Thursday, December 30, 2010

The risks of mayhem

Last week as Parliament was about to pass the controversial university reform bill, Rome braced itself for trouble. On 14 December, the week before, street violence had once again erupted with pictures of cars in flames in the Corso and Piazza del Popolo; masked and helmeted youths and policemen beating each other. Thunderflashes and molotovs were much in evidence. Windows were smashed and ATMs broken. It took one back more than 30 years to 1977 when there were similar scenes in Rome. Or to London or Athens over the last month.
This time my own experiences were some loud bangs from the outside of the Chamber of Deputies while the no confidence vote was being counted. In the square there was a surreal quiet as police and carabinieri put a ring of vehicles and men around the sensitive areas. Walking home through empty streets, the only indication of trouble were a few gaping holes in the cobbles. Rome’s sanpietrini make an effective, abundant and easily available missile for any hostile crowd that needs one.
Most of the students had demonstrated peacefully but there was clearly some sympathy for the demonstrators who showed their mettle. There was talk of agents provocateurs or infiltrati, plainclothesmen who stirred up trouble and the temperature went up. The Minister of Defence, Ignazio La Russa walked out of a television talk show when some students refused to condemn violence while his colleague, the majority leader in the Senate, Maurizio Gasparri, seriously suggested “preventive arrests”. Both had been active in violent right wing groups when they were young so the irony was not lost on commentators. La Russa is not known for his calm nor Gasparri for his legal acumen but they did present a government which was upping the ante. On 21 December, a pipe bomb was found in the underground but it had no detonator. The right used it as proof of trouble to come, the left presented it as a tension raising plant.
So on 22 December there was nervous expectation with big demonstrations planned to coincide with the final passage of the university reform bill. Many shopkeepers in the centre decided not to open and the traffic was absurdly thin for the busiest shopping period in the year. There were police, carabinieri and finance guards everywhere in the centre.
And then… nothing happened.
The students demonstrated in various parts of the city and for a time blocked the ring road. They had decided very explicitly to avoid any provocation and succeeded. They even found some solidarity among the traffic jammed motorists. At the same time, President Napolitano invited a student delegation to the Quirinale to talk about their issues. He played the role of the firm but just grandfather who would still have to sign the bill into law but was listening to their grievances.
There was indeed violence in other parts of Italy and no one thinks that the implementation of the new law will be without hiccoughs. But for that moment before Christmas, violence was avoided and there was a lesson both for the authorities and for the discontented students.
At least since De Toqueville and in a scientific way since Ted Gurr’s Why men rebel in 1975, we have known that most revolts begin not when people are in total misery but when they feel worse off than they were before. Gurr called it “relative deprivation”. Italian (and British and Greek) students are not starving but they will have to pay much more for their education than their parents or forgo it completely and they have far fewer prospects of a steady job or a pension. An interviewer pointed out to the 37 year old Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini, that unlike her, many of her contemporaries still don’t have a job or prospects and her reform cuts budgets even further. Touchée.
Then just before Christmas, there were parcel bombs sent to the Chilean, Swiss and Greek embassies all claimed by a so-called Informal Anarchist Federation, a tautology and contradiction in terms in just three words. Yesterday, a couple of people threw thunderflashes at a section house of the Northern League in the village where its leader Umberto Bossi lives. There was an explosion outside a court in Athens today. All this has provoked a buzz about “global anarchism” or, for Italy, a “a return to the Seventies”. As part of that debate, along with a former US diplomat in Greece and a British security expert, I was asked about the Italian aspects on al Jazeera “Inside Story” 27 December 2010.
We all agreed that however unpleasant the recent bombs are for people close to them, they do not presage a worldwide anarchist plot. Their communication methods have changed but they aims and even their weapons are much closer to the world of Conrad’s Secret Agent at the end of the 19th century or the Russians of a generation before. They would like to start a world revolution but are unlikely to succeed.
In Italy, in particular, anarchism has always held far less appeal than more organised forms of revolt. The language of the left has nearly always been a Marxist one; it spoke with violence against fascism through the Communist partisans in the war and again in the ‘70s through the Red Brigades against the Italian Republic. The fascist right was born in violence through the ‘20s squadristi and again found expression in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Political violence is as Italian as pasta and returns every generation. Given the discontent today and the very real relative deprivation, the conditions are right for another round. There is political and economic instability and a very uncertain future so the future is not rosy.
