Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Sabbatical Diary
“A year on sabbatical? That means you’ll be doing nothing for a whole year; how lucky you are”. Well, not exactly… friends often think that a sabbatical means an extended holiday which is not quite the truth.
The point of this diary is not just to show the world that I am indeed working or to justify my absence to AUR though there’s a bit of that but it is mainly to show to students that their teachers do not just teach. And the diary is also a way of nailing my colours to the mast; when you have a secret schedule, it’s easy to fudge delays to oneself and to the world. If the world already knows, it becomes more difficult.
To be sure, I’m hugely looking forward to the coming year but it’s not going to be a bucolic 12 months by the seaside or in the country or travel to exotic places although I hope that it will include at least some of all three.
The plan is to complete a book project and two, maybe three serious articles and there are plenty of other projects to follow if I manage to finish the most important ones.
The first is a biography of a curious and contradictory fascist called Aldo Finzi; provisional title originally The dangerous edge of things (filched from Browning via Graham Greene) but I soon discovered that there was a book with the same title published in 2006. More about him later. Then in July, a colleague in Scotland, Maurizio Carbone asked me if I would contribute to a book on Italian foreign policy that he is editing. It was a great opportunity to develop threads which I’ve been working on for quite a few years, but the deadline is mid-September. The good news is that it will not take too much time and effort away from Finzi; the bad news is that I’ve got to deliver it in a fortnight.
Then there is a return to organised crime, at least the study of it; a year ago I gave a paper on Italian organised crime to the Criminal Intelligence Service of Ontario’s annual conference and in January I extended to the subject to Ghana with a paper at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Accra so it is time to write them up into an article. This is part of a bigger project with a friend and colleague, Antonio Vazquez in Madrid. We will be doing the research for the Real Instituto Elcan and trying to describe the tentacles that link Italy, Spain and West Africa in transnational crime. Elcan is Spain’s equivalent of Chatham House or the IAI here in Italy.
And then a small idea which I’ve been nursing for 20 years, Visegrad and Italian army diplomacy. In 1989 I spent some time in the Italian army archives looking for material on the former UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim’s activities in the Balkans in 1942. I came across what seemed to be an amazingly effective example of what today would be called “second track diplomacy”. Officers of the V Alpine Division, Pusteria, managed to negotiate their way into occupying the north eastern Bosnian town of Visegrad without firing a shot. The story had nothing to do with Waldheim so I shelved it, but that is what sabbaticals are for, to dust off old projects from the shelf and complete them. It will also mean finding someone in Belgrade to look at the Yugoslav partisan archives because I’ve only seen one side of the story.
And then there is a bigger Balkan idea which involves another friend and colleague, Maja Gori, an archæologist specialising on Balkan prehistory. We want to analyse the use and abuse of archæology and art in creating (and destroying) national identity in the Balkans. But Maja has a Ph.D. to finish in Heidelberg so this might take some time
This last August was indeed spent in the country or by the seaside and was most enjoyable too, thank you. But I also tried to keep up an average of 1,000 wds a day on the different fronts. There was the book proposal to be completed because writing comes much more easily if there is a contract; and there was the Italian foreign policy article to be planned and written. The commentary and calls for analysis don’t stop even in August in Italy. The Times asked me for a comment on the Berlusconi saga (published yesterday “The chasm between Berlusconi and reality” http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article6815531.ece and I did an interview with John Hooper for The Economist audio service on north-south differences in Italy – what is La questione meridionale today and how does it affect the government? Well, it might just bring the government down. (hear it at http://audiovideo.economist.com/?fr_chl=9d59819ce6521b183cf4e109469807fc150d864c&rf=bm) The most surreal was recording an interview with Wolf Achtner for Iran’s Press TV. We were discussing the ronde, the newly instituted vigilante volunteers in Italy and the overall security and law and order situation in Italy; the same day, the international media reported accusations of the rape, torture and murder of Iranian demonstrators. Security in Italy is not a major problem but in Iran it is – Press TV, not surprisingly did not look at Iran. And while I have my doubts about the overall wisdom of deploying vigilantes on Italian streets, they are no the basij with their sinister robocop uniforms and menacing motorcyle formations.
And today, I started working on a dig at S. Severa (the castle between S. Marinella and Cerveteri). The local archæological association, (Gruppo Archeologico del Territorio Cerite) has been able to look at all the areas of the castle that have been dug up during a major renovation project and they’ve already found the first church of S. Severa, a Roman villa and mediæval cemetry plus a lot of information about the Roman castrum. With luck, the area where I’ll be working will go down to the Etruscan layer. I’ve done one morning so far and will do two weeks in all

Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Fidarsi è bene, non fidarsi è meglio” How serious is the recession in Italy?

Popular wisdom in Italy advises us that “to trust is good, not to trust is better” and this, in a very down to earth phrase is what has ruined the Italian economy over the last two decades and for the moment at least, saved it from some of the more acute pain of the present recession.

But now the hard reality of the world economy and Italy’s structural problems is catching up on the country. It is not the banks and the financial sector that are the problem but the old favorites: excessive public spending and debt and poor productivity. There are actually two economic crises gnawing at Italy – one is the world recession and the other is the longstanding structural faults which have been hamstrung Italy for decades. The government is hiding behind the first to mask its inability to deal with the second.

For most of this year, the OECD has been scathing in its criticisms of the management of the Italian economy. In March their report Economic Policy Reforms: Going for Growth 2009, they said that it was slipping further and further behind other wealthy developed countries. There was poor use of labour especially among the young, the old, women and the south. They reckoned that Italy needs to reduce public property and obstacles to competition. Taxes, especially on lower incomes should be reduced. There is a need for more education, especially at the university level. These are comments that we have heard for the last 40 years, maybe more. On the Heritage Foundation index of economic freedom, Italy sank from an already dismal 64th in 2008 to 76th in world ranking, behind Turkey and just making it into their “moderately free” category.

The OECD came back on the attack last week with a report on an Italian economy in “sharp recession” despite “a relatively healthy banking system”. They repeat the usual faults, a “weak underlying fiscal situation” and “poor productivity”.
Just yesterday, the OECD reported that Italy’s pension spending was too high at 14% of GDP in 2005, the highest in the OECD, almost a third of public spending and almost double most other countries. In 1995 Dini began pension reform but neither centre-left nor centre-right has had the courage to continue in any significant way. Italy huge commitment to pensions means that there is less welfare money available for education and to cushion the effects of job losses.
National organisations confirm this pessimism.

Confcommercio says that GDP this year will be 94.8% of 2007 figure (compared to US’s 98.2%, the UK’s 95.6% and Spain’s 98%. The lower GDP will mean less tax income and therefore a much greater increase in the public debt if there are to be any serious stimulus packages. It is due to rise from 105.7% last year to 114.7% this year and 117.5% in 2010, almost double the supposed eurozone limit of 60%.

The Confindustria’s president Emma Marcegaglia said last week that their studies reckoned that unemployment will go to 8.4% in ’09 to 9.3 in ’10. A million or so, still less than in ’91-’92 but for the government a timebomb on a short fuse. So far there has been almost no activity on the unemployed front but in September, with the holidays over and hundreds of thousands of workers with no work to go back to, there is bound to be unrest. This will be made worse by the natural deadline of contract renewal for large sectors of the economy.

Earlier in the year, Berlusconi showed his usual optimism and declared with a big smile that Italy had no toxic assets, Italian houses were not suffering from negative equity and there was (almost) no credit crunch, all of which was more or less true. Today, Italian businesses do have serious difficulties finding credit as the banks become even less trusting. Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti has made it very clear to Berlusconi that there is no money for big public works and very little even for earthquake reconstruction.

