Renzi to Italy's feuding Democrats: Populists are the enemy

FRANCES D'EMILIO
Democratic Party leader Matteo Renzi arrives at the PD meeting in Rome, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017. The former Italian Premier admonished his Democratic Party Monday to quit internal squabbling and focus instead on defeating populist politicians in the era of what he called ‘’Trumpism’’ and protectionism politics gaining popularity in Europe. (Maurizio Brambatti/ANSA via AP)

ROME (AP) — Former Italian Premier Matteo Renzi admonished his Democratic Party on Monday to stop its internal squabbling and focus instead on defeating the populist politicians and protectionist politics gaining popularity in Europe.

Renzi repeatedly invoked the name of U.S. President Donald Trump while making a pitch to other top Democratic figures for a united front ahead of a national election that might come as soon as the spring.

The country's next Parliamentary election is scheduled for 2018, but calls for voters to go to the polls early have been rising from some opposition leaders, including far-right Northern League leader Matteo Salvini and comic-turned-populist Beppe Grillo of the 5-Star Movement.

Opinion polls show the 5-Stars making headway in the movement's bid to dethrone the Democrats as Italy's top party.

Renzi resigned as premier after losing a Dec. 4 referendum on some key reforms. He remains the Democrats' leader, but more left-leaning elements of the party have criticized his leadership. Ex-Premier Massimo D'Alema, a former Communist, is among his biggest detractors.

In his speech, Renzi reminded his Democratic critics to keep their focus on the 5-Star Movement and the smaller far-right parties wooing frustrated middle-class Italians disenchanted by years of virtually no economic growth.

"The politics of fear" are fueling populists' and far-right parties' popularity, Renzi said, adding that the Democrats should concentrate on countering "Trumpism," or "at least Grilloism."

"Have you seen the video of Marine Le Pen's presentation?" Renzi asked, citing the fiery speech with which France's far-right leader kicked off her presidential campaign.

A previous Democratic leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, spoke about the declining fortunes of the middle class, saying "large inequality isn't being stomached" by voters anymore.

The Vatican's No. 2 official, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, said in an interview shown on state TV Monday that there were worries in the Catholic church about populism.

Parolin, who is the Holy See's secretary of state, lamented that "politics is too distant from the people."

"The risk is that history repeats itself," Parolin said, noting the tendency of populists to turn inward. "The closures aren't a good sign. They are born out of the fear (of people) and this (fear) isn't a good adviser."

He spoke on the eve of an annual meeting of top Vatican and Italian government officials. Pope Francis has spoken critically about Trump's pledge to build a wall to keep out immigrants from Mexico, saying such a policy isn't Christian.

___

Frances D'Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio