The Italian influencers who gatecrashed the country’s political scene

A rapper and fashion blogger-turned retail mogul are increasingly swapping brand engagement for civil activism, upending Italian politics along the way.

The Italian influencers who gatecrashed the country’s political scene

ROME — Together, they’re known as the Ferragnez — Italy’s most potent influencer power couple.

Increasingly, however, they might just be Italy’s most potent political influencers. And politicians are desperate to share their limelight. 

The husband-and-wife duo — Fedez, a superstar rapper, and Chiara Ferragni, a fashion blogger-turned retail mogul — reportedly fetch €60,000 from lifestyle brands for posts sent to their collective Instagram audience, which is almost the same size as the population of Canada. 

But in recent months, the pair have been occasionally swapping brand engagement for civil activism, upending Italian politics along the way.  

On issues from gay rights to the coronavirus to gender-based violence, the duo has wielded their digital savvy to push their thoughts, raise money and cajole politicians. They’ve directed fans to troll the Instagram page of a politician holding up an anti-LGBT violence bill. They’ve crowd-sourced funding for a hospital. And just this past weekend, Fedez grabbed Italy’s attention when he accused a state-run broadcaster of trying to censor him during an appearance.

Their political rise represents a new twist in a long-standing dynamic in Italy: distrust of political parties and elites. The wariness has taken different forms over the years. In the 1990s, Italians vaulted Silvio Berlusconi from media baron to prime minister. Two decades later, comedian Beppe Grillo founded the anti-politics 5Star Movement, which swept to power in 2018.

Now, Fedez and Ferragni have become the latest figureheads in Italy’s culture (and political) wars, resonating with a Gen Z audience. And the country’s politicians of all ideologies are lining up to praise them, court them and elbow into their online videos, all in the hope that some of their stardust rubs off.

Influencers, meet COVID

Fedez and Ferragni became national heroes during Italy’s first wave of the pandemic, a brutal period that overwhelmed the country’s health care system and provided a disturbing preview of what was to come across much of Europe. 

The duo took to social media to help bolster a struggling hospital in Milan, asking for donations. Soon, they had raised millions, enabling the hospital to establish a new coronavirus department. 

Then-Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte took notice. He called Fedez and Ferragni personally to ask for help persuading young people to wear masks. The outreach quickly became a meme-able moment in Italy with a common theme: the Ferragnez controlled Conte. 

For the pair, the fundraising effort represented a shift from their normal social media fare, which typically featured cute pictures of their children and pets, as well as videos of them pranking each other. 

But injecting more political content into the mix didn’t dampen the duo’s popularity — in fact, it became a surprise hit among their 36 million followers. 

In one video Ferragni posted last year, she argued that sexist victim-blaming was being used to rationalize violence against women, slut-shaming and revenge porn. It got 7 million views.

More recently, Ferragni — who over 12 years has turned her fashion blog into a retail empire — criticized the chaotic vaccination booking system in Italy’s Lombardy region, which was delaying her husband’s grandmother from getting a vaccine. 

With the posts, the married couple was taking a new version of a well-trodden path for celebrities entering the political fray. Comedian John Cleese made broadcasts for the U.K.’s Liberal Democrats. Married musical megastars Beyoncé and Jay-Z fundraised and stumped for former U.S. President Barack Obama. 

But the Ferragnez were going around the political system altogether, and making the politicians come to them. 

A political pivot

As the couple got more political, they adopted a central issue: Fighting for a law that would classify violence against LGBT people and women as hate crimes.

The measure is contentious in Italy. The leftist Democrats are pushing the bill, calling it essential to reducing discrimination. But the Catholic Church and the liberal right are strongly opposed, claiming the bill would infringe on a right to speak freely on gender and sexual orientation.

The Ferragnez has jumped right into the middle of the debate. 

In April, Fedez hosted an online debate with the MP behind the law, Alessandro Zan. Two million people watched. And last month, the pair ordered followers to flood the Instagram comments of Andrea Ostellari, the right-wing Italian lawmaker blocking the law from moving through parliament. They complied, posting more than 5,000 comments. Ostellari ultimately caved. 