Berlusconi dismissed the stories about his parties and prostitutes as “rubbish”. He cannot brush aside the economic problems as “rubbish” nor that they are “a private matter”. The Berlusconi circus will keep people smiling or tut-tutting according to their point of view but without the bread he will have difficulty staying in power.
The Berlusconi Follies

Berlusconi as a Roman emperor is not an original image; the first cartoon that I can find of him as Nero fiddling is from July 2003 (with the EU burning). There are probably earlier ones and for sure there have been dozens since. But for all its predictability, the parallel is a valid one. Italy has had a stagnating economy for more than a decade and now with the recession, there is a strong likelihood that the dull and chronic decline will become loud and acute. And yet, for the Prime Minister, everything would be fine if only the foreign press and a couple of Italian papers stopped talking about his sex life or lack of it.
I will deal with the more serious aspects of the recession in a second posting but here I want to look at the effects of the “Folies Berlusconi”, the show which has been given more coverage abroad than here.

What is all the fuss about? The immediate debate is whether the Prime Minister was paying prostitutes to come to his parties. One woman, coyly described as an “escort”, a new anglo-euphemism in Italian, has said that she was promised €2,000 to spend the night with Berlusconi. The last two months have also revealed his relationship with a then 17 year old from Naples, the use of Air Force flights to bring in guests and entertainers to his Sardinian villa and the reasons for the conviction of David Mills for having received a $600,000 bribe from Berlusconi. None are discussed at the moment. Older elements of Berlusconi’s life are even less in the public eye – from the uncertain origins of his wealth to his unsavoury friends and employees in the past, to laws passed to protect his interests, to his very clear conflicts of interest. Today’s discussion about Berlusconi’s private life is partly about the hypocrisy of a politician who presents himself as a respected and faithful family man, defending Catholic morals who then apparently indulges in Fellini-like debauchery. It is about the possibility of blackmailing the Prime Minister. It is about figura, keeping or losing face, especially abroad. Berlusconi has outdone himself and all the reality shows on his various channels by giving Italy and the world his own reality show. It is about responsibility in politics, or lack of it. It is about the inebriating mix of sex, power and big money in one of the top ten richest countries in the world, which has often been a political innovator; there is the risk that the Italian model might be picked up elsewhere.

Why do a majority of Italians still accept him and many still adore him? His party did very well in last Sunday’s local elections and only dropped a couple of points in the European elections a fortnight ago. We’ll have opinion polls again after the election pause and no doubt they will give him high ratings. The opposition of course gives Berlusconi a constant boost with their lack of leadership, of programme and their internal divisions. But Berlusconi’s popularity is not only due to the centre-left’s ineptitude. Italy on the whole is very tolerant of misbehaviour be it on the roads, in building regulations or in filing tax returns. Like Mithridates, Italians have been taking doses of poisonous corruption for years and very little shocks them. Berlusconi is a role model for many and not only men who can only admire someone who increases his hair and decreases his wrinkles the older he grows.

Role of the media. Of course control of the media helps. Over the last week, the mass viewer channels, Berlusconi’s and RAI 1 and 2 have given scant coverage to the scandals and in the past the story has more often been the Prime Minister’s reaction rather than the allegations against him. He refuses to talk to the opposition papers, Repubblica and Unità journalists and uses family publications and friendly television employee-presenters to put forward his point of view. He has accused Repubblica of organising a plot against him and they have replied with a libel suit. But there is a peculiar naivete in his media management, he is so used to controlling everything that often he is gloriously unspun and genuine. This makes him very attractive to his supporters but gets him into trouble abroad. A few months ago he played one of his inane practical jokes on the then mayor of Florence; on the inaugural run of the new high speed link between Rome and Florence, he donned a ticket collector’s cap and and asked the mayor “how do you like the railwayman prime minister?” Without waiting for a reply, Berlusconi grinned and said “I myself prefer the whoremonger [puttaniere] PM”. A remark he must be regretting now.
Restrictions on telephone taps. There is a bill before Parliament which will greatly reduce investigators’ authority to use intercepts and amendment which, if passed, would retroactively prevent the taps being used as evidence. Much of the evidence in the Bari investigation depends on taps so could not be used.

