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Former Italian prime minister talks populism, education and female leadership

KEN DER/The Stanford Daily

Matteo Renzi, who served as prime minister of Italy from Feb. 2014 to Dec. 2016, gave a Tuesday lecture on the importance of education and culture in Italy and Europe, as well as the challenges he believes globalism poses.

Renzi’s lecture — titled “Populism and Innovation: Twin Challenges for Europe?” — was hosted in the Bechtel Conference Center by the Freeman Spogli Institute (FSI) for International Studies and The Europe Center. Over 60 people were waitlisted after the room’s maximum capacity of 200 was attained, exceeding Europe Center administrative associate Shannon Johnson’s initial expectation of 150 to 200 attendees.

Renzi was nicknamed “the demolition man” during his term as Italian prime minister because of his strong push for reforms to the nation. Prior to his term as prime minister, Renzi held office as the president of the province of Florence, Mayor of Florence and leader of the Italian Democratic Party.

While Renzi currently serves as Senator for the Electoral College of Florence, Scandicci, Signa, Lastra a Signa and Impruneta, he has also taught courses on European leaders’ challenges at Stanford’s Florence campus in fall of 2017 and 2018.

In Tuesday’s lecture, Renzi addressed the multiple meanings of populism, specifically the difference between populism and the American dream.

“In Europe there is something different in this movement,” he said. “Populism in Europe today denies the future. It makes the future scary, dark, dangerous. The message is ‘Please! Protect yourself from the future!’ It’s totally different from the American dream. I love the American dream. It’s a very positive message: ‘Please, build!’”

Speaking on geopolitics, Renzi warned of disaster in Europe if Brexit is successful, and he spoke of further disaster if the United States continues to withdraw its support of European countries, as it has done with Syria.

“Brexit is the first signal of European decline,” he said. “Europe is weaker now than it was in 2014. The United States is crucial in the future of Europe.”

Renzi also discussed how, in his first months as prime minister, he chose to begin his tour of the United States not in New York City nor in Washington D.C., as his advisers recommended, but rather at Stanford, which he called “the capital of the future” for of its dedication to educating the next generation.

Renzi said that, after the 2015 terrorist attack at Bataclan concert hall in Paris, he felt pressure to increase national security funds. He agreed but said at the time that “for every euro invested, we must give a euro toward Italian culture, the arts and education.” In Monday’s lecture, Renzi said instances of home-grown terrorism are reason to spur cultural innovation in Italy and give more attention to the younger generation.

Following the lecture, Europe Center Director Anna Grzymala-Busse asked Renzi a few questions before opening the floor for audience members. Grzymala-Busse mentioned Renzi potentially returning as prime minister.

“I personally hope [the new leadership] is a woman,” Renzi said in response. “Women are so capable, and we need someone wise.”

“Perhaps a crazy, demolition man?” Grzymala-Busse asked.

Renzi laughed and replied, “I was prime minister for 1,000 days. Maybe I will come back, but I’ve used the defeat to become better.”

 

This article has been corrected to reflect that Renzi’s lecture took place on Tuesday, Jan. 8. The Daily regrets this error.

Contact Sonja Hansen at smhansen ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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