Beppe Grillo's Eurosceptic spell for Italy's voters

 
Beppe Grillo gives a press conference in Rome, 15 April Beppe Grillo giving a press conference in Rome on Tuesday against a backdrop of Edvard Munch's iconic painting The Scream

All across Europe many politicians will struggle to get people's attention on the election campaign trail.

But here in Italy, Beppe Grillo is not having any trouble. In fact voters have been paying to come and hear his vehemently Eurosceptic message.

The crowd that packed a basketball arena in Rome had forked out up to 30 euros (£25; $41) each.

This was the last venue in a tour of several cities.

Beppe Grillo is the driving force behind the Five Star Movement, an anti-establishment citizens' network.

It emerged as a major player in Italian politics at the last election. It commands a substantial bloc of votes in parliament, and now it is setting its sights on Brussels.

Grillo originally made his name as a comedian.

So his tour dates have been politics delivered in satirical stand-up style. And in Rome the crowd loved it.

As always he poured huge energy into lambasting the Italian establishment. Much of his support on euro election day will come from those who want to slap at the ruling class here.

But eventually Grillo focused specifically on the EU.

Five Star Movement senators in parliament in Rome, 16 April Senators from the Five Star Movement mocking establishment politics in parliament on Wednesday

He pulled on a big European flag - wearing it poncho-style - then went into the audience, bouncing up and down the aisles.

With his mop of long grey hair, and the blue material with its yellow stars billowing around him, he was like a mad magician, conjuring up waves of laughter.

And all the time he savaged what he sees as the many absurdities of the European project.

He laid into the waste involved in the European Parliament's shuttle between Brussels and Strasbourg. "And they ask us for sacrifices!" he bellowed.

Grillo pointed to what he regards as the lunacy of helping to develop a European partner state like Romania which then lures away Italian firms - companies that decamp to take advantage of lower wage costs.

And Grillo's view of the failings of the single currency was aired. He wants a referendum on the euro.

All this was delivered with outraged humour and great passion.

But with his relentless, ranting style, it is easy to imagine that Grillo is not big a listener. He's accused of being autocratic.

And tensions surrounding his leadership have led a number of Five Star senators quitting or being ousted from the movement.

But these ructions do not seem to have had any great impact on its support beyond parliament.

 

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