Difficulties ahead.

G8 at L’Aquila
. Berlusconi’s first big hurdle is to get through next month’s summit without major damage. Inevitably the international press will still be chasing the sex and other scandals and at least some the local press will be doing the same. Foreign journalists cannot be silenced in quite the same way as local ones so he will have to tread carefully at the press conferences.
Worse would be if a significant number or Aquilani decide that a demonstration at the summit is the best way to ensure promises for reconstruction. When Berlusconi moved the summit to l’Aquila, he thought it was a smart move because the violent no-globals could hardly smash their way through survivors’ tent cities. But if it is the survivors themselves who are demonstrating, Berlusconi can hardly send baton-wielding riot police to break up a crowd of homeless women children and old people.

Criticism from the Church. Last week the Conference of Italian Bishops daily, Avvenire asked for “clarity” on Berlusconi’s alleged behaviour; this week Famiglia Cristiana’s editor complained of the “moral decadence” in the country.

Criticism from allies. Even one of his closest allies, the rumbustious editor of Il Foglio, Giuliano Ferrara gave Berlusconi a dire warning last week when he compared the present situation with 24th July. This was the day before Fascist leaders overthrew Mussolini in 1943. Strong medicine as Berlusconi is not Mussolini and Italy is not in the middle of a world war but an indication that not everyone is happy in the centre-right.

Verdict on immunity law. Last year Berlusconi passed a law giving himself immunity from prosecution as long as he is in office. The Consitutional Court is due to give its verdict in the next two or three months. Last time, in 2004, the court declared the immunity law unconstitutional – we will see whether the new law fulfills their conditions. If it does not, then Milan prosecutors will immediately re-open the Mills case and there is a good chance that he will be involved in the Bari investigation for corruption and prostitution.

A million unemployed by Christmas. All the indicators suggest that the recession is going to get worse before it gets better (see subsequent post). With close to 10% unemployment and reduced incomes in most of the rest of the economy, the government will be under serious pressure. Berlusconi’s optimism will not put food on the tables of the unemployed.

Contract negotiations. Even for those who have a job, there will be tension as some of the biggest unions will be negotiating new contracts in the autumn. More potential trouble.

Increased pressure from Umberto Bossi and the Northern League. The only clear winners in the European elections were the League. Umberto Bossi has repeated his support for the government but obviously will be upping the stakes over the next few months, either by pushing for more ministerial posts or for greater devolution in the Fiscal Federalism bill going through Parliament. He is very unlikely to sink the ship as he did in 1994 but he could certainly make it change direction.

The cracks in Berlusconi’s real and political makeup are hardly visible but they are there and the end will certainly be even more dramatic than the other reality shows.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Black shirt or double breasted suits?