But it is not anarchist violence from a few small groups that is the worry. And last week’s lesson from the students is that politics does not have to be violent.
So for the moment, I hope, the worst we can expect are the new year’s eve fireworks and bangers. And a happy new year to you all.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Eatanswill-on-Tiber; Trasformismo in the 21st century

Or the Vicar of Bray, Italian style (“And to this law I will maintain/ Unto my dying day, Sir./ That whatever King may reign, /I will be the Vicar of Bray”)

The last week before the confidence votes were marked by violent polemics over the cattlemarket for wavering deputies. The opposition has made it very clear that Berlusconi played dirty in the ways he inveigled the less principled into his camp. But whatever the ethics of the matter and Di Pietro’s accusations of crimes, there is very likely nothing illegal and certainly nothing very original in the process.
Now that the government has a tiny (and relative) majority, it is almost certain that there is likely to be a lot of horsetrading at the next crucial vote. Two or three deputies can hold the government to ransom so we have certainly not seen the last of Parliament looking more like a stock exchange than a legislative body.
In English popular culture, the Vicar of Bray epitomises the figure who adjusts his principles to suit the times. In the 17th century, the real vicar maintained his prebend in the parish of Bray officiating happily as a puritan, an Anglican and a Catholic. Italian legislators are no less adept at navigating the shoals of a career in politics.
For a good part of its first 60 years and before, Italy was marked by a permeability between political groupings that was know euphemistically first as the connubio and then as trasformismo. Before unification Cavour managed to put together liberals and conservatives in the Piedmontese parliament in order to push through his reforms; this was the connubio or marriage. In 1882 the prime minister Agostino Depretis remarked “if someone wants to transform (trasformarsi) himself and become progressive, how can I send him away?” and the term was coined. But the whole period was marked by a lack of a clear divide in programmes and ideologies between the two sides.
A generation later, the Piedmontese statesman Giovanni Giolitti became a master of political management worthy of New York’s Tamanay or Dickens’ Eatanswill. Like today’s accusations of deputy-buying, Depretis and Giolitti cajoled their clients by promising them re-election as well as personal and political benefits. But on the whole, the persuasion which was exercised was much more similar to the carrots and sticks which an American president uses to negotiate a bill through congress. The lack of sharp party discipline also links the US system with pre-fascist Italy so that despite the extensive horsetrading there was rarely anything clearly illegal or overtly corrupt.
The lack of parties led to the importance of personalities; a deputy’s loyalty was to Giolitti, not to the party. And despite the overwhelming importance of parties today, paradoxically, personalities are even more important. The big difference between today and the old trasformismo is that the reward is personal rather than political.
The two members of Antonio Di Pietro’s Italy of Values (IdV), Domenico Scilipoti and Antonio Razzi who voted for Berlusconi were betraying Di Pietro because they had been recruited by him and had a loyalty to him rather than the party. Massimo Calearo is a Veneto businessman who Walter Veltroni had put in the Democratic Party list in the hope of widening the party’s appeal; he was linked more to Veltroni than the PD. Calearo left the party a year ago and last week voted in favour of Berlusconi. The bond in all cases in personal and the motive may or may not be private rather than political advantage.
The past master of today’s game is Clemente Mastella, the man who brought down Prodi’s government in January 2008 and is probably the best personification of a contemporary vicar of Bray. Just before the 14 December vote, he explained exactly why a deputy should look after his own interests and change sides. A deputy has an income of c. €15,000 per month; the legislature could last another 28 months which totals more than €400,000. Add to that the generous pension which a deputy is entitled to after five years service, there are strong incentives not to go to early elections especially for new deputies. Principles are hardly relevant.
His take on the result, by the way, was that Berlusconi will win by a short head and he was right. But the €15,000 p.m. figure that Mastella quotes is by my reckoning a bit low; the Chamber of Deputies states that a deputy receives c. €11,700 a month salary (which after tax, pension, health deductions becomes €5,500 net) plus €3,500 expenses for living in Rome, €3,700 for “relations between electors and elected”, c. €1,000 pm for travel to an from the airport, €250 pm for telephone and free air, rail and sea travel in Italy and free motorways.
