The three most powerful people in Italy’s parliament … are not members of parliament

Renzi isn’t afraid of the limelight.
Renzi isn’t afraid of the limelight.
Image: Reuters/Giorgio Perottino
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Matteo Renzi is to be sworn in with his new government this weekend, becoming the youngest prime minister in the history of Italy.

The 39-year-old’s fast climb to power started on Jan. 18 in a controversial meeting with Silvio Berlusconi and then-premier Enrico Letta to discuss electoral reforms. Fast forward to just a few days ago, on Feb. 19—the day after Berlusconi met with Napolitano—to discuss the Letta government crisis, and the mayor of Florence and secretary of the Democratic Party was asked by Italian head of state Giorgio Napolitano to form a new government.

Since the last elections in February 2013, Italy’s parliament is essentially split three ways among the center-left, center-right, and general contrarian (the Five Star Movement led by Beppe Grillo).

And so Renzi, Grillo, and Berlusconi emerge as the three most important figures in the Italian Parliament—who happen to have a lot in common:

1. None actually is a member of parliament.

Renzi, while the winner of the Democratic Party primary elections, didn’t run for parliament last year. This has become the norm in Italy—since 1992, only Berlusconi and the short-lived Romano Prodi formed governments after winning the elections (Italy is a parliamentary democracy, so this is—technically—fine).

Grillo didn’t run for elections either to comply with the rules of his movement, which forbids convicted criminals to run for elections. (He was convicted of manslaughter after a car accident.)

And Berlusconi was voted out of the senate following a conviction for fiscal fraud.

2. At some point in their lives, a judge declared them guilty.

Renzi was convicted for wasting €14,000 of taxpayers’ money on four secretaries. He paid €58.30 extra a month for each of them between 2004 and 2009—a small sum but guilty nonetheless.

Besides the manslaughter conviction, Grillo was found guilty of defamation several times.

Berlusconi, meanwhile, has an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to all the trials he faces and has faced.

3. They love a good show.

At 19, Renzi participated in (and won) the Italian version of Wheel of Fortune—he doesn’t mind the spotlight. Last year, sporting a leather jacket that got him compared to the Fonz, he was on the stage of Italy’s most popular talent show. He’s also declared he’d like a career in television after he’s done with politics.

Meanwhile, Grillo owes his political success to his long career as a comedian.

Berlusconi, known for his video messages and a past as a cruise-boat entertainer, is also the man who created Italian private television.

(Incidentally, all three love their own jokes.)

4. They are rich guys.

Renzi isn’t wealthy, yet he’s the darling of young financial tycoons.

Grillo is a millionaire, thanks to his success in show business.

Berlusconi is the seventh wealthiest person in Italy.

5. They are new; the story is old.

Each has presented himself as a break with old politicians. There’s nothing as innovative as a story you’ve heard…many times before.