should dominate, versus people who think there should be some kind of process. And leave the answer up to the process. Back here, yeah.

Wes Lizinger: Buona sera. My name is Wes, I am currently here as a student for the Senior Executive Fellows Program, which is part of the Kennedy School. But my day role is I'm a civil servant, I work for the United States Army in Italy. I'm in the Army Base in Vicenza.

First of all, I would like to say that I really appreciate Italy and our partnership with the United States. I think we have a great partnership, ever since the end of World War II. Italy currently provides the second largest number of troops, a lot of people don't know that, for the NATO missions in both Iraq and Afghanistan which is a huge deal to us. Also, the US army in Vicenza pours about $400 million a year into the local economy there with our contracts as well as our labor force. We employ almost a thousand Italian employees on our bases, so it's a great partnership that we have.

My question for us is, if the Five Star movement were to continue to assume a more prominent role in governing Italy, what would be the Italian government's attitude toward the United States forces in Italy, as well as its role in NATO? Thank you.

Archon Fung: Great question.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: Regarding US spaces in Italy, and the presence of US forces more in general, the United States are our allies. They've always been our allies. We only want reciprocity. We want to have a relationship that's based on loyalty and that is fair. However, the proposal to increase military spending, talking about NATO, as President Trump has advocated time and again, this is something that we do not agree with.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: Regarding NATO, once again, we have no intention of leaving NATO. We think that NATO should be reformed in some way, and also we have to look at relations with other countries in a different way. Especially if we consider the fight against terrorism. Regarding Afghanistan and the mission that you mentioned and the contribution that Italy has given, we believe that that mission is not worth supporting on our end anymore. We have not been against missions in other countries, but they have to be peacekeeping missions. For example, the one that we have in Lebanon, that we consider a very praise-worth endeavor. But we would want to withdraw Italian troops from Afghanistan, definitely.

Archon Fung: You had a question in the third row, there. Yes.

Speaker 8: Hi, I'm visiting Harvard for a couple of days from the University of Trento. I hear with pleasure that today you presented a Five Star movement which is much more in-line with the rest of Italian parties on vaccines, on the euro, on the European Union, on migration, and even on where the policy proposals come from, that is from a group of experts. In fact, you presented a Five Star movement which is much, much more similar to the other Italian parties, so this is quite pleasing. I wonder whether you want to confirm whether on one position you still hold ground, which is is it true that you are not willing to govern unless you get more than 50% plus one of the votes, therefore are not depending on ... [Speaking in Italian] law will be, but the message that was repeated over and over, that the Five Star movement does not want to form alliances with any other party, and therefore you will govern only alone. Can you confirm that?

Archon Fung: The coalition question?

Translator: Yep.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: I do confirm that we're not open to establishing alliances with other political forces. However, we do not expect or desire to just have 50% of the votes plus one, and that's a condition whereby we would be willing to govern. Also because the electoral law now is undergoing reform, therefore right now if you get 40% of the votes, you're entitled to 55% of the seats in parliament. But there's a debate in progress on this, and allows a proposal to reduce this threshold from 40% to 35%. Actually, we're waiting for a reaction from the secretary of the Democratic Party, because we have sent them a proposal and we're waiting for him to react to this proposal.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: You know, you were kind of hinting at the fact that all political parties sound the same. Like in Italy, there's this paradox that they all say the same thing. But the difference is when it comes to putting things into practice. For too many years I have listened to empty words and empty promises, and this is the reason why I joined the movement. Those words have no credibility anymore, the difference is who is going to put these things into practice.

Archon Fung: You had a question?

Mario: Hi, good evening. My name is Mario, I am a pediatric cardiac surgeon, I work in New Zealand, actually, but I'm from Naples [inaudible ]. Actually, we're also peers, because I am exactly your age. My question is with [inaudible], hell is paved on good intentions. I strongly believe that nowadays it's unacceptable to speak only about honesty, your movement always talk about that. I don't think anything new in this ... I don't see anything new in this new political class. I really cannot believe how you guys pretend to govern without any sort of preparation, knowledge, or intellectual tools. It is clear that the movement head of people who are tired of the system, frustrated of the corruptions that we got in Italy, but for people like me, I educated.