In any case, it is well documented that Italian deputies are the highest paid in Europe.
So as Mastella put so elegantly, there are good reasons to support the government even if Berlusconi gives them nothing. The five years’ service before being entitled to a pension is not quite true as there are ways of getting a pension after only three years; but I’ll deal with that in another blog. Berlusconi does not only have the possibility of doling out cash bonuses to deputies. Like Giolitti a century before, but without Giolitti’s stature, he can decide who is to be elected in the next elections. Since the resignation of the Fli members of government, Berlusconi has the bounty of one cabinet minister, one deputy minister and two undersecretaries to distribute. And he is keeping those jobs empty, dangling as bait for possible incentives in the future. One deputy, a physician, is alleged to have been promised a consultant’s post in hospital; another is the daughter of the owner of Italy’s largest crammer which is also seeking university status and Berlusconi has supported private education. Future jobs and contributions to foundations and thinktanks have also been suggested a coin for these transactions but we will have to wait some months to see if the deals were respected.
One of those who gave their vote to Berlusconi, Domenico Scilipoti, even had the nerve to make fun of himself posting a clip from the great Neapolitan comic Totò’s Gli onorevoli where Totò is promised the world for three votes – very prescient.
Berlusconi claimed another eight deputies on Friday but of course it won’t be tested till the next controversial vote (Wednesday’s vote on the university reform bill will not be opposed by Fli).
There is no doubt about the sleaze which surrounded Tuesday’s vote. But while vote buying at an individual level is criminal, members of parliament have their independence guaranteed by the constitution precisely to prevent the parties taking over. Unless investigators are able to find more than circumstantial evidence that deputies were bought for precise benefits rather than persuaded by Berlusconi’s strength of argument and personality, then there will be no convictions. It is a question of ethics and standards rather than specific crimes; welcome to an Italian Eatanswill.
But before that, there is the far more immediate problem of violence in the streets which I will deal with before the Wednesday vote.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Once more unto the swamp, my friends

Italy is full of significant dates but 14 December is not going to be one of them. The no confidence vote was hyped in both Italian and foreign media as being a crucial date for Berlusconi and for Italy but even before the result it was clear that the vote would resolve very little.
If he had lost the vote, today would certainly provide more interesting copy with endless speculation about whether Berlusconi could form a new government, how the coalition might be enlarged, who might be alternative leaders and when or if Napolitano would call early elections. All this will come, but not today. Instead we have very low key speculation on the same issues. Berlusconi is indeed trying to enlarge his coalition and continues his pre-Christmas shopping spree (the next blog will be on buying and selling parliamentarians), and early elections are still high on the agenda.
It is true that the government won on Tuesday but only by three votes which means that any two deputies can hold Berlusconi to ransom; this will happen sooner rather than later.
In order to pre-empt any moves by Berlusconi towards bringing in Pierferdinando Casini’s centrist UDC, Casini and Gianfranco Fini along with Francesco Rutelli formed a new group which they have called Polo della Nazione. At the moment they have around 100 deputies and while there is no chance that they could poll more that the Berlusconi’s People of Freedom, (PdL) in the Chamber at a general election, there are very good chances that they would win enough in the Senate to stymie a possible Berlusconi majority. That is, of course, if they manage to stay together. They are three oversized egos whose highest common factor is that they dislike Berlusconi and they call themselves “centrists” or “moderates”. But Fini is fiercely secular and supports living wills, civil unions and stem cell research. Casini comes from the old Christian Democratic party and presents himself as their successor while Rutelli started in the militantly anti-clerical Radical Party, then as mayor of Rome sidled up to the Vatican and is now the paladin of compromise with the Church. The three are odd bedfellows and even if they manage not to quarrel, the electorate is too savvy to be duped into thinking that they are a solid alliance. There are too many examples of marriages more or less of convenience winning fewer votes than their component parts from the Socialists and Communists in 1948 to the Socialists and Social Democrats in 1968 to the piles of small far left and far right parties over the last decade.