Then last weekend, the issue exploded into a political row when Fedez performed in a televised Labor Day pop concert on Saturday. During his appearance, Fedez shamed politicians from the right-wing League party for homophobic statements. He specifically named people like Giovanni Di Paoli, a regional councillor in Liguria, who allegedly said: “If my son was gay, I would burn him alive.” (Di Paoli denies making the remark). 

On Fedez’s Instagram, the clip of his remarks racked up more than 15 million views.

The comments themselves drew even more attention after Fedez also attacked the state broadcaster Rai 3, which was airing the concert. Fedez claimed that initially the network, controled by political figures on the right, had tried to “censor” his broadside, urging him to avoid naming individual politicians. 

Politicians rushed to join the fray.

Luigi Di Maio, Italy’s foreign minister and a senior 5Stars figure, said “every artist must be permitted to express themselves freely,” before making sure to note his personal connection to Fedez.  

“I have known Fedez for some time,” he said. “As well as being a great singing talent he is a person that puts his heart into everything he does.”

Enrico Letta, leader of the leftist Democrats, also came in to support Fedez, saying he was “in perfect agreement” with the remarks during the performance. 

“The fact that someone like him speaks about these issues has broken the taboo against discussing civil rights because we are in a pandemic,” Letta said.

Even Matteo Salvini, the firebrand leader of the League, ostensibly Fedez’s enemy, condemned the homophobic remarks Fedez highlighted, calling them “disgusting.” He then noted he had been trying to meet with Fedez “to speak peacefully about the future, freedom, rights, art, music.”

Italy’s influencer era

Essentially, with just a few comments on social media and TV, Fedez had gotten the entire Italian political world to pay attention to his preferred issue.

It’s a phenomenon that reflects the power of modern-day social media influencers, said pollster Lorenzo Pregliasco of YouTrend.

“A big difference from the past is that today an influencer with millions of followers has an enormous reach, not just when he goes on TV,” Pregliasco said. 

Their setup also creates a symbiotic feedback loop: If a social media star speaks about Gen Z-friendly political issues, it generates wider attention — and more likes. 

It’s “on-demand politics,” said Pregliasco. Influencers can pick and choose where to express themselves, without having to take a broader ideological stance on everything.

The intense attention Fedez and Ferragni have attracted has generated the obvious question: Will they become Italy’s next pop icon-turned populist politician? 

Some have linked them to the Democratic Party, which is pushing to lower the voting age to 16. Having Fedez and Ferragni in the fold could certainly attract a younger demographic to the party. 

But the Ferragnez insist they have no plans to enter politics. 

“In this list of things that my wife and I have to do, entering politics comes straight after becoming a professional cricketer,” said Fedez in a recent video. 

Pointing to their dog, Ferragni added: “It is more likely that Maty goes into politics.”


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Boris Johnson’s Scotland headache is only going to get bigger

A strong showing by separatists will make it difficult to stave off another independence referendum.

Boris Johnson’s Scotland headache is only going to get bigger

Mujtaba Rahman is the head of Eurasia Group’s Europe practice and the author of POLITICOs Beyond the Bubble column. He tweets at @Mij_Europe. 

Forget today’s Scottish election. The real battle is still to come.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s problems over allegations of sleaze, coronavirus and even Brexit will soon be dwarfed by an even bigger crisis: the need to fight to prevent the United Kingdom from falling apart.

In today’s highly consequential Scottish elections, it is almost certain that a majority of Scottish members of parliament in favor of independence will be elected, even if it is less clear whether the Scottish National Party will win an outright majority under its own steam. For U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson this will present a real problem: a parliament at Holyrood claiming a mandate for another independence referendum. 

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon would certainly prefer her party to win an outright majority. She could then cite the precedent of her party’s 2011 majority, which forced then U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to concede and allow a 2014 referendum on independence.  

