The Italian Mind

Reflections from the Boot

Archive for the category “Politics”

The King is Dead. Long Live the King!

Giorgio Napolitano has been elected the 12th President of the Italian Republic.
It is the first time a President is elected for the second term.

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Friendly Fire, Isn’t

Bersani was unable to form a Government or to keep its party united


I have received several e-mails over the last weeks asking me to comment on the current situation in Italy, of which some specifically requiring to provide my point of view.
Readers who follow me know I don’t like to follow and comment on events as they happen. I always wait a little to understand how things may unfold. Such a prudent approach is most required when Italian politics is at stake.
Very briefly, let me recap the events of the last 60 days or so.

Italy has celebrated its general elections on 24–25 February 2013. The Centre-left coalition led by Pierluigi Bersani slightly prevailed on Berlusconi-led Centre-right coalition. However, it was the Five-star Movement (M5S) inspired by former comedian Beppe Grillo which has taken the lion’s share with its 25% or so of votes. Even with the majority bonus, Bersani has been unable to form a government so far, given the staunch opposition of Berlusconi’s and – above all – Grillo’s coalitions.
On the top of that, the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano has come at the end of his 7-year mandate and the political game is now being played at this table, as in Italy it is the Parliament in joint session that elects the President (election explained @ Wikipedia). No quorum will be reached, however, as long as the several political positions have not been reconciled.
Even strong candidates have not passed the ballot test, among whom Franco Marini (Former Speaker of the Senate), and the economist and two-time Prime Minister Romano Prodi. And it is precisely Prodi’s rejection by the hand of 101 “hawks” in the Democratic Party that led Bersani and Bindi (DP’s Secretary and President, respectively) to resign yesterday.

The real problem is – as many point out – that the Italian (supposed) leaders have been unable to form a Government so far, and they are showing no willingness to vote for a presidential candidate who offers little or no guarantees, nor what we may call a suitable “return on investment”, so to speak.
The major point the M5S makes has been raising since the electoral campaign begun is that the current generation of politicians has been overcome by events, and “must go home”. The current standstill on the presidential vote adds to that, and Grillo said yesterday that the last elections have already “led to the demise of 5 parties”.

The life of ordinary citizens in Italy is heavily impacted by the economic crisis and this not new. Resentment is growing, however, as people can feel and observe the incapacity of parties to find a common position for the good of the Nation, instead of their self-interest. Media reports and surveys suggest the level of confidence enjoyed by political representatives has reached an all time low, and citizens are tired of inability in a country where fiscal pressure reached 43% and 63% for individual employees and businesses, respectively. For those who don’t know, Italian National Police has not had a Chief for the last thirty days. Prefect Antonio Manganelli – who died from cancer on March, 20th – has not been replaced yet, with the Deputy Chief acting on his behalf since then. Unofficial reports say a government should be formed before a new Chief is appointed.

There is a point, however, no one dares to challenge. All authors, journalists, commentators concur that a similar standstill is unprecedented in the history of the Italian Republic. In fact, there are examples of presidential elections in the past that required “some time”, to say the least. In 1971, President Leone was elected after 23 ballots, but in no case Italy has – at the same time – been without a more or less strong majority in the Parliament, groped about the election of its President, apparently without a sound Government in office, and in the middle of an economic crisis that still bites.

What in your opinion are the weak points Italy is showing?
What is your solution to the Italian standstill?
Who is your favourite Presidential Candidate and Prime Minister?

Comment or take the poll!

The Knight Strikes Back: Episode VI

knight strikes backYou didn’t see it coming, uh?

One of the best strategists Italy has ever had has planned this thoroughly since 2011.
Silvio Berlusconi was still the Prime Minister of Italy when he realised the huge parliamentary majority he had obtained at the political elections in 2008 was everything but intact. The harsh divorce between Berlusconi and Fini, now Speaker of the House, with the latter leaving the Party of Liberties to found the ‘Future and Freedom for Italy’ Party, marked the beginning of the political demise of the then Prime Minister, an office he had hold for four of the five times he has run as a candidate. Or at least this is what many thought.

Confronted with a majority of one single vote, involved in many sex scandals, and hunted down by the Judiciary on multiple counts, the only wise move Mr. B could make was to step down as Prime Minister.
At the end of the day, he knew he couldn’t possibly lead the Country to fulfill the challenges and commitments he had taken with Europe. His line of thought was simple: “I take a step back before I lose a confidence vote. Mr. Monti will be appointed as Prime Minister. He’s a smart guy, one who can fix things quickly and easily. Of course, in order to do that, he can only raise taxes, but this is not a problem (for me). We can blame him later for that. Once the State budget is back on track, I can step forward again and exploit social resentment“.