I studied six year university, plus five year post-graduate training in cardiac surgery, last two years some specialty training in pediatric cardiac surgery. You struggle to get a position easily. In fact, I live 18,000 kilometers away from Naples. I really miss the pizza, the mozzarella, the pasta. Cannot accept politics people and this part that is made up with people with a very low education, honestly, like you Mr. Di Maio. That didn't finish the university, and is actually talking in this temple of education, that talks about excellence of university. But actually didn't manage to finish. And declare recently that you don't want to finish university, because you think the professor could have a special consideration of you to pass your exams.

So question is, how would you think that this party could manage this bias between good ideas and intellectual tools that many people don't have? I was really, really astonished to listen Ms. Taverna, who talks about vaccination, and I don't know which kind of preparation Ms. Taverna has, because she was a personal assistant in a laboratory of analysis in Rome. I am a cardiac surgeon, I cannot accept this person talking to me about vaccination. Thank you very much, indeed.

Archon Fung: This is, just to frame it a little bit, I think this is a key conflict in not just M5S, but all over, the popular movements in Europe and the United States, is that many intellectuals and elites are quite taken aback, maybe terrified, by the political support of new leaders who haven't governed ever, who don't have much experience in governing, and so are afraid that the lack of expertise will spell disaster for their countries, and maybe for the larger regions.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: First of all, we are all entitled to our own personal opinion. Even if you do not hold a degree, each one has their own opinion. By the way, I was invited here, and it has been a pleasure for me to be here and speak, and I would like to thank the organizers and those who have invited me here. However, I represent the political force that really wanted to have more time to be prepared, and get ready, and have the necessary preparation to deal with the task at hand. However, these scholars and experts that have been running the show so far have destroyed our country. I do not want to talk about the United States, of course, but I'm talking about Italy. Looking at all these experts at work, well ... that gave me a sense of urgency that I had to take action at that point. I could not dedicate any more time to getting prepared like I had wanted to.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: I would say that the Five Star movement, it does not have experience. We've been created only recently. But I do not agree with the fact that we are not prepared, and that there's no preparation at all. Actually, our ambition is to engage the best resources, the best people, and the best minds that we have in our country. Whoever wants to contribute to changing things. Everyone is welcome with their expertise, with their knowledge, with their backgrounds, this is what we'd like to see happening and what we want to encourage.

Archon Fung: I think part of the problem, and I'll use the medical analogy, is that many people supporting M5S and popular movements in the Untied States, suspect that there's a too-close relationship between economic elites and policy experts, or other kind of experts. So when I go to a doctor, I want the doctor to have my health first. If I think they're doing what they're doing to publish in a famous medical journal, or to get a pharma contract, then I don't like that doctor. I want a different doctor. [crosstalk 01:11:06] No, it was about expertise and preparation.

MarioSpeaking in Italian

Archon Fung: I'm going to go over here, you've been waiting for a few minutes.

Fabrizio: Hello, my name is Fabrizio, this is perfect follow-up to after your question. I'm glad to been invited here in Boston. Boston is a city of innovation, the Five Star movement is proposing strong, innovative way to do politics. The direct democracy is outstanding. I am an expert in energy, energy storage, and sustainable transportation. I manage over $10 million from the US Department of Transportation, Energy, and NASA. Over the last year I share my experience with the Five Star movement through the platform Rousseau, that I suggest all of you, if you have expertise in a specific field, I suggest you to register and collaborate through the platform.

My question is about this, if there is any law proposal to incentive Italians around the globe to go back to Italy? And if not, if I may propose a proposal to Rousseau platform. Thank you.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: Last year, 115,000 Italian citizens left the country. The year before, it was 105,000 people. We have seen last year in particular that this trend has increased in the population that's older than 45, it's not the traditional young people looking to find fame and fortune in another country, but it's older people as well, even retired people. It's a different kind of situation

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: We have to stop this brain drain. The two pillars for the Five Star movement, in order to do this, is once again to focus on investments and also find ways to support the basic income proposal that's at the center of our agenda.

Translator: Since we have already talked about basic income and ways to support the income of our citizens, now I would like to talk about investments. I already mentioned our Work 2025, whereby we have seen 50% of jobs in 2025 will be in the creative domain, which does not mean that they're going to be secondary jobs, but actually they're jobs that have to do with new technologies, also applied to tourism, education, so we want to see an increase in investments both in startup companies and also in R&D.

Luigi Di Maio: Speaking in Italian

Translator: We cannot think that all the young people, especially, who immigrated elsewhere, also the unemployed people that we still have in our country, can find a job, and can find a solution in just a few years. Because there is no economic boom or expansion site in Italy for the time being. We need to think about long-term public policies that can allow these young people to be retrained, or to be prepared for this new scenario that we are thinking about. Therefore, while they are getting ready for this new situation, we have to support them economically. This is where the idea of basic income, or giving some income to young people, comes into play. So that they have time to get prepared for this move, say later in work scenario.

Archon Fung: Now Tony.

Tony Saich: Tony Saich, Director of the Art Center. I think what Five Star is showing is actually something much deeper taking place globally in politics. We have to understand, particularly elites, have to understand and come to grips with. It struck me in your opening comments that essentially the party structures we have are products of an age that do not exist any longer. Most of them are post-war structures for politics, and they're not really appropriate for the current age. As you suggested, those traditional parties don't own issues anymore. Who owns climate change? Who owns a whole set of issues that you range? You can't categorize them any longer as being a right issue or a left issue, transparency, accountability. I think what we're looking at in your example is emergence of a new kind of politics. Whether you agree with the platform or not, that's a different set of issues. I think we need to understand it. I have two very brief questions to you coming out of that, because we are seeing new forms emerging across the world.

The first is, I know you're interested in Italy, but are other groups in other countries contacting you to try and understand how this platform works, direct democracy? Not in terms of an alliance, just in terms of process. The second brief question I have, because I think this relates to some of the questions of who supports you, who doesn't support you, is really the demographics of your group. Is it very much a younger person-driven thing? Certainly, my kids consume politics in a completely different way from the way I'm brought up.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: I will start with the second question you asked first. Yes, I have to say that our members are usually tend to be young. According to the most recent polls, between 60-65% of voters below the age of 30 were for the Five Star movement. Whereas if we think about people over 45, 50, that's 20%. If we look at the demographics of the Democratic party, which is our main contender let's say, sometimes the polls say we are number one, and the next week they say the Democratic party is number one. We see that the demographics is like a mirror image in the sense that the younger generation is around 18-20% would vote for the Democratic party, and it's the older voters who are more their supporters.

Then we have another variable in the north, we have the Northern League, and they have 30% of the electorate, and they evenly from both the younger and the older group, I'd say. Young supporters, while they are basically behind us, but we are now gaining more and more support also from less young voters, who are increasingly becoming disappointed with the usual politics.

Regarding the contacts that you asked about, we do not really have contacts with traditional parties, or even emerging populist parties. It's mostly other movements who want to get organized, and who are interested in direct democracy who are coming to us to find out who we are and what we're doing.

Archon Fung: I'll take a couple more questions, I'm afraid we only have time for a couple more questions. Over here.

Speaker 12: Sorry guys, sorry. My question is not for you, my question is for the people here, for the public in general. My question is the following. Would you recognize the raising of a new fascist if you hearing from somebody that can represent this ideology today? What is the movement Five Star? It's interesting this talk, fantastic the way you describe actually the reality according to some facts that can be described as alternative facts, because the movement Five Stars is not actually what you have described. The story of the movement Five Star is not what you have described. The movement Five Star is a list of stuff that somehow match what fascism can be intended today. The movement Five Star is a movement that basically advanced conspiracy theory.

Speaker 12: We have heard a political speech presenting the movement. I want to say, probably because not all the people know the details of the movement Five Star, that probably the facts that have been described so far are not exactly what we have seen in Italy in over the last five years. The movement Five Star is a movement that is based on conspiracy theory. On anti-scientific stances. It is a movement that is against free market. Is again the freedom-

Archon Fung: I think I'm going to have to take your microphone away, because a lot of people have real questions, and this is about an exchange, and so the rule is questions. I hope you have a question. Thank you.

DanieleSpeaking in Italian

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

DanieleSpeaking in Italian

Archon Fung: Could you translate the questions?