When is a fascist not a fascist? Or more relevant to these time, when is an apparent democrat actually a fascist? Rivers of ink have flowed trying to pin down an acceptable definition of “fascism” and this is not going to add to the flow, but now that Italy’s self-defined “post-fascist” Alleanza Nazionale has dissolved itself ready to merge with Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia into the Popolo delle Libertà (People of Freedom), it is important for Italians and other Europeans to know what the new party stands for and above all, what its undisputed leader, Silvio Berlusconi stand for.
It is easy to dismiss him as a thinly disguised fascist, a latterday Mussolini with smiles, hair transplants and off-colour jokes instead of the jutting jaw and high-flown rhetoric. Foreign commentators have called him fascist on many occasions since he “came onto the field” in 1994. When Berlusconi opened the new highspeed rail link between Milan and Rome a few days ago, he was photographed with a railwayman’s cap adding to the picture gallery of Berlusconi in costume alongside the Mussolini’s even bigger range of extravagant headwear. Recently Mario Vargas Llosa called him a “caudillo”, the title Franco gave himself to emulate both Hitler and Mussolini. But, Vargas Llosa added, he “is a democratic caudillo”.
Fascism began its rise to power with violence, the nightstick and castor oil, used violent words constantly in its rhetoric against internal opposition and against other countries and then used real violence against both. Berlusconi in contrast neither uses violence nor threatens it. The most serious emetic that he uses are the mindless variety shows on his television channels which are watched voluntarily by millions rather than forcibly administered castor oil. Mussolini was constantly contemptuous of “democracy” while Berlusconi equally constantly, praises Italy’s democracy which has made him prime minister three times. Mussolini was aggressively nationalistic in word and deed while Berlusconi has never invaded another country and apart from calling his party Forza Italia, his nationalistic speeches don’t go beyond claiming that Italy has beautiful secretaries.
By any standards, Silvio Berlusconi is not a fascist, either crypto- or post-.
He is something new, and even though he thrives on elections, he is less than fully democratic. He sees himself as an elected populist, absolute ruler; one of his first remarks on becoming prime minister in 1994 was that he had been “anointed by the people” and since then, he has frequently made it clear that anyone thus elevated should have no other limit to his power apart from election.
The president of Italy has very limited residual powers but even these have been too much for Berlusconi and he has shown his impatience with all three of the presidents he has had to deal with while he has been PM. Last month he clashed with President Napolitano who had refused to sign a decree law preventing the removal of Eluana Englaro’s life support system. Englaro was in a permanent vegetative state and the Supreme Court had already decided that she had expressed a desire to not be kept alive under those circumstances. Thwarted by both the Court and the President, Berlusconi put a bill to Parliament which was not passed in time to prevent Englaro dying but is now close to passing in a form which will vitiate any living will.
He is also beginning a stand-off with Napolitano over whether he can introduce a new housing measure (which would allow Italians to increase the volume of their houses by 20%) as a decree law or whether he will have to follow the full Parliamentary procedure of a regular bill. Either way, the executive would be taking power from regional and local governments which regulate building permits.
At the same time as trying to sideline the present President, Berlusconi is manoevering to reform Italy’s constitution into a presidential republic in time for him to take over when Napolitano’s mandate ends in 2013.
Then there are bills before Parliament reforming the judiciary in a way which will transfer power from it to the executive; Mr. Berlusconi is very open about his designs and not only won a large majority at the Parliamentary elections last year but is very likely to do the same at the European Parliament elections in June. On the electoral front, Berlusconi is democratic and very successful. He is less favourable to the other conditions of democracy.
Only yesterday, Berlusconi dismissed Parliament as being full of makeweights, people there just to make up the numbers; he has made no secret of his impatience with Parliamentary procedure and his contempt for its delays. He would like to abolish individual members’ votes and see party leaders voting for their whole group.
Ironically, the Parliament was defended by the onetime “post-fascist” Gianfranco Fini and now Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies. Fini emphasised the importance of Parliamentary procedure and forced Berlusconi to backtrack.
Unlike Berlusconi, Fini has fully embraced Italy’s anti-fascist heritage and its democratic institutions. He has been to the commemoration of the Ardeatine Caves massacre (where Nazis killed 335 Romans in 1944) on more than one occasion and last week even praised the Resistance for having made Italy a free country. A few days ago he explicitly retracted his remark of fifteen yeas ago that “Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the 20th C”. In any case, he has been highly critical of Mussolini on many occasions, much to the ire of Mussolini’s granddaughter, Alessandra.
Fini will also take part in the celebration of the end of World War II on 25 April for the first time this year, an event that Berlusconi has always avoided.
So the paradox is that the man who started as follower of one Mussolini’s most loyal henchmen is now a paragon of constitutional virtue while Berlusconi is emptying the constitution of its democratic substance to sit in its shell not as a fascist but proudly, as Berlusconi.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A tale of two memories