To emphasise where the substance of power lies, yesterday when the Pope received the new Italian ambassador to the Holy See, he thanked the Italian government for its defence of crucifixes in state schools. The day after the vote of confidence, the president of the Italian bishops’ conference, Angelo Bagnasco said that the Italians had declared themselves in favour of “governability” and the secretary of state, Bertone, blessed the government. Once again, the Vatican and the Catholic Church heirarchy in Italy have shown their realism and are backing what they think is the winning horse. Certainly not Casini and the UDC.
But while the Church seeks stability, Berlusconi closest ally is threatening some sort of revolt. Umberto Bossi and the Northern League (LN) have been fighting for different forms of devolution or federalism since they first went into government in 1994. In practice they have achieved very little for their almost nine years in government plus more than a year supporting a technocrat government. Now Bossi is demanding action on the implementation of last year’s fiscal federalism law (and another blog on that before Christmas). If progress is blocked by the opposition, then he has said he will demand elections.
So despite Tuesday’s trumpeted victory, the government is just as fragile as it was before the vote and the chances of a spring election just as high. The procedure is that there must be 60 days between dissolving Parliament and new elections so in order to make the date that many punters have been backing, 27 March, the real crunch must happen before the end of January. The Constitutional Court is due to pronounce in mid January on the “legitimate impediment” law which gives Berlusconi immunity from trials while in office so there will be many cues for a new crisis to begin.
With elections, there is a good possibility that Berlusconi would win a relative majority in the Chamber. His media resources and his own campaigning ability are still powerful weapons. The present electoral law would make the relative into an absolute majority. He might just take the Senate though that is less likely. But if he did, then he would be able to have himself elected President of the Republic in 2013 (it is Parliament plus representatives of the regions who elect the president), and retire safely up the hill to the Quirinale for another seven years by which time he would be 83; a nightmare scenario which would have many Italian claiming refugee status in San Marino.
In the meantime, unemployment rises, businesses downsize or fail, stringent cuts have provoked violent reactions as we saw on Tuesday here in Rome. So the alternative to a PdL-LN victory would not be very pretty either. A hung parliament; or the victory of a divided opposition. Not the best way of facing serious issues.
The answer to the question I posed last week, “who’s next?” was answered instantly by a correspondent who knows the country to a tee “why Berlusconi, of course”. For the moment, and for a fair time to come, he is right and journey through the swamp will be long, arduous and very messy.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Who can follow this act? Who will follow it?

We all know that Silvio Berlusconi is immortal according to his doctor or at the very least that he is good for 120 years as he told Vladimir Putin recently. But just in case he is not prime minister for the next 46 years and especially if he is not prime minister after Tuesday’s vote of no confidence, as I promised on Friday, now is a good time to look at possible successors.
If he were to step down, there are two close associates who might take over. The first is Gianni Letta, a year older than Berlusconi, former editor of the right wing Roman paper Il Tempo who started working for Berlusconi in 1987. For the last 16 years he has been Berlusconi’s shadow, undersecretary to the Council of Ministers (the cabinet) when Berlusconi was prime minister, close advisor in opposition. He avoids the limelight and is very much at home on both sides of the Tiber. Over the last few months he only came to the fore when there was bad news to break. If he did take over, it would be as an interim PM, a gentle move towards a more normal political leader. His nephew, Enrico Letta is a senior member of the opposition Democratic Party.
More likely to be in conflict with his former boss would be the economics and finance minister, Giulio Tremonti loved by the Northern League and respected by most of his own party and the European institutions. He was both a tax accountantcy specialist close to Berlusconi and an academic but over the last 16 years has built up a reputation of independence which makes him a potential successor.
For a time, there was a very small possibility that the leader of the centrist Christian Democrat movement the UDC, Pierferdinando Casini might be a candidate. He is a former ally of Berlusconi and former speaker of the Chamber who Berlusconi has been trying to win back for the last three months but today he seems set to vote against the government on Tuesday and is trying to put together a centrist coalition with Francesco Rutelli and Gianfranco Fini.
Another outsider could be interior minister Roberto Maroni, the polite, good cop face of the Northern League but he would have a hard time persuading even people on the right that his version of the LN was different from Umberto Bossi racist, separatist and uncouth version.
Finally, there is always the dynastic option. Granted Italy is a republic but there are plenty of republics from North Korea to the United