View from Rome: No crying over split milk

Renzi may have backed Clinton, but he remains open-m​inded about Trump and sees little reason to worry about his own upcoming popular vote.

Silvia Francescon
ECFR Alumni · Head, ECFR Rome Office

Prime Minister Renzi was the only European leader who openly endorsed Hillary Clinton during the campaign. The result of the election may not be what he was hoping for, but he is a strong believer in the friendship between the Italian and the American people. This is the spirit in which he called to congratulate President-elect Trump. During the call, Trump apparently reassured the PM on the strong ties between the two countries and confirmed his engagement with the G7, the next summit of which will take place in Sicily in May 2017, under the Italian Presidency. It could be Trump’s first visit to Europe.

PM Renzi waited for President Obama’s speech to make his thoughts public: Italy will remain a close ally of the US and intends to keep pushing its traditional agenda, including climate change. Nothing was said about foreign policy, it being too early to comment, but Renzi did make the point that he expects President Trump to be different from candidate Trump.

According to a survey by Demos, only 11% of Italians would have voted for Trump and 77% for Clinton. Yet parts of the opposition were very satisfied with the outcome: Five Star Movement’s Beppe Grillo could hardly contain his euphoria, drawing parallels between his own Movement and Trump and describing his victory as a slap in the face of  the media and the establishment. Equally, North League’s leader Matteo Salvini, who supported Trump from the beginning, said he expects the new President to play a crucial role in improving Europe-Russia relations as well toughening up Europe’s stance on migration.

Some argued that the anti-establishment victory could have repercussions on the Constitutional Referendum (December 4th), seen by many as a vote on Renzi himself. However, most political influencers deny any immediate correlation. If Renzi loses the Referendum on the Reform of the Constitution (as the polls suggest he will) this will have had nothing to do with Trump’s victory. The same goes for other imminent elections in Austria, France, Germany and the Netherlands. In contrast to some commentators, most establishment figures do not see Trump’s rise as part of a global wave of populism which is about to hit mainland Europe.

It is too early to assess what Trump’s victory means in terms of US foreign policy. Nevertheless, some foresee a possible US-Italy alliance on lifting sanctions against Russia, an issue on which Italy has been isolated within Europe. On the other hand, Rome is less optimistic about Trump’s more drastic positions on NATO, global trade and climate change. For now it is too early to make any definitive judgements about the future course of this traditionally strong relationship.