2016 11 – News From Italy

Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


Some time ago Matteo Renzi called a referendum to endorse changes to Italian electoral law. Initially it seemed like a walk-over, a formality, in the same way that Cameron predicted a smooth passage for his proposals. The date moved back as opposition began to grow and it will finally be held on Sunday 4 December.

The changes will result in a parliamentary system where the existing lower house, or Camera will not be significantly different. However the upper house will largely lose its powers to veto the Camera’s proposals. The new structure will be similar to that in Germany where the upper house is based on the regions and the representatives are nominated from that. Orecchiette has previously mentioned that its applicability to Italy is questionable and it may lead to a fiesta of political shenanigans.

Renzi has worked hard to maximise the likelihood of a YES vote in the referendum. He has even threatened to resign and leave politics for ever. But an Italian will accept the necessity of occasional pragmatic changes of tactics in a way that would be unthinkable to the British. And yet Paddy Ashdown never did eat his post election hat. And, can we really envisage Boris Johnson pronating himself in front of a Heathrow bulldozer?

Italian voters will base their final decision on a variety of different reasons or feelings. Some will be anti-PD, i.e.: Renzi’s centre-left Partito Democratico. Others will be anti-Renzi or anti-EU or simply pro or anti national issues that are working well or badly. Decision-making based solely on the core issue will not predominate.

Relevant to this is the current state of the parties. The PD have the largest number of seats in the lower house. It is often necessary and it is usual for the largest party to go into coalition in order to amass sufficient numbers to form a workable majority. This is augmented by the ‘premium’ which gives the largest party an additional number of seats to make that majority work. Beppe Grillo’s M5S, Five Star Movement or Movimento Cinque Stelle, have become front-runners in national polling, which while it is not the same as having parliamentary seats, could be a strong indication of future voter preferences.

M5S is a populist, anti-EU, anti corruption, anti-establishment movement, but it is not a party in the known sense. It is run by the non-elected comedian Beppe Grillo and Davide Casaleggio, the son of the founder and company owner, Roberto Casaleggio, who died earlier this year. Davide is an IT specialist and strategist. It is relevant that the M5S Directorate, which share some decision-making, are not currently working in unison. They fight for power and undermine each other. Beppe Grillo is keen to run the country.

One of the most intractable issues and one which will impact on the referendum is the resolution of the migrant influx. Italy has accommodated 153,450 people since the beginning of this year, with as many as 16,000 landing in one recent week. Italians are generally very humane in their attitude and  they are referred to as refugees or migrants, and are treated as people in need of help. This is in contrast to the word immigrant which is used pejoratively by the British, often in the same breath as a word such as spongers. However, it isn’t possible to offer hospitality without end, without respite or help. It is impossible to have the will to continue when other Euro countries offer limited assistance, or refuse to want to understand the efforts made by the Italian people and their Government.

In the last week of October two small Po delta towns erected barricades against the arrival of 12 migrant women and their 8 children. The towns of Gorino and Goro decided to refuse to take them and thereby refused their national quota. The local clergy expressed their shame and the regional Prefect said that a reception centre had been prepared and the quota should have been fulfilled.

Renzi has been saying that the country and the politicians should all be working together to solve the pressure of the arrivals, but not everyone is willing. Renzi appealed to national pride by praising the Navy and the EU-funded FRONTEX force that are saving lives in the Canal de Sicilia, the Italian name for the 150 or so miles of water between Italy and Africa.

It is hard to envisage a way of dealing with this that will start to solve the problem and appeal to voters simultaneously. There is an interesting paradox. Communes are paid €500 for every migrant that they accept. There then is discord from people who believe that more money should be spent on native Italians. British object in a similar way and, it is similarly used to make political points. Matteo Salvini of the right-wing, separatist, anti-Renzi, sometimes fascist Northern League, made political capital by expressing his solidarity with Gorino and Goro.

The EU are criticising Italy and threatening to penalise them for the size of their deficit. Renzi is clear that Italy are not being treated fairly. Spain’s deficit is double that of Italy, while France has run a deficit for 9 years. But, Italy’s finances will be shattered by the second recent earthquake and a deficit increase can be predicted. The Italian Government of Mario Monti (2011 – 2013 – a government of technocrats, a Euro creation invented to solve a debt crisis) was criticised recently by Renzi for pledging an annual €20 billion, while receiving only €12 billion in payments.

Renzi has found a novel way of countering criticism while making a swipe at the European countries who refuse to assist with the acceptance and resettlement of migrants. Italy has threatened that they will block approval of the EU budget and his sabre-rattling is currently being countered strongly by the Hungarians. Renzi’s position is interesting. There is a possibility of a future M5S government if there is a strong NO vote and Renzi is forced to resign. The Euro hierarchy understand that this will have implications for the future of European unity, and Renzi has emphasised this to them. The vote on 4 December could bring about more than just a change of leadership in Italy.