True to his promises, Enrico Letta produced his government in three days prompting Beppe Grillo to say that it wasn’t Christ who had risen but Barabbas. The ministers will be sworn in today and tomorrow he will seek (and get) the confidence of the two houses of Parliament.
It is a low profile cabinet, very intentionally. Letta and Napolitano knew that any big name from one side would have produced a veto from the other so, apart from Angelino Alfano, Silvio Berlusconi’s designated successor and secretary of his party, the People of Freedom (PdL), none of the new ministers is very marked politically. And apart from Alfano who has served as Minister of Justice and Anna Maria Cancellieri, the former functionary who was Monti’s Minister of the Interior, none has ministerial experience.
Some are non-party technocrats, like Fabrizio Saccomanni from the Bank of Italy (Economy) or Enrico Giovannini from the national statistics agency ISTAT (Labour), others are newly elected deputies from both the PdL and Democratic Party (PD) and Mario Monti’s Civic Choice (SC). The new Foreign Minister, Emma Bonino is one of the few well-known outside Italy. She has been active in the Radical Party since the ‘70s in the civil rights battles and has served as European Commissioner appointed by both centre right and centre left governments. She is respected and disliked equally by centre-right and centre-left.
The other characteristic is that the new cabinet is young (average age of 53 apparently, eleven years less than the previous one) and has seven women two of whom were not born Italian.
For generational as much as political reasons, only one (Flavio Zanonato - Economic Development) comes from the Communist Party but in contrast the majority is one way or another Catholic and so a throwback to the Christian Democrats. Two (Maurizio Lupi - Infrastructure and Mario Mauro – Defence) are members of the powerful Catholic pressure group, Communione e Liberazione.
Of the two “new Italians”, one is Cécile Kyenge as Minister for Integration. She is an eye surgeon from Emilia Romagna (originally from the DRC) elected by the PD. She had already proposed a bill which will give citizenship to the children of immigrants resident in Italy and will no doubt push for its approval (and, by the way, succeed in her motion to have the monument to the war criminal Rodolfo Graziani rededicated to those killed by fascism in Africa). It is interesting that the Northern League’s Matteo Salvini showed the League’s true colours within hours of her appointment issuing a very xenophobic statement. Kyenge is black but there is another minister who is equally “foreign”, Josefa Idem, an Olympian (five medals in canoeing, four for Italy and the first for Germany) also elected in the PD lists who also took Italian citizenship as an adult and is now Minister for Equal Opportunities.
They are two absolute novelties and along with the generational and gender balance changes show how innovational this government might be.
That is the good news.
The bad, or much less good, news is that it depends on a fragile alliance between PD and PdL who until last week refused to work together (and papers have been having a field day running quotes from everyone, including Letta, saying how despicable and impossible the other is). The PD is seriously divided and those splits could well reappear if there are controversial issues to be voted, which there are. On the other side, the PdL is by now more homogeneous but it would only take another guilty verdict for Berlusconi and he would withdraw PdL support and demand early elections. The Appeal Court verdict on the Mediaset slush fund trial is due at the end of May. A guilty verdict could include Berlusconi being barred from holding public office. This why he was pressing for the key ministries of Justice, Interior and Economy to protect personal and political interests but instead he played the “moderate statesman” because he knows that he can pull the plug whenever he wants (and whenever the opinion polls suggest he will win).
The issues the new government has to face are the same as ever; reform of the electoral law and economic recovery, corruption and the cost of politics. Berlusconi and the PdL have been repeating that they want to abolish the IMU property tax that the Monti government passed last year (and which they voted for) and reimbourse last year’s payments. This could be the first stumbling block for the new government but there are ways of fudging the issue – partial abolition (on houses below a certain value) and partial repayments (in government bonds) which might allow the government survive. They all agree on the broad principles of economic recovery and an end to austerity but it will take all of Letta negotiating skills to work out the detail.
The agreement leaves Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S) as the main opposition and so probably with the chairs of the two key parliamentary oversight committees on the public broadcaster, the RAI and secret services. If the government fails to deliver, and the M5S holds together, Grillo will ride high in opinion and real polls. If the government holds together and addresses the economic issues, then his future is less rosy.
The same principle applies to Matteo Renzi, mayor Florence and potential new PD leader. If Letta succeeds, Renzi’s chances decrease. If not, then the PD is likely to split and Renzi will lead the centrist section. For the moment though, Renzi does not have to stick his neck out.
And for the moment, like the spring weather, the sun is shining but the outlook is far from steady.