Italian and German history intertwine, not always happily and this week present perceptions and past memories were brought into sharp relief in the two countries in strikingly contrasting ways. And putting the Vatican's present policies into the limelight as well.
The German side is well known worldwide; on 24 January, Pope Benedict XVI removed the excommunication placed by his predecessor on members of the Community of St. Pius X, followers of Cardinal Marcel Lefebvre who had refused to accept most of the changes in the Catholic Church introduced by the Second Vatican Council. There was little controversy around the gesture or around any of the individuals apart from Bishop Richard Williamson.
Williamson had given an interview to a Swedish television channel in which he affirmed that “I believe there were no gas chambers”. Even though Williamson’s remarks had been recorded in November and only broadcast after the revocation of his excommunication, it turned out that he had made his views on the Shoah very clear long before.
Not surprisingly there were strong reactions from Jewish and Isreali quarters. Williamson’s denial of the Holocaust insult to the injury of re-admitting the Levebrians to the Church even though they continue to use the prayer in the Latin mass calling for the conversion of the “perfidis Judæis”.
The German reaction was also predictable but its strength was unexpected; it came from both political and religious quarters.
Chancellor Merkel made her own and her government’s position clear “If a decision of the Vatican give rise to the impression that the Holocaust may be denied, this cannot be left to stand”. It is surprising that the pope had not understood the implications by himself or that none of his advisors in the Curia had told him. But the remonstrances were not only secular. Two of the highest and most respected German catholics, cardinals Walter Casper and Karl Lehmann made public statements condemning Williamson and demanding that someone in the Vatican should take responsibility for the mistake. Casper spoke on Vatican Radio admitting “there were misunderstandings and management errors in the Curia”; Lehmann said there should be a clear apology “from a high position”.
The conclusion to be drawn so far is that, one, Pope Benedict’s lack of political acumen and lack of reliable advisors are confirmed; and two, that Germany is still acutely conscious of its Nazi past and wants no hint of revisionism to creep into any official image of the country including the Holy See’s projection of the country.
On the Italian side, the drama is far more low key and only reached the front pages indirectly.
Since 2005, Italy has marked a “day of memory” a week after the Day of Memory for the liberation of Auschwitz. It comemorates the murder of fascists and non-fascists by Yugoslav partisans at the end of World War II and the expulsion of some 350,000 Italian speakers from Istria at the same time; the murder victims were thrown into natural crevasses known locally as foibe. The murderers were communist partisans; of the victims many but not all were fascists or fascist sympathisers, most but not all were Italian.
To commemorate tragedies and remember the dead is human but there is something profoundly distasteful when the murdered are being used by the living to score political points as is happening here. To commemorate the foibe murders a week after Auschwitz and the Shoah and with the same name smacks of victim piggyback riding. To commemorate the Italian victims without remembering the others killed is a minor form of selective memory; to commemorate them without mentioning the hundreds of thousands of Yugoslavs who were forced to learn Italian and had their names changed over more than 20 years of occupation and the tens of thousands imprisoned and killed during the war is terrible and major selective memory.
Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno, last week called for a museum and “house of memory” dedicated to the foibe in Rome “on the Shoah model”. His party colleague, Maurizio Gasparri claimed some years ago that the foibe victims were “a million” (the real figure is between 5,000 and 15,000, gruesome enough but of a different order). More recently other members of the far right National Alliance have called the foibe murders and the expulsion of the Italian Istrians as “genocide”. Despite denials that post-fascist National Alliance is making an equation between the Shoah and the foibe, it looks very much as if this is what is happening.
It would be as if the German authorities had concentrated their efforts on the hundreds of thousands of Volkdeutsch expelled from Czechoslovakia and Poland at the end of the war without mentioning what Hitler’s Germany had done to those two countries.
Instead, when the Pope indirectly condoned the Holocaust by welcoming a Holocaust denier back into the Church, the highest secular and religious authorities unequivocally condemned the action painfully remembering the silence of their predecessors. Here in Italy, there is no such clarity.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Bonapartist Berlusconi and Eluana Englaro

Always the innovator, Italy’s Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi is on the verge of realising his dream of becoming the country’s democratically sanctioned supreme leader, a double-breasted version of Hugo Chavez. With near-perfect timing, he has finessed President Napolitano, the Supreme Court and Parliament and is well on his way to take a grand slam of state powers.