Pretty simple, isn’t it?
I must say that, from a certain point of view, I admire the guy. I mean, he is such an impudent, shameless person, but has ideas. I don’t want to sound rhetorical, but Italy would be one of the most competitive countries in the world if only such evil minds would serve the common interest before their own.

So, what is Mr.B’s plan for the electoral campaign?

Naively, he thinks Italians have already forgot what the last 20 years have borne in terms of credibility of the country abroad, public debt, privileges for circles of people closer to him, scandals, you name it. But they have not. The feeling of disaffection versus politics in general and politicians at large is strong, and grows as much as the gap between these and ordinary people widens. So here’s the magic recipe: 90% of candidates in the lists of the People of Liberties should be unknown to the general public.

keep-calm-and-don-t-vote-for-him-17

A person whom you can potentially trust is better than the widely known faces people have learned not to. Will this be enough? Recently, I was sent a funny sign of the “keep calm” type, suggesting not to vote for Berlusconi.
Conversely, a survey a remarkable weekly talk show (Ballarò) conducts reveals Mr.B’s party gained between 1.5% and 2% of votes in one week thus reaching 15%, just because he announced he will lead his party as a candidate Prime Minister (for the sixth time). With about three months to go before the elections, this may well account for a 12%-15% increase, which would bring the party share to 28%-30%, indeed not very far from where it was in 2008. Notwithstanding it may not be enough to win the elections, a similar result would definitely qualify him as the leader of a strong opposition. On the top of that, the ability of the ‘Cavaliere’ (*) to attract people to the dark…ehm sorry…to the blue side (**) is renown, thus diluting an apparently wide centre-left majority over time. Will this be the revenge of the sixth (time)?

What do you think the reaction of Italians will be?
Does Berlusconi deserve any trust?
Would you vote for him?

Please comment below.

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(*) ‘Cavaliere’ is the Italian word for ‘knight’. Given his remarkable and undeniable business skills in the field of estate building, Berlusconi was awarded the title of Knight of the Order of Merit for Labour in 1997 and is most commonly known as ‘Il Cavaliere’ (the Knight).

(**) Blue is the colour of the People of Liberties

The Don’t-Wanna-Be Candidate

In preparation for the next election round, the Italian political scenario is getting more and more flustered. Leadership-building efforts, however, are far to be finalised. Political parties and their leaders are testing public confidence and assessing how voters may react to this or that alliance. A few points are clear so far: the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the centre-right People of Liberty (PdL) seem unwilling to form alliances. With PD at 26% in polls, the PdL is experiencing a sharp fall in prospective votes, which is down to below 20%. Silvio Berlusconi has not yet revealed whether he will run as a candidate and party leader or not but his return may well have consequences for Italy as a whole. Moreover, internal fights between doves and hawks are further undermining the Party’s credibility.

From left: Alemanno, La Russa, Gasparri

Colonels without a General‘ is the title of an article appeared recently on the digital version of one of the most prominent Italian magazines, l’Espresso. It refers to the portion of PdL leadership who feels the Party is no longer up to its tasks. Mainly composed of ex-National Alliance members – the right party that merged into Berlusconi’s Forza Italia when PdL was established – this movement will likely leave the party to form a new one. Together with the Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno, Ignazio La Russa, Giorgia Meloni, and Maurizio Gasparri – all Ministers during previous Berlusconi’s governments – are willing to re-establish a modern version of the ‘Italian Social Movement–National Right’ Party, originally founded by post-fascist politician Giorgio Almirante, who – among other things – was the political mentor of Gianfranco Fini, who replaced him at the helm of the National Alliance Party. Someone said this is a modern version of famous Ceasar’s phrase ‘Quoque tu Brute?

From left: Bersani, Renzi, Vendola

On the other (political) hand, PD’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani seems unable to embody and represent the many flavours of centre- and far-left movements, let alone to solve the ‘Renzi’ issue.
In its quest for parliamentary seats, the PD is increasingly closer to the ‘Left, Ecology and Freedom‘ (SEL) movement, a recently established Party that may account for 7-8% of votes. SEL’s leader Nichi Vendola, currently the governor of Puglia region – has opposed Mario Monti’s government initiatives on several occasions. He is also a strong supporter of neoliberal issues such as civil and labour rights, especially those concerning radical trade unions and LGBT issues (he himself is openly homosexual and on many occasions reaffirmed his intention to get married in Italy).
Matteo Renzi, one among the most promising politicians in Italy and currently the Mayor of Florence, is an advocate of primary elections. Thanks to his staunch opposition to Bersani’s internal leadership, Renzi has earned the appellation of ‘scrapper‘ and will confront Bersani during the Party primaries, even if no one knows when and on what rules they will be celebrated. Strangely, but probably thanks to his innate communication skills, he also gained consensus among centre-right voters. Centre-right parties and movements, however, show less care of the issue than they should, convinced as they are that the political elimination of Renzi will arrive soon by hand of his own party’s hawks.

