Listening to Italy
This article was written before the first vote for the next President of the Republic of Italy took place on 29 January.
Italy’s 89 year old President Giorgio Napolitano resigned as expected at the start of the year. He had allowed his name to be put forward in 2013, for an unprecedented second term. This was a way of avoiding the inevitable instablity following the short-lived Monti and Letta administrations. Matteo Renzi had ousted the quiet, open Enrico Letta in February 2014 to become Prime Minister. Since then Renzi, the energetic and astute Blair admirer, has been working cunningly to consolidate his power. Not only can he be seen calculating his rise in Italy but also in Europe where he has ingratiated himself particularly successfully with Mrs Merkel.
His sharp operating has, of course, caused political divisions. Beppe Grillo of the M5S, ally of our own Nigel Farage, can always be relied upon for colourful and apposite comments. Barred from political office and lacking a parliamentary platform, he can frequently be seen fulminating as he leads his dwindling faithful in outdoor rallies. La Repubblica (24 Jan) quoted him: Renzi Buffoncello, he shouted ….we’ve got a little lightweight buffoon who blackmails us.
The blackmail that Grillo refers to is real. Europe, Italy, the parties and the politicians, with their positions to cling onto, all want stability. Renzi, states confidently that he will serve a full term. His political opponents, particularly in his own Pd party, protest just sufficiently to keep their jobs by not precipitating a fall of government. Currently dissent focuses on three main issues. The election of the President of the Republic, Italicum (the wide-ranging and significant changes to the electoral law) and the secret “Nazareno” pact with Berlusconi. Renzi keeps his cool in this ferment.
All three contentious issues are inextricably and inevitably linked within the passionate and complex Italian political caste. Renzi has said that the party’s current Italicum proposals are distinct and separate from the election of the President. But as Gianluca Luzi says in La Repubblica (22 Jan), it is not only difficult to believe this, but it is evident that it isn’t so.
Italian politics have similarities with our children’s’ parties; everyone comes away with something. Winning a point means conceding something to the loser. So, Berlusconi will add his party’s votes to boost Renzi’s support, because the Pd’s left wingers have withdrawn theirs. Berlusconi then gains something in return. And the root of opposition to the Renzi/Berlusconi Nazareno pact is not understanding what Berlusconi is getting out of it. Renzi, breathtakingly, absolutely refuses to discuss this.
It is said that Romano Prodi, who is a successful, respected politician, amply qualified to be President, is Anglo-Saxon in his political dealings. In Italy this is unusual. It means being open and fair, and Prodi actually lives the Christianity that he espouses. He doesn’t operate the give-and-take way of working with adversaries, so is tipped not to be successful in the elections. Why should others support him if they didn’t gain from him! He also beat Berlusconi twice.
The media group Tiscali floated a fanciful list of 28 possible Presidential candidates, ranging from Romano Prodi, through Mario Draghi, the obvious and possible, to Berlusconi (he will find it difficult (to be nominated)) and on to architect Renzo Piano and Maestro Riccardo Muti. (No, said Muti.) Beppe Grillo was not alone in protesting that Renzi was drawing up a list for discussion, but had probably already made up his mind. He criticised the lack of democracy saying that Renzi should be publishing names openly on the internet, as is his own modus operandi. Grillo was then pictured, puffer jacket on, suggesting dom Luigi Ciotti as a Presidential Candidate. Ciotti is a cleric who founded the anti-mafia, pro-social justice Association Libera in 1995.
The Presidential election process is interesting. The 630 Deputies and 315 Senators have a vote. The 19 regions have three voting members each. The Valle D’Aosta has one member, making a total of 1003 votes. There can be seven ballots and everyone meets together to do this. There will only be a winner in the first three ballots if someone receives 2/3 of the votes. After that the majority vote wins. There is a lot of dark talk about scheda bianca, i.e.: white ballots or abstentions in the first three rounds. These are a typically Italian complex political tactic. But Renzi is obviously working to conclude this as swiftly and easily as possible. He wants to be the only dealer here.
Renzi programmed 27 January as the day to have discussions about the nomination, or nominations. Berlusconi called them consultations in the dark (La Stampa, 29 Jan). Aptly the day started at 7 with lesser groups. Meanwhile Grillo was starting to set out his consultation on the web. His list of candidates grew from 9 – 14. Was Renzi listening to him? Different names popped up during this consultation day, notable among them were Giuliano Amato. (aged 76, twice Prime Minister, a subtle political operator nicknamed dottor sottile) and Sergio Mattarella (Sicilian, aged 73, who drafted a new electoral system law in 1993, the Mattarellum). By the end of the day Mattarella had been proposed by Renzi and rejected by Berlusconi. One of Alfano’s men, Cicchitto said that this was like Renzi inaugurating a monarchy in Italy. Anna Finocchiaro was Berlusconi’s suggestion, as being serious and balanced (La Stampa, 29 Jan). Il Foglio (29 Jan) called the whole process Il chess boxing.
In Renzi’s own Pd a small left-leaning group are making a stand against him. Pippo Civati and Nichi Vendola the SEL (Left Ecology Freedom) leader (also a LGBT activist) were pictured together recently. Civati said we are the N-Ns, the non-Nazareno party for those who love the constitution (La Stampa, 23 January). He believes that when Renzi finds a Presidential candidate by agreement it means there will be one real candidate only – his choice.
There is also opposition in Berlusconi’s own Forza Italia party, some of whom do not want to be sullied by dealings with what they view as the left. Angelino Alfano, once Berlusconi’s right-hand man, worked in coalition as Letta’s Deputy Prime Minister. He now leads the Ncd, the New Centre-Right party and offers ineffectual opposition: It would be arrogant and unrealistic to say no to the Pd’s candidate (La Stampa 23 January).
On 23 January, the Weekly L’Espresso’s Marco Damilano discussed a breathtakingly simple solution for Renzi and one that the earthquake caused by Syriza suggests might be a way forward. He mentions that Anna Finocchiaro had been under consideration for the Presidential position by Renzi himself and that he could go forward comfortably with a President like this. But, and this is significant and revolutionary, he could then eradicate opposition by forming a completely new party. Those who support him: the enthusiastic and the willing, (women are frequently chosen by both Renzi and Berlusconi) would all win a place under his sun. Those who don’t would lose, in a very northern European way.
29 January 14.00h