The head of the Ciudadanos party, Albert Rivera, was seen Tuesday in Rome having breakfast with the secretary of the Italian Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi. The leader of the “Orange Party” is now at his most powerful since the moment when Mariano Rajoy was able to return to the Moncloa Palace in 2016 thanks to the votes of the Ciudadanos. Now, for the first time, they have finished in first place in an election: They received 25 percent of the vote in the Catalonian election in December, and they have the largest presence in the Catalan Parliament.
The latest polls, much touted by the mainstream media, such as El País, which has always loved Rivera, show Ciudadanos as the No. 1 party in Spain if a vote were held today, just above the People’s Party (PP), which everyone is already tired of. Ciudadanos is only fourth in the new Parliament, after the PP, PSOE and Unidos Podemos.
Whatever the reason, Rivera is taking advantage of his increased popularity to tout himself as what he would most like to be seen as: the responsible European statesman, the “Spanish Macron,” as he is called by those who want to flatter him.
Not surprisingly, Europe was one of the themes touched on Tuesday by the two leaders. On the one hand, they discussed the suggestion that Italy and Spain should not only join the Franco-German axis (nothing new here), but even an (unlikely) four-pronged Berlin-Paris-Madrid-Rome system for the post-Brexit leadership of Europe. Another topic discussed by the two was the oft-discussed “transnational European lists” for the European elections next year—“an idea also supported by Macron,” as Rivera was quick to add.
Another theme dear to the “Orange Party” is that of “nationalisms” (always local ones, not those of nation-states) and “populisms” (that is, the movements of the Left), concerns that Albert Rivera shared with our Renzi, as confirmed in a note by the PD press office. Meanwhile, Renzi retweeted the photo that the Spaniard had posted with a rather banal message: “Today I ate with Matteo Renzi in Rome. Europe needs to reassert itself with the shared values it has had since its birth, and make progress towards political and institutional reforms that would enhance the European project.”
Rivera’s interest in shoring up his credentials as statesman is clear, and it has become nothing less than an obsession since he made the jump from Catalan politics onto the Spanish scene.
Beside the weighty subject of the elections, at stake is also the 2017 budget law (which Rajoy has not yet managed to pass), from which Ciudadanos is planning to reap great political gains. Rivera has already said that he will force an increase in the salaries of the police and the resignation of the PP senator accused of corruption. According to him, the polls are showing “a structural change rather than one due to circumstances” regarding the support for his party, as he said at a recent news conference.
What is less clear is what Matteo Renzi’s goal is. He described Rivera as “not very dogmatic.” One will recall that in 2014, at the PD’s Festa dell’Unità in Bologna, Renzi had allied himself with the Spanish leader of the Socialists, Pedro Sánchez (together with the French Manuel Valls, the German Achim Post and the Dutch Diederik Samson, all traditional left-wing allies).
Readers will remember the photos of the five wearing white shirts that marked the beginning of their famous “tortellini pact”—which, however, did not bring any luck to any of the five at the polls. Maybe that was why Renzi sees a need to change allies.
The secretary of Italian Left, Nicola Fratoianni, saw Tuesday’s meeting as “a sign of continuity with the social policies implemented by the PD governments,” and of “how much the Democratic Party has changed in recent years.”
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