The third side of the coin is represented by a large pool of centre movements, actually larger than in the recent past. This is the richest ‘voting pot’ so far, as it includes disillusioned voters from both the above parties, undecided voters, and traditional centre parties voters. Will Pierferdinando Casini, leader of the Christian Democratic Union, Gianfranco Fini, leader of ‘Future and Freedom for Italy‘ – a movement born after the harsh separation between Fini and Berlusconi – and Francesco Rutelli, a former representative of the Italian Radicals and later of centre-left movement Alliance for Italy, succeed in convincing all the potential voters to trust them?
Together with Renzi, they are strong supporters of Monti’s Agenda, an ambitious State reform programme Mr. Monti’s technocrat government has started just after it came into office.

Monti: looking over the horizon

But no matter how you change the order of factors, the percentages of votes each of these actors can obtain will never be enough to form a stable government. Hence, the find-an-ally factor.
The same applies to Grillo’s Five Stars Movement, except that he seeks no allies, either before or after elections.

No significant and effective leader seems to emerge from this picture.So, Mr. Monti, you are the favourite candidate to become Prime Minister, again. Were you aware of that?

Why Writers Must Tell Stories

What is a story?
Is it a mere sequence of events? In very simple terms, it is.
However, what makes a story interesting or uninteresting?
We all have a friend who is good at telling stories, maybe around a campfire in the wild; or another one who tells jokes so badly that no one laughs. Good storytellers know how to involve readers.
Success stories catch the readers’ attention as they give them something in return in an easy way. In fact, what we look for as human beings is knowing the hows and the whys of things. This is the engine of all mankind in its quest towards infinity, in its search for the unknown, in the discovery of hidden things. Will the waiter who makes the tray fall be fired? How this will impact his life? And, above all, what is the bottom line of the story? This is what readers look for, this is what storytellers and writers must communicate, or the story of Melvin the Waiter will be lost in history forever.
Storytellers have a mission: bringing the stories of apparently invisible people to the surface, make them count, give them a voice they wouldn’t have otherwise. It’s the excruciating pain of a mother who lost her child, the motivations of a murderer, the discovery of relics from a lost civilisation, the passion of a new-borne love, the return of the prodigal son, the frustration and anger for the betrayal of a beloved wife that count. All these stories, all these feelings deserve to be known. They represent what we are as persons, our intimate feelings. They show us how the world goes, prove us we are not alone and that there is an identical, similar, or completely different truth out there; it’s something we face every day, even without knowing.
I feel this responsibility every day. No one told me I have to tell stories, I simply believe I have to do so. The people I see on the streets, all the life I observe and whose details I study turns into scenes, setting and characters. And it is precisely these characters who knock from inside my drawer to demand their stories to be told. Their voices are like Ulysses’ siren songs and there is no submerged rock awaiting the floating story but a safe harbour made of the reader’s curiosity and passion for resolution. Isn’t this what life is about? Conflict and resolution – which were chosen by Aristotle as two of the main elements of life representation, or drama –, have been animating literature ever since.
Why should we stop telling stories?

Italy’s GDP Growth Slower Than Expected

Italy’s Recession Graph

During his intervention at the annual Ambrosetti Workshop in Cernobbio on Lake Como, the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti referred to the upcoming elections of next May saying it is “inconceivable that a democratic country as Italy cannot find qualified candidates on the ballot to lead the country”. Monti declined the opportunity to run for another mandate as PM, his current appointment ending in 2013.
These words are paramount to recent news about the slower growth of Italian GDP, which recorded a contraction, based on the data published yesterday by the Italian Institute of Statistics (ISTAT). The fourth successive contraction has raised concerns about the ability the government of technocrats has to get public finances back on track. Gross Domestic Product dropped 2.6 percent compared to the estimate of 2.5 percent on an annual basis. In spite of that, the Prime Minister has shown optimism. “The data available do not reveal an economic recovery has started yet – Monti said – but it is now within reach and I believe it will soon arrive,” he added.
So far, Monti’s cabinet choices – however hard to withstand for many tax-overladen Italians – have only succeded in cutting consumer spending and boosting unemployment, thus slowing GDP growth. The Italian economy has been contracting for four straight quarters now and its recession will very likely continue during 2013.

