Italian protest party leader Beppe Grillo on Thursday told AFP he would export his brand of anti-establishment politics to Europe in a «revolution without the guillotine — for now».
The wild-haired ex-comedian, who has shaken Italian politics by winning a quarter of the vote in February elections, said he was not afraid of being called a «clown» and called into question the future of the euro.
«This is the greatest revolution in history. This is a revolution without the guillotine — for now,» he said in an interview during a campaign stop ahead of local elections in northeast Italy’s Friuli Venezia Giulia region.
«There are movements in Spain that are taking inspiration from us,» said the mercurial 64-year-old, whose movement now has 163 deputies and senators in parliament.
«This has gone beyond the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street,» he said.
At a rally during his tour on Wednesday, he told thousands of cheering supporters: «The Five Star Movement is becoming exportable!»
Grillo also slammed the presidential candidate favoured in voting that began in Italy’s parliament on Thursday, telling AFP that former trade unionist Franco Marini was a «man of the system» chosen only as legal protection for the scandal-tainted Silvio Berlusconi.
«We can’t choose a president like this,» he said, warning that Marini’s election would be «a disaster» that would split the centre-left, and rejecting the candidacy as the fruit of an unholy pact between right and left meeting «at night in a room to decide the fate of 60 million people».
But in a stark change of rhetoric from his usual sneering style, Grillo also held out the prospect of working together with the leftist Democratic Party (PD), saying: «There are things we can converge on».
He encouraged leftist lawmakers to support his party’s candidate for president, civil rights advocate Stefano Rodota, and spoke of collaboration in other areas like the introduction of new unemployment subsidies or a conflict of interests law that would exclude Berlusconi from politics or force him to sell his television stations.
«If the PD did something like that, we would be together,» he said.
Grillo is seen as a guru-like figure by his supporters but has been heavily criticised for populist rhetoric and a brash style against dissidents within his own movement.
Economists have also questioned many of his promised reforms, which often lack detail or a price tag.
«We’ll find the money!» he assured his supporters at the Pordenone rally, telling them that wellbeing was «not just about growth and GDP.»
In the wake of the inconclusive February 24-25 elections, British weekly The Economist said the vote was a victory for the «clowns» Grillo and Berlusconi.
«Clown is not a bad word. Clowns are people who evoke positive feelings. I used to be a comedian and I have a particular empathy with people,» said Grillo, speaking in a hotel lobby before another rally in the seaside town of Grado.
At the gathering, he shouted: «They say I’m the most dangerous man in Italy! Well maybe I am!»
In a trademark media stunt, he then boarded a sleek sailboat for Trieste for a rally on local issues — the pollution coming from a waste incinerator and the proposed building of a re-gasification plant.
In the interview, Grillo defended himself against accusations by Italian news weekly L’Espresso that he had offshore investments in Costa Rica, saying the article was «revenge» for his proposal to cut subsidies for newspaper publishers.
— ‘We want a Plan B for survival’ —
Asked about his plans to hold a referendum on euro membership, Grillo said he was personally undecided whether to keep the currency or not.
«The euro is not Europe. Now it’s all based on financial speculation, on banks, on bond spreads. We want a Plan B for survival,» he said.
He also rejected criticism of his stance against giving a vote of confidence to the PD, which narrowly won elections, saying: «They just wanted our votes. They didn’t talk about collaboration.»
«There are these dinosaurs who have been here for 30 years. The country is in ruins. They are the ones who ruined it,» he said.
Italy is suffering its worst recession since the post-war period, and big business and trade unions have urged political leaders to act quickly to form a new government.
But Grillo said his party had been clear from the start that to keep its protest edge it would not ally itself with anyone in parliament.
«Maybe some people are disappointed that we didn’t change Italy in two weeks. They shouldn’t have voted for us.»