Interview With Five Star Movement Deputy Pino Cabras (Part 1): Progressives Take Power

Pino Cabras   [1]    became a Five Star Movement member of the Italian Parliament on March 2018. He is part of the Foreign Affairs and Finance committee and was elected into the Italian Delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

Pino Cabras[1] became a Five Star Movement member of the Italian Parliament on March 2018. He is part of the Foreign Affairs and Finance committee and was elected into the Italian Delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

On the March 2018 Parliamentary elections, the Five Star Movement won the most votes in Italy’s Parliament (32.5% in the Senate, 32 in the Chamber of Deputies). On June, it entered government by forming a coalition government with the right-wing populist party, the League.

On Oct. 11th, the International Strategy Center and the World Progressive Parties Research Meeting of the Seoul Branch of the Justice Party held a teleconference with Five Star Movement Deputy Pino Cabras (and then completed via email interview) to learn about the lessons and challenges of a progressive movement coming into power.

In the March election, the M5S received 32% of the vote; the League won 17%. Many view populism as the victors and the established parties as the losers of the election. How did populism win? And in particular, how did the M5S win the largest number of votes?
The term populist is an invention made by newspapers. We don't agree with the definition, unless we center it on people, which is the root of populism. The Italian Constitution says that sovereignty is on behalf of the people. In this case, we accept we are a populist movement, even if we don't like the exact term.

We now have a force that for the first time in decades is a representation of the majority of Italian people. At least for the past twenty years, the governments were voted by a minority that achieved Parliamentary majorities due to electoral law. Now we have a coalition that really represents the majority.

How did the five star movement win the most votes?
Reaching this amount of votes was a very fast development. Five years ago, the movement took 25% of votes. The movement was found by a comedian joking about the problems of Italy. But the jokes became real and a serious thing.

Italian parties have a strong tradition promoting people’s participation. For example, labor movements, environmental movements — but they lost their capacity for making people participate. In a way, we learned from the past and became a new reference for the movement. There are plenty of cities, villages, districts where people tackle local issues, for example, against pollution. We created a big network through local participation, real participation in these public manifestations. At the same time, we created a platform for people to meet online.

After nearly a hundred days without a government, in June, the five star movement and the League formed a coalition government: in exchange for the League’s 20% flat tax, the Five Star Movement was able to get its 780 Euro basic income. How did basic income become such a central demand of the Five Star Movement? Also, was online participation used in shaping this policy? if so, how?
The mean income for poor people was an important issue that we carried out for years. So, it was important fulfilling this electoral promise so central to our policies. The League is centered on the problems of the small enterprises in the north that suffered from too much taxation. While we are each centered on different issues, we still think that the state could afford to create an expansive economic policy.  Italy already suffered from too much austerity.

Was online participation involved in basic income or was it a demand that organically emerged through grassroots networks?
This proposal was present in the public debate since the 1990s. The traditional parties ignored all these issues. They said it wasn’t compatible with public finance. Nevertheless, many laboral movements took into account the possibility of creating this new tool for fighting poverty and creating new jobs. So, we adopted this bottom up proposal.

The League represents small enterprises in the north. Many regard the Five Star Movement as representing the poor across the country. Nonetheless, the League is seen as right wing. What are the opportunities and challenges from forming a coalition government with them?
The League and the Five Star Movement each has a different inspiration and different background. We made the coalition government program based on a type of contract on the points we agree with. The things we disagree on are free to be considered through parliamentary debate. Certain right-wing issues of the League are not part of the deal and the League can't find the necessary votes in parliament. So it's possible on certain issues to have different majorities in the parliament.

In many ways, universal basic income for the poor is a very radical notion. As you mentioned before, in the past, traditional parties kept saying it wasn't compatible with the budget. The fact that the Five Star Movement is taking this on is in some ways very radical. Recently, Rocco Casalino spoke out against Treasury officials of stifling the government’s plans for “universal income” for the poor. What are M5S’s challenges in working with the current state bureaucracy? How is it able to overcome inertia by it?
Every state — Italy, South korea, China, the United States — has a deep state, a type of bureaucracy that has a continuity that is not easy to change. We are aware that we have many difficulties and challenges. Nonetheless, we will be able to create a new pattern of actions and rules because we have examples all over europe. Germany has a Labor Minister’s office with ten times the employees of Italy’s. They have an active practice and action for creating new jobs and assisting temporarily unemployed people. So, an important investment in the minimum income that we are working on is creating infrastructure in the Ministry of Labor for assisting people.

What is the M5S position on the refugee situation?
The current migration issue is unsustainable for Italy, given the costs to bear and the related business, fueled by national public funds often managed with little transparency and permeable to infiltration of organized crime. The failure of the current migration management system is likely to call into question the EU agreements themselves. Italy must play a decisive role at the European negotiating tables on asylum and immigration policies. We must aim at reducing the pressure of flows on external borders and the consequent trafficking of human beings. Compliance with the principle of fair sharing of responsibilities enshrined in the EU Treaty must be ensured through the compulsory and automatic relocation of asylum seekers among EU Member States, on the basis of objective and quantifiable parameters and the redirection of applications of asylum to other countries.

In observance of constitutionally guaranteed rights, we propose that the procedures for the verification of the right to refugee status or its revocation be made reliable and quick, also through the adoption of accelerated and / or border procedures, the identification of safe countries of origin and provenance, protection within the country of origin and alignment of current forms of protection with international standards.

  1. Since 1999, he has worked in a financial company owned by the Regional Government of Sardinia as a specialist for entrepreneurial development and FDI. Since November 2008, he has been the Editor in Chief of In 2014, he co-founded the WebTV Both websites specialize in International Politics. He has written hundreds of articles and appeared on TV programs.