Italy’s 5-Star Movement, once a prototype for successful populist and anti-establishment parties around Europe, is at a crossroads. Does it fully embrace the political mainstream, or revert to being an outsider? With support ebbing, its fate could shape Italian politics for years to come, and the battle lines over its future have been drawn. When the head of state asked former European Central Bank head Mario Draghi on Feb. 2 to try to form a government, and so end Italy’s political stalemate, 5-Star’s leadership immediately ruled out supporting him. But its founder, 72-year-old former comedian Beppe Grillo, had other ideas. Four days later, he rushed from his home in Genoa for a crisis meeting in Rome with about 30 of 5-Star’s top lawmakers. At the encounter in a conference room in the capital’s labyrinthine Chamber of Deputies, he made clear 5-Star’s initial decision should be reversed, according to a lawmaker who was present. “When we walked in Grillo was pretending to talk to someone on the telephone; it was a kind of comedy act,” said the source, who declined to be named because the meeting was private. “He was discussing … why we should be part of the government.” Some 5-Star politicians and voters are deeply unhappy with the line imposed by Grillo. At Draghi’s first vote of confidence in parliament on Wednesday, 23 of 5-Star’s 92 senators defied the party line and refused to back him. 5-Star’s caretaker leader Vito Crimi said most of them would be expelled. POPULIST WAVE If 5-Star emerges from its crisis further weakened or transformed into a mainstream progressive party, it could mark the end of the populist wave which swept Italy at the last election and which alarmed financial markets and its European partners. Matteo Salvini’s League has already shifted out of the far-right camp to get behind Draghi. In some ways, 5-Star has followed a similar trajectory to other populist parties in southern Europe such as Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain. All three achieved power, but have been absorbed into the mainstream they vowed to fight and seen their support wither. “I don’t know what you should call us now. Maybe the anti-anti-establishment party?,” 5-Star lawmaker Raphael Raduzzi told Reuters. “We have to ask ourselves what we want to become.” Grillo gave up day-to-day involvement in 5-Star’s affairs about five years ago, but when crucial decisions are to be made he is still the one who calls the shots. Shortly before his meeting with 5-Star parliamentarians, he wrote a blog post calling for the new government to name a minister for ecological transition with full responsibility for energy policy. Grillo had already spoken to Draghi and received an assurance this ministry would be created in return for 5-Star’s backing, a source close to the 5-Star founder told Reuters. Grillo, who communicates with the public mainly through his blog, declined to comment for this article. Draghi’s spokeswoman confirmed Grillo and Draghi spoke about the government’s formation. “They agreed over the importance of creating a government with a strong emphasis on ecological transition,” she said.