Listening to Italy
MONEY ALWAYS WINS
Italy was hit by unusually extreme weather at the end of October, beginning of November. 14 people died as a result of incidents resulting from whirlwinds, landslides and floods. The Berlusconi family yacht sunk. Even the last kilometre of the Venice Marathon was run through flooded streets. In subsequent days as much as 75% of the city was under water, with videos showing waves lashing the sides of generally land-based buildings. One of the possible disastrous consequences of this inundation is that the mosaic floors of the Basilica of San Marco were damaged by the salt water.
In the same week the Government of the puppet Prime Minster Giuseppe Conte, which is in effect the Government of the Deputy Prime Minister, The Lega Party’s Matteo Salvini, presented an illegal budget to the EU. This planned to increase Italy’s budget deficit. The Italian Government’s purpose was twofold: to stimulate the economy and also acknowledge election pledges such as the introduction of a Universal wage. The EU gave the country three weeks to propose a revision and sanctions have been threatened. Ezio Mauro, wrote a scathing editorial in La Repubblica saying that the budget had more to do with the coalition’s ideological hatred of Europe and as such the consequences would be to the detriment of ordinary Italians.
Meanwhile the two Deputy Prime Ministers, Luigi di Maio (Five Star Movement, M5S) and Salvini have been dealing with two ongoing and long-standing issues which have now grown into political crises. The two members of the coalition not only have opposing views which threaten to split the coalition but M5S is even taking different positions within its ranks.
The TAP and TAV: The Trans Adriatic Pipeline and the Treno Alto Velocità have been the focus for dissent and demonstrations for many years. At issue is the refusal of people who will be affected by construction works to have their area changed and spoiled by engineering projects which will be of no direct benefit to them. An apt comparison are the UK’s anti-fracking protests.
The TAP project has been under construction for many years. It will be an 878-kilometre gas pipeline from the Shah Deniz 2 gas field in Azerbaijan, through Greece and Albania. It is planned to make landfall near San Foca in the far south of Italy. Currently Italy imports over 90% of its gas from Russia, Libya, Algeria and Holland. The Renzi Pd (Partito Democratico) Government approved the extension of the project into Italy in 2014. Ending the dependence of Europe on the Ukrainian gas supply is seen to be of great strategic importance to Europe and also, for political reasons by the US.
Italy’s control of the pipeline would make the country an important supply and distribution hub for Europe. A large storage and distribution centre had been planned for Northern Italy but organisational delays have lost it the necessary investment for this part of the superstructure.
The M5S currently hold a majority of the local, Pugliese seats. They support locals who have three hot issues to contend with: Ilva, Xylella and TAP. The first is Taranto’s heavily polluting steel plant that has caused a large increase in cancers. Locals want it shut. The second is an olive tree disease that the Government say must be countered by grubbing up many ancient trees. Locals believe that the disease can be contained by natural means. Then TAP – Italy’s Environment Minister, who happens to be an M5S member, said that TAP was “pointless”; Barbara Lezzi (M5S) the Minister for the South of Italy said that it could be an unnecessary environmental danger. But the coalition made the choice between investment or the environment and Premier Conte announced that the project will go ahead. The 29 October Corriere della Sera ran a headline that summed it up for M5S: The NO TAP (i.e. the protesters) are burning M5S Flags. The rise and fall of the Grillini in Puglia.
TAV , the Treno Alto Velocità, the high-speed train link from Lyon to Turin is the second contentious issue. This will link western and eastern Europe via a tunnel already partly-under construction under the Alps at Moncenisio (French: Mont Cenis). It is not just a short rail line but with links it is seen as a highly strategic cross-European route. The Lyon to Turin line exists already but is unsuitable for modification. This is because of its steep gradients and the limited width of both the Frejus tunnel (started in 1857) and the single-track line along the south side of the Italian Susa Valley. The line leaves the tunnel at the ski-resort of Bardonecchia and descends to Turin, and thence to Milan and beyond. The new line, which is already under construction, is flatter and tunnels under the opposite side of the Susa Valley.
The line has long been a contentious issue and the NO TAV campaign has effectively curtailed work and become a huge national issue and rallying call. More than 1,000 people have been arrested for their efforts of physical resistance. Local people oppose the disruption that the tunnelling work brings. They believe that they have a democratic right to refuse to let their deep, quiet and rural valley, the longest in Italy, be spoiled. Of particular concern are the excavation’s extrusions which will pollute and spread dust throughout the valley. The nature of this spoil is of particular concern.
Asbestos and other minerals were discovered in the Susa Valley and open-cast mining started in 1918. At one time the San Vittore mine at Balangero was the largest in Europe and it was welcomed as a good source of employment. Eventually it became obvious that the process was maiming and killing the miners and the company became bankrupt. Significantly, the new tunnel is on the same, north valley side, as the mines.
The stepped configuration of part of the open-cast mining can still be seen from the train. A memorial to the large numbers of people who became unwitting victims can also be seen nearby.
The M5S Mayor of Turin Chiara Appendino, is a firmly NO TAV Mayor. She is opposed strongly by Sergio Chiamparino, the Premier of Piedmont, and the Torinese businesses and institutions which will benefit from the construction and presence of the upgraded line. He is now pressuring the Government, knowing also that YES TAV also has the support of the majority of the unions. Cgil, (The Italian General Confederation of Labour) with around 5 million members, supports it nationally but not locally.
La Repubblica is finding its freedom to publish is being attacked. It is in its own words, currently under a fatwa from the M5S following its critical coverage of a demonstration against the M5S mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi. Undaunted, the paper has been critical of NO TAV and on 1 November published an interview with Sergio Chiamparino where he accuses Di Maio and Salvini of self-interest. He is critical of Di Maio for not prioritising jobs and investment; he is only a ”propagandist”. He believes that it is characteristic of Salvini to be in favour but he might veto the scheme to save the government.
He goes on to say that it is vital that the north of Italy isn’t marginalised. The Region could attempt to manage this independently and attempt to find investment in the North of Italy and abroad. We must, he said, (unlike the manner of Di Maio and Salvini), “Respect the commitments made by Parliament and Italy with the international treaties signed by the governments and the president of the Republic”.