Will Italy Overcome the Crisis and Make it to Next Year Elections?

Italy’s spending cuts are at the heart of reforms

“Recession in Italy is close to an end and the euro zone must not represent a source of friction amongst northern and southern Europe”, the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said recently at a conference in Rimini. He also added that the euro zone’s third largest economy is in better shape than it was actually a year ago.
Since taking over from Silvio Berlusconi, Monti has triggered a programme of reforms, including strong overhauls on the labour market and pension, spending cuts and deregulation. Monti said the government would not expected such reforms to stimulate the growth of a heavily-hit economy in the short term. Instead, he explained he had hoped the falling of borrowing costs would make it simpler for recovery to commence.
Monti also repeated once again he is concerned for the tensions arisen among northern and southern European countries in the euro zone, and the Union is endevouring to resolve its recession and preserve the single currency.
“It would be tragic – he said- if the euro, the highest form of European aspiration to integration and unity turned out to be a factor of disintegration, and the cause for prejudices, of north standing against south”.
Internally, Monti has underlined once ahgain that budget-rigour goal is instrumental to the growth of public finances. The Government will focus on debt reduction and asset sales among the coming months as it puts together measures to raise competition, put an end to energy costs and support start-up companies. Monti, who imposed austerity in the initial half of his 18-month term, is asking his ministers to draft policies in order to pull Italy out of its fourth recession in almost ten years. He is well known as one who jumped in in Italy’s deficit with both feet and lowered money borrowing costs thanks to a program that included tax increases on fuel, real estate and luxury goods, all vastly unpopular among the population. The Minister for Economic Development, Corrado Passera – however – didn’t say whenever the new government measures to promote the economy could be finalised.

Italy and the Economic Crisis


While the world economic crisis is hovering over major economic centres all over Europe and North America, the German magazine Der Spiegel has intervied the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on the issue.
He warned of a potential breakup of Europe if greater and quicker efforts are deployed to lower government borrowing costs, as a stand-off over European Central Bank help for Italy and Spain hardened.
‘Disagreements within the 17-nation euro area are detracting from the policy response to the debt crisis and undermining the future of the European Union’, Mr.Monti added.
Do you think Italy will be able to cope with and overcome the crisis?
Take the poll!

(If) Silvio Strikes Back


In one of the hottest Italian summers, the air becomes even thicker when it comes to politics. A few months after Mario Monti replaced Silvio Berlusconi as the Italian Prime Minister, the latter has announced he will run for 2013 elections as the leader of the People of Freedom, the multifaceted and multi-faction conservative alliance he has been leading for almost two decades with mixed results.
Long waited by a large share of his supporters, the announcement caused significant turmoil in many environments, including political, financial and industrial control rooms. For many, Berlusconi is the only one to blame for Italy’s current financial and economic situation. The public opinion sees him as a slow and mediocre statesman, whose reasoning skills become very quick and clever whenever his personal interests are at stake. This includes ad hoc laws passed by the Parliament, in fact by the parliamentary majority he was leading at the time, to ease Berlusconi’s position in the many judicial proceedings against him or to benefit selected industrial targets. Needless to say, Mediaset – the media and showbiz network he has built in over 40 years – is among these.
In the political arena, the leaders of the opposing parties, Pierferdinando Casini of the Christian Democratic Union and Pier Luigi Bersani of the Democratic Party above all, referred to the possibility that Berlusconi runs again for the Prime Minister’s chair with expressions like ‘horror movie’, or adjectives like ‘creeping’ or ‘blood-curdling’.
Apart from these considerations, which may be part of the usual and mutual discrediting attacks politicians are very well used to, no one seems to consider the most important factors in elections, i.e. voters. The feelings in the two major movements on the Italian landscape and among those who will poll their preferences are still very different. Centre-left and centre-right parties and respective followers have opposite predictions about the outcome of elections. After recent surveys have revealed Berlusconi’s party has reached an all-time low in preferences, Silvio now says his coalition can collect 28% of votes with him at the helm; indeed a very optimistic forecast. Conversely, Bersani & Co. see a darker future, predicting he will obtain nothing more than 12% of overall votes.
Politics as a whole is a largely unpopular subject in Italy at the moment. The economic crisis and the unchanged span of privileges politicians continue to enjoy based on laws and regulations they themselves approve make this job not very respected and increasingly distant from the concepts of community service and public good Aristotle envisioned in ‘Politics’.
The unresolved issue is if and how Berlusconi will persuade his followers, his political opponents, and those who sit in-between that he is changed and that electing him again can make a difference, if not for Italy, for Italians at least. The common people seems to have no preference for one politician or the other as ‘they’re all thieves’, a quite common refrain you can hear here and there across the entire boot, and the main reason why newly formed populist movements – like the 5 Star Movement, led by former comic actor Beppe Grillo – obtained lots of votes during the last administrative elections a few weeks ago. ‘Politics made by people, not politicians’ is one of the slogans of a group of people who wants to bring political power back into the hands of ordinary citizens. Quite an interesting exercise of direct democracy but perhaps a reckless choice when it comes at striking the right balance between what you want and what you can actually obtain. That is a professional politicians’ job, not something you would live in the hands of a newbie.
The fact that Silvio Berlusconi wants to be called again to impersonate that professional, well, is another story…

