Rome

Grillo's M5S preparing referendum on EU membership

Wants Italy to follow Britain's lead

Grillo's M5S preparing referendum on EU membership

(By Paul Virgo) Rome, May 23 - Beppe Grillo said his anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) will drive for Italy to have a referendum next year on whether the country should continue to have the euro as its currency and stay in the European Union. "Europe should be rethought," said comedian-turned-politician Grillo, whose Internet-based movement captured around a quarter of the vote in February's general election. "We are considering doing a year of campaigning to then call a referendum to say yes or no to the euro and to say yes or no to Europe". In Italy it is possible to call for a referendum by collecting 500,000 signatures in a petition if the Constitutional Court rules that the proposal is line with the Constitution. Grillo has mooted the idea of holding a referendum on the euro in the past, prompting criticism that the 64-year-old is little more than a populist rabble rouser advocating policies that would take Italy towards a Greek-style economic meltdown. He said Italy should follow the lead of Britain, after Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on EU membership by 2017. "The British teach us democracy on the euro (which Britain does not have as its currency) and Europe," said Grillo. "No party can claim the right to decide for 60 million people". The M5S's sensational success at February's election was in part out down to Grillo's rhetoric blasting the EU-imposed austerity policies former premier Mario Monti adopted to steer Italy away from the centre of the eurozone crisis. Grillo is frequently foul-mouthed and has no qualms about insulting other politicians. He once called former centre-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani a "dead man talking" and regularly refers to ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi as the "psycho-dwarf" . But the M5S is more that simply a populist, anti-austerity protest movement. Grillo's stated aim is destroy the established party system, which he blames for delivering debt, corruption and recession. Indeed, Italy endured two month's of political deadlock because the M5S refused to contemplate forming a government with the centre-left Democratic Party or Berlusconi's centre-right PdL after the election. The impasse was eventually ended last month by the swearing-in of Premier Enrico Letta's unprecedented left-right coalition government. Grillo envisions a different way of doing politics, with people directly involved in decision-making via online votes. The movement came to life from Grillo's popular blog in 2009 and its MPs are political novices who were chosen in an online primary of around 20,000 people. The M5S's manifesto and its candidate to be Italy head of state were also subject to votes online. Proposed policies include the abolition of public funding for parties - an idea that has been adopted by Letta - a ban on elected officials having other jobs, a two-term limit for public officials and rendering people who have had a criminal conviction ineligible for office. Indeed, Grillo himself did not stand for parliament because of a manslaughter conviction in relation to a 1981 car accident in which three of his friends were killed while he was at the wheel. Grillo has been criticised for being his movement's self-appointed dictator. He responds that the M5S's innovative way of making decisions renders irrelevant the issue of who the movement's leader is. "It's the end of leaders," Grillo said at a rally on Thursday. "We have to get used to no longer voting for leaders, for the person or the personality, which is an infantile way of seeing politics. The leader is the 5-Star Movement".

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