The Italian Mind

Reflections from the Boot

Archive for the tag “Berlusconi”

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.


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.


(*) ‘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

(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

Is Italy up to the task now?

Italian PM, Mario Monti

Mario Monti, the Italian Prime Minister

After its former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi resigned about one month ago, Italy has not enjoyed any improvement in terms of market trust. With the BTP-BUND spread index sill high between 450 and 500 base points, Italy seems to have a long and difficult march ahead before seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. For those who strongly asked Berlusconi step aside for the good of the nation this suffices to say Mr.B was not the real issue. In fact, the market trust is based on the ability to pay debts and the Bel Paese is now facing one of the most difficult moments in republican history.

Italy lived a similar experience only once in its modern history. In the aftermath of WW2, the country was in ruins – literally – and the (re-)founding fathers had to take a serious burden on their shoulders. The souls of people took sides, with fascists and resistance fighters being the two faces of the same coin. But the past and current situation, albeit having several commonalities, show some significant differences. There are no ruins today, no country to rebuild, no consciences to wash clean, just as no post-war liquidity injections or support plans will arrive from outside as an helping hand. The Communist block vanished more than 20 years ago, and terrorism is not a single threat but rather a most complex one.

The war Mario Monti, the Italian economist President Giorgio Napolitano decided to appoint Prime Minister to rescue the Italian situation, is a different one and will be fought on a different ground. Europe as a whole, including leaders like the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the French President Nicholas Sarkozy, has this very clear. The debt fire the US have started with the subprime mortgage crisis in late 2006 still burns and is way out from being extinguished. Will Mr. Monti’s choices be enough to cope with it? Will his cabinet decisions the right extinguisher?

I will cover the issue of the attitude of Italian people versus their politicians in another post. Briefly, the ordinary people do not like the ample basket of privileges the people’s representatives enjoy, at all. And this is one point for Monti. The members of his cabinet – and Monti himself – are not politicians. They have not been elected nor are they supported by any political party. Practically no one of the ministers or undersecretaries has ever had anything to do with politics. On the contrary, all of them are technocrats and of course their area of expertise coincides with the task each of them has been assigned. Mr. Giampaolo Di Paola, for example, was a 4-star Admiral holding the post as Chairman of the Nato Military Committee before becoming the Minister of Defence. Mrs. Annamaria Cancellieri, a Prefect, has gained several experience on the field all over Italy until reaching the Ministry of Interior’s top position. The same can be said about all the ministers in the cabinet, which brings to another point: support.

Rarely has been observed such an overwhelming trust vote majority in the Italian Parliament. Instead Mr. Monti’s cabinet obtained 281 votes at the Senate and 556 at the Chamber of Deputies, an all-time win. It is too soon, however, to say the government will last. Both center-left, center and center-right parties, the Democratic Party (PD), the Union of Christian Democrats (UDC) and the People of Liberties (PdL) respectively, have granted their support to what they recognise to be the most pressing needs Italy has to address: cut public spending and lift revenues, change the pension system, reintroduce a property tax on first homes and make it easier for companies to hire and fire workers, to help bolster Italy’s anemic economy. In sharp contrast to Mr. Berlusconi’s cabinet, whose clashing vested interests blocked economic reform, Mr. Monti’s cabinet draws from academia, banking, business and the upper echelons of the civil service. Some ministers have strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church, whose support is still needed for any Italian government to gain traction.

Italy’s debt accounts for $2.6 trillion and is the highest in the euro zone after Greece and one of the highest in the world. After the strong opposition of Germany to the rescue plan for Greece, no one can imagine what the scenario may be in case of an Italian default, especially if we consider the momentous impact such a possibility could have on the stability – or even the existence – of the European single currency. Or perhaps, everybody knows.

The new Italian government is certainly an improvement with respect to the previous one. The problem is that this may not satisfy markets, which in fact are quite unstable when Italian matters are at stake. Indeed, that is a tall order for a prime minister with little experience in the rough and tumble of Italian politics and no politicians in his cabinet. Mr. Monti said the lack of politicians gave the cabinet independence, but it remains to be seen whether that translates into the clout needed to change the laws and customs of a postwar welfare state built on a patronage culture that dates back centuries.

Post Navigation