Protest Parties Can Halt Unrest Amid Greek Crisis, Grillo Says

Beppe Grillo: Protest Parties Are Buffer Against Unrest

European anti-establishment parties are the best alternative to halt social unrest as the outcome of the Greek crisis boosts discontent with austerity policies, said Italy’s Five Star founder Beppe Grillo.

European institutions are “waffling as they see they are losing support of millions of people saying: ‘We want a Plan B,’” Grillo said Tuesday in an interview in Sardinia. Groups sharing Five Star’s anti-corruption drive and backing so-called bottom-up democracy such as Pablo Iglesias’s Podemos in Spain “are rising as people see them as an alternative,” he said.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s capitulation to the euro region’s creditors this week sent a signal to European critics of austerity that they need to double their efforts. Their success may lead to new shocks in the region’s political establishment during the next elections, such as in Spain later this year, and again call into question euro-area budget rules.

Grillo, who wants Italy to exit the euro and has proposed a referendum on the issue, says ruling parties are unable to counter possible social unrest and the recent surge of far-right movements such as Golden Dawn in Greece.

“Golden Dawn has been the symptom of a European nationalism that speaks to people’s instincts,” said Grillo, 66, the founder of Italy’s second-largest party. “Golden Dawn didn’t make it in countries like ours because we worked as a buffer absorbing people’s anger, but that may come now as I expect social unrest, not only in Greece.”

Golden Dawn

Founded by Nikolaos Michaloliakos, Golden Dawn is a nationalist party calling for the expulsion of all undocumented immigrants and for the country’s borders to be protected by land mines. In Greece’s national elections in January, it placed third with more than 6 percent, after Tsipras’s Syriza party and former premier Antonis Samaras’s New Democracy.

As the Greek deal was announced on Monday, leaders of the Five Star movement lost no time in leading fresh attacks against the euro area’s focus on fiscal discipline. Grillo said in a blog post that day the accord was an “humiliation” for Greece.

“We were very surprised” by the outcome, said comedian-turned-politician Grillo, who was in Athens earlier this month to back Tsipras’s call for a “no” vote in the referendum on the creditor’s previous bailout proposal and is now vacationing in Sardinia.

Euro Referendum

Grillo, whose Five Star Movement counts 127 lawmakers in the country’s 951-seat parliament’s houses, said the non-binding referendum he proposes would be simpler than the Greek one.

“If people will say ‘yes,’ we will stay, otherwise we will exit the euro,” he said. Still, reaching that goal is very difficult because two thirds of the Rome-based Parliament would have to agree to hold the vote.

The anti-immigration Northern League party, a former coalition ally of ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, is among forces campaigning against the euro. Like the League, Grillo blames the single currency for Italy’s lack of growth and the rise of public debt, which at more than 130 percent of gross domestic product is the second largest in the currency bloc after Greece.

Still, Grillo said he wouldn’t form an alliance with the League. “We have nothing to share with their history, we can’t do this kind of alliances which our people would reject anyway.”

Narrowed Gap

Voting-intention polls show Grillo’s Five Star Movement gaining ground on Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party, or PD, with 23.7 percent of support, according to an average of three polls published last week. That compares with 33 percent for Renzi’s party.

The gap between Renzi’s and Grillo’s parties has narrowed since the European Parliament elections last year, when the PD tallied over 40 percent of votes, double the Five Star’s.

“Today we are ready to govern the country,” Grillo said, adding that his grouping could win early elections. His party has paid for the lack of experience of its lawmakers, who are picked among citizens who have never held public office before.

“We have behaved at times like absolute beginners, we have been noisy, but that was inevitable when normal citizens deal with a consolidated party system.”

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