But with polls on a knife edge, SNP strategists have privately been discussing a fallback plan if the party falls narrowly short of a majority under its own colors: forming a coalition with the pro-independence Greens, who will likely improve on their current five MSPs and do better than former SNP leader Alex Salmond’s new Alba Party, which is struggling to make an impact.

After the last Scottish elections in 2016, the SNP opted to govern as a minority administration but could rely on the Greens in crucial votes. The thinking now is that forming a coalition in which Green MSPs took up ministerial posts would pile more pressure on Johnson to concede a referendum, as he would then be faced with a pro-independence government as well as parliament. 


For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

How will Johnson react? In London, the prime minister’s aides are rehearsing their lines for the war of words that will follow the elections. In the first instance, Johnson will resist, arguing that it would be “reckless” to have the distraction of a referendum during the coronavirus pandemic.  

This will buy him a little time; Sturgeon has also promised not to seek a public vote until the coronavirus crisis has passed. As Westminster must approve a fresh plebiscite, Johnson will also resist the SNP’s demands for another one on the grounds that the nationalists accepted that the 2014 verdict — a 55 percent to 45 percent vote to remain in the United Kingdom — was a once-in-a-generation event.

U.K. ministers will also try to throw money at the Scottish problem. Billions for road, rail and other infrastructure projects will be channelled to the country under central government powers in the Internal Market Act. Scottish hospitals would be allowed to send more patients to England to help them tackle their COVID-19 backlog. The NHS is seen by ministers as an “advert for the union;” the vaccine rollout has won unionist parties some precious brownie points. 

Another leg of the Tories’ Scotland strategy will be the timing of the next British general election. Although insiders insist no substantive discussion about the date has taken place, there are signs that Johnson is keen to keep open the option of holding the contest in 2023 rather than 2024, when his term would run out.

This would require him to repeal the Fixed-terms Parliament Act, but the thinking goes that year difference would make it easier to hold off calls for a second Scottish referendum. Johnson will be hoping that the SNP loses seats in a general election and that the Tories sweep back to power on a manifesto pledging to retain the union — allowing him to claim a fresher mandate than that provided to the SNP by today’s vote. 

Will this all be enough? Probably not. Senior ministers accept the above strategy is merely a holding position; repeatedly denying a referendum will simply play into Sturgeon’s hands by fuelling nationalism and her anti-Westminster narrative and building even more support for independence.  

For more polling data from across Europe visit Poll of Polls.

The Tories might try to counter by offering to hand more powers to the Holyrood parliament, but it’s unlikely that this would halt the nationalists’ tide. Whatever Johnson offered, Sturgeon would demand more. 

Johnson won’t be the only one feeling the heat over a referendum. If London keeps denying a vote, Sturgeon will come under intense pressure from SNP activists and Salmond to start the ball rolling by introducing legislation in the Holyrood parliament allowing for one. The U.K. government would then challenge this in the courts, on the grounds the constitution is a “reserved matter” under the control of Westminster — in other words, that a referendum needs to be approved in London. 

No matter how this plays out, both sides privately acknowledge the dispute over a referendum will at some point probably end up in the Supreme Court. Although U.K. ministers have received legal advice that the courts would rule in their favour, a victory in the courts would not resolve the Scottish question and might only delay the inevitable.   

Why? An unfavorable ruling for Sturgeon would mount pressure on her to hold a “wildcat” referendum. She is of course wary of that route, because it would risk losing legitimacy in the eyes of other countries and, crucially, the EU, which the SNP wants to rejoin. And it would not offer certainty since the Scottish Conservatives would probably boycott it.  

An alternative option favored by some Sturgeon allies is an “advisory” referendum that could put pressure on Westminster to allow an official one. This would be less confrontational, and portrayed as a way of testing Scottish opinion. The U.K. government would be nervous; a consultative vote would offer Scots a “free hit” without worrying about the consequences of independence at that stage. 

The “Scottish problem,” as it is known in Whitehall, is not going away. So the big question U.K. ministers have to answer is this: What is the legal route to Scottish independence if that is the will of the Scottish people? The government doesn’t yet have an answer. It needs to develop one fast. 

Source : Politico EU More   

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