He has used a highly sensitive and emotional ethical issue and the willing support of the Catholic Church as a weapon to vastly increase prime ministerial power. A very private tragedy has become not only a public drama but also the pretext for Berlusconi’s power play.

Eluana Englaro who is now 37 has been in a coma for 17 years after a car accident; for the last 12 years doctors have declared her coma “irreversible”. Her father, Beppino Englaro has argued that his daughter had expressed the wish not to be kept alive artificially and last year, the Milan Court of Appeal accepted this argument; in November, Italy’s Supreme Court, the Court of Cassation confirmed that Mr. Englaro could take his daughter off artificial life support systems as long as he and the physicians followed certain guidelines.

Not surprisingly, there has been much discussion on the rights and wrongs of the verdict with most of the Catholic heirarchy and some of the Catholic politicians vehemently opposing any interuption of therapy. Senior Roman Catholics have said that withholding treatment would be “murder” and last week Pope Benedict condemned “euthanasia” without mentioning the Englaro case.

Since he has begun to take an interest in the case, Berlusconi has again shown his profound lack of respect for the value of an individual by talking about Eluana Englaro not as a person but as a female “still capable of procreation” and with a “functioning menstrual cycle”.

As with the similar Schiavo case in the US there is a division between religious and secular points of view. But as in the Schiavo case, the ethical issues have become part of a bigger battle to increase executive power. With Teri Schiavo, her relations were divided over what to do while with Englaro, the family is united.

The minister in charge of health has made repeated statements that the judiciary had no right to decide the Englaro case and also ordered public hospitals not take Eluana Englaro. But until last Friday, Berlusconi had not given an opinion. Then on Friday Cabinet proposed a decree law which would oblige physicians to maintain nutritional life support systems to patients in a coma. President Napolitano wrote to the prime minister explaining why such a decree would be unconstitutional and why he would not sign it. Since then Berlusconi has mounted a fierce campaign against President, Constitution, Judiciary and implicitly against Parliament as well; all in the name of the “life” and “freedom” of Eluana Englaro. In practice, he is complaining that he is being prevented from exercising his people-given right to govern.

The Italian president is a mainly symbolic figure but he does have some residual powers which he can and sometimes does exercise. Last year Napolitano was criticised for immediately signing the law which give immunity from prosecution to Prime Minister Berlusconi and other senior figures while they are in office. This time he was much firmer and in two pages explained why the Englaro case could not be dealt with by executive order. Berlusconi feels that this oversteps presidential power and that if necessary he will change the constitution which he described as “pro-Soviet”.

For years now, Berlusconi has criticised the judiciary for being too independent; he and his ministers feel that the courts had no authority to pronounce on Eluana Englaro though in Italy, as in most countries, courts take daily decisions on what to do with minors or others who are legally or physically incapable.

More generally, there is a major reform before Parliament which will reduce the independence of prosecutors and increase executive control and another bill which reduces investigators’ possibility of using phone taps. Both measures decrease judicial power and increase the executive’s.

To overcome the President’s refusal to sign a decree law, Berlusconi is now rushing a bill through Parliament starting with the Senate today; it should become law by Thursday which may or may not be enough to keep Eluana Englaro on life support. But whatever the direct results for the Englaro family, both the Catholic Church and Prime Minister Berlusconi have greatly increased their grip on Italian politics.