Translator:  Yes, absolutely. I will ask my question in Italian because I'm talking to one of the highest representatives of the Italian government. I will do that, but my name is Daniele, I study here in Cambridge. I used to be a member of the Democratic party, then I was disillusioned, disaffected, actually for personal reasons I stopped being a member. Then I joined the Democratic party again, because I'm a little bit scared. Not by you personally, but by the Five Star movement and some of it's expressions. I have to say that I totally disagree with the comments that I heard earlier about the fact that the Five Star movement is made up by ignoramuses and ... it's actually an elitist movement. It's actually the opposite in my view. Because if you think about the elections for Mayor in Rome, a city with actually 2 million, it's actually even more, it's 3.5 million people, and the name of the candidate was decided by 1,700 people, basically. And then you ask the population "You have to either say yes or no." Isn't that a limit? What is the limit? What kind of conflicts and tensions did this kind of approach give rise to?

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

DanieleSpeaking in Italian

Translator: He said there were for the Democratic party to decide the new secretary, the new leader, and 1.8 million people voted for that. Just to give you context.

Luigi Di Maio:  Speaking in Italian

Translator: First of all, we don't know if it's actually 1.8. It's about the Democratic party and the election of the secretary. You were saying one in one million.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: I'm not concerned by this gap, this spread between the number of people who vote in our platform and the number of Italian citizens who are called to vote.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: Sure, the name of the candidate to become Mayor of Rome was identified in the way you describe. But then in order to become mayor, she had to be voted by the majority of Roman citizens, was actually, she got 70% of the votes in the second round. The same applies to the 2013 elections. The Five Star movement received nine million votes, although the list of candidates to the different positions, parliament and everything, this list was drafted by 130,000 people.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: We are comforted by the fact that this is a rising trend that we are seeing in regards to the Five Star movement. We are a young force, and the sole platform has been established only very recently, and we have seen that every time there has been a vote on something, the number of people voting for our platform has constantly increased. Whereas if we mention the Democratic party, since you mentioned it yourself, well I'd say 1.8 million voted, that they lost 1.8 million people compared to the previous edition of the primary election that they had for their party, without mentioning the fact that the Democratic party has a long tradition, and a long history. We are young, and we engage in direct democracy, in a country, by the way, in which not everybody uses the internet. The internet is not everywhere, and we rank among the most backwards countries in Europe with regards to internet coverage.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: You mentioned the yes or no decision making modus operandi that we have. It does not apply to every vote, where members are asked to say yes or no sometimes about very important subjects. However, citizens can also come up with their own bill, basically. Their own proposal that if their proposal garners a majority of votes, then that proposal ... actually, that bill, will be debated in parliament, which I think is extraordinary that the common citizen can come up with a bill, actually, and this can actually be discussed in parliament.

Luigi Di MaioSpeaking in Italian

Translator: This has been an experiment in direct democracy that we're trying to push as much as we can. When you talk about the fact that it's an elitist kind of experiment, I understand what you mean. Number-wise it might seem elitist in the sense that you have described, but we're actually an open platform. Everybody is welcome to join, they just have to have a valid ID. Then there is a screening process just because we want to make sure that people are bonified, and not for any other reason. And then they're ready to go.

Archon Fung: Okay, great. This has just been a riveting hour and a half. I think for people who are concerned with democracy, it's an incredible privilege. Whether you agree with the policies and positions of the Five Stars movement or disagree, I think what you've heard tonight is perhaps one of the most mature efforts at political innovation in this new stage, following Tony's comments, the traditional parties are stale. Perhaps for output reasons, but certainly because they failed to find ways to connect with citizens and constituencies these days. 

If you look around the stable democracies that have been around for several decades, what you notice is that insurgent candidates and insurgent parties are winning the day. Even Barack Obama was an insurgent candidate in 2008. This time around, Bernie Sanders way over performed, and Donald Trump way way over performed. In the UK Ed Miliband was an insurgent candidate against his brother. Jeremy Corbin is not the favorite of the labor party, we didn't think Brexit would go that way. In France, the traditional parties have been decimated in the most recent election. What my belief is that what we're going to see for some time now is new politicians and new candidates inventing brand new political methods to try to connect with their constituencies and develop and give them real voice, and what they feel is connection and influence. That creative process is bound to be uncomfortable for those of us who are accustomed to 20th century politics. Thank you very much.

Luigi Di Maio: Thank you very much.

See also: Ash Features, 2017