2014 09 – Italian Politics


by Orecchiette


Summer is the peak season for migrants arriving in small boats at Lampedusa and Sicily. The rest of Europe turns a blind eye to what we like to think is Italy’s problem and Italy has to cope financially and logistically with it. Frontex, which “promotes, coordinates and develops European border management in EU and Schengen Associated Countries” is going to make a greater effort to help under the recently agreed Frontex Plus. But, says the EU Commissioner for Internal Affairs, Cecile Malmstrom, as she shares smiles and handshakes with Italy’s Minister of Internal Affairs, Angelino Alfano, it might be hard to get the financial contributions from member states. And as the flood of migrants increases, the chances of this happening are not good. Migrant numbers increased from 42,000 in 2013 to 100,000 so far this year. And, just under 2,000 have drowned or died en route.

The second boat story appeared in The Economist (Aug 30 – Sept 5th), which featured a cover: That sinking feeling (again) with a “fotomontaggio” of a paper-hat type of ship…made from a €20 note. It was obviously sinking while Mario Draghi baled it out “freneticamente” with a wastepaper basket. In the prow stood the straight-backed Merkel and Hollande dwarfing a very tiny Matteo Renzi, the Italian Premier. And, as one of the Corriere della Sera’s commentators said, he looked like a small child who had just been given an ice cream so that he wouldn’t disturb the grown ups. Corriere della Sera featured the cover, and yes, it is “impudent” (as someone said), it could also seem funny, depending on your position in the political spectrum. But no one likes being laughed at, and Italians have been discomforted by this depiction of their Premier as a child-like figure clutching a cornet.

Comments by Corriere readers on the Economist’s cover inevitably and quickly made mention of Silvio Berlusconi. His twenty years in politics have left their mark and some commented that the decline and recession had happened while he was in power. Berlusconi was famous for denying the financial crisis that was obvious to most commentators: “We aren’t in crisis, the restaurants are full and you can’t find a seat on a plane”.

Berlusconi has avoided and escaped the many personal legal charges brought against him. He was acquitted once again in July from his conviction for having sex with Ruby, the under-age prostitute. There was a flurry of disbelief in Italy at this. La Repubblica re-issued a long incisive article by Eugenio Scalfari, the paper’s venerable co-founder. It was originally published in 2009. Called “The dramas and the secrets of the imperial court” it started with Silvio’s ex-wife’s exposé of his lifestyle. A Huffington Post article of 21 July also said that the acquittal was neither a political nor moral rehabilitation. But, Berlusconi (ludicrously) does his weekly community service, and for the rest of the time is back influencing mainstream politics as leader of the centre right Forza Italia Party.

When Renzi was elected he made a pact with Berlusconi, called Il Patto del Nazareno. This outlined electoral changes, including the redefinition of the upper chamber to base it on the regions. Berlusconi’s support props up what is now only nominally a centre-left government of Renzi. Nominally centre-left, because significant numbers of Renzi’s party, as well as smaller groups on the left, detest his reforms, which appear to be developed during phone calls with Berlusconi. They dislike his personal ambitions, the betrayal of their ideals and he neither gets their support or votes. It must be added that many Deputies are also worried that they may lose their seats if there is an early election.

Is there a connection between the recent acquittal and Berlusconi’s centre-right support for Renzi’s government’s reforms? And, if there is a connection, what does Berlusconi want in return? Is it anything other than a continuing exercise of power? Unlikely. Berlusconi is no altruist and will wring for himself the maximum possible benefit. It is interesting that the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, nicknamed “the cadaver,” will be 90 next year.

Renzi has been working hard to push through these enormous changes to the structure of the upper and lower houses of government and has barely taken a holiday. Not for him were photo opportunities in fish shops and on beaches. This man is determined to pave his path with compliant colleagues. Meanwhile there was a little impatience in Euroland at Renzi’s concentration on his political rather than financial reforms. But, some flexibility has been negotiated with Brussels and Renzi has promised movement.

The Economist’s cover profoundly irritated the CEO of Fiat Sergio Marchionne, who feels the need to be proud of being Italian, “because Italians are as good as anyone”. He was widely reported as finding the image objectionable, “crap”. He used the ice cream insult as a pivot to build a speech about the need for swift, tough government action on the financial front. He emphasised that Renzi must be supported to move an immobile country forward and the audience apparently received him in silence.

And yet another ice cream ripple, as Pierfranco Pellizzetti, essayist, wrote a blog for Il Fatto Quotidiano which characterised Renzi as being just another political pigmy hoodwinking not only Italy, but a credible Europe. He was despairing of what he called Renzi’s “privatized Keynesianism” which feeds his own personal and political ambition, at the cost of the impoverishment of the middle classes. The blog finished by flying a list of past political figures who Renzi should use as examples of moral and social sensitivity – an odd bunch: Leon Blum, Winston Churchill, Luigi Einaudi, Willy Brandt, David Lloyd George and Franklin Roosevelt. He dismisses Renzi saying that everyone will know he will recite the gag of the ice cream cone while the country slides, or presumably melts away in the sun.

And Pellizzetti is very disillusioned with Europe. His end of August blog mentioned that day’s choice of “Mrs Nobody” Federica Mogherini to the European Foreign Affairs seat. – chosen via machinations that are jiggled to ingratiate or displease, depending on the political expediency. After Pellizetti’s ice cream blog, Beppo Grillo gave him a spot on his own blog as Blogger of the Day. Strange because he must have known that he would be nasty. He was. He wrote that it gave him enormous anguish to think that 200 years of European intellectual and political development had resulted in people such as Grillo being elected to make decisions on our behalf. Pellizetti didn’t leave out Grillo’s Euro Group leader: a man close to homophobic, xenophobic British allies, the “worrying oddity” Nigel Farage.