– Posted by Jerald using BlogPress for iPad

The Short Italian Memory

People leaving abroad enjoy a privileged and unique field of view on the society they are part of. This especially true about Italy. Foreigners living in the Bel Paese soon realize some of the stereotypes about Italians are not just that, and the real situation is in fact even worse. My post today takes into consideration Dany Mitzman‘s highlights in his article “How to avoid getting ‘hit by air’ in Italy” (published here). Most of what Mr. Mitzman says about how much Italians know about their anatomy and their fears – or rather hypocondria – is quite correct. Italians do have better knowledge of their body, for it is an important part of science classes in primary schools, let alone the fact that healthcare is State-funded in Italy. Whenever you feel sick or suffer the smallest pain, you attend a physician who explains what you may have or not. Illness-related drugs, if needed, are paid for by the State, so why in the world shouldn’t you pay a visit to your physician (no pun intended) and get a prescription for some placebos or drugs with actual effects? Mr. Mitzman’s article, however, focuses on physical symptoms and forgets one very serious problem Italians have: lack of memory.

Just as in the rest of Europe, Italy is not at ease. Economically speaking, the entire Old Continent is swept by financial waves generated by uncontrolled economic tides. Politically speaking, Rome has had a new government for a little more than a month. Its Prime Minister  started a series of substantial reforms only recently, but it was enough to spark several reactions, first and foremost by trade unions, and upset a large part of the public opinion. Equity is one of Mr. Monti’s keywords, together with development and growth. Many among those who complain about the Cabinet’s proposals and decisions say the reforms are not applied with equality. ‘Those who earn more, should pay more’, they say.

Theoretically speaking, this logic is flawless. When you have deadlines in the (very) short term, however, things are indeed different. There is a pressing need to increase cash flows as soon as possible. The entire Europe has been waiting for the Italian economic reforms Mr. Berlusconi and his predecessors as Prime Ministers have been unable to put in place. Immediate and larger cash flows can only be obtained by raising taxes and adjusting pensions accordingly. Anyone can complain, but it is as easy as 1-2-3. Structural reforms are much needed in Italy, as current systems are longer sustainable.

Nature, our Great Mother, has been teaching us a lesson over the ages of evolution: only those who adapt can survive; those who don’t, simply cannot. This is what Italy is going through at the moment, but all adaptation processes come with a price, which the limited number of richer people alone – call it 1% or whatever – cannot afford at the moment, irrespective of how much wealth is in their hands. The structural reforms the Italian Minister of Welfare is forging will affect higher incomes not earlier than three or four years from now. Meanwhile, the only way to make the pension system sustainable and reduce public debt is by imposing taxes on consumers (by increasing VAT) and estate properties. These issues have been raised many times and the many stakeholders managed to reach consensus on the ensuing required solutions, eventually. Now, the same stakeholders seem to find hard to remember that consensus has ever been reached, the Northern League being on the front row. Once again, it has dispelled any doubt about his ability to remember some items of its past political programme in support of Berlusconi’s government, where this kind of taxation had been strongly supported. The real estate tax (or IMU, in Italian) – which Berlusconi cancelled in 2008 and whose proceeds remained with the municipalities – will now be shared between local and central governments. Some Mayors belonging to the Northern League announced they will not collect the tax to avoid part of the proceeds be ‘stolen by Rome’.

Short memory is a serious problem for those affected, but not the only one the Northern League and Italy as a whole have.

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