Rome: Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi scored a dramatic victory against eurosceptics in weekend EU elections that will give his centre-left Democratic Party a leading voice in Europe and bolster his ambitious reform programme.
The 39-year-old promised to reform Italy and Europe as a whole after his party won 40.8 per cent against 21.2 per cent for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and 16.8 per cent for disgraced former leader Silvio Berlusconi.
The landslide gives the Democratic Party the highest number of MEPs among Europe`s leftists and was one of the best showings for any European leader -- a far higher result than the 25.4 per cent it scored in a 2013 general election.
"This is Italy`s moment," Renzi said at a press conference.
"Italy is stronger than the fears that traverse it and it has decided to make a difference in Europe," he said, adding that Italy could now be "a leader, not a follower".
Investors reacted enthusiastically with stocks in Milan leading European bourses by surging more than 3.0 per cent and borrowing costs falling on the markets to 2.99 per cent on 10-year sovereign bonds, indicating greater confidence.
"This is undoubtedly positive news, particularly in terms of the boost it might provide to the reform process," said Chiara Corsa, an economist at Italy`s top bank, UniCredit.
Renzi has promised to slim down Italy`s bloated bureaucracy, overhaul labour laws, create a more efficient justice system and enact an ambitious privatisation plan.
The vote was also being seen as a legitimacy test for Renzi`s unelected government, which was set up just three months ago after he ousted his predecessor Enrico Letta by engineering an ouster through the Democratic Party.
There was palpable excitement in the streets of Rome.
"I am kind of proud that Italy has saved Europe from this anti-European tendency and these far-right groups," said Lorenzo, a computer technician. "Italy will allow us to believe in Europe again and go forward together," he added.
Turnout was 58.7 per cent -- one of the highest in Europe.
Opinion polls had indicated the result would be a close run between Renzi and former comedian Beppe Grillo`s Five Star Movement, which has campaigned for a referendum on the euro.
The outcome was all the more surprising as governing parties were generally punished across Europe with the exception of German Chancellor Angela Merkel`s CDU/CSU which still scored lower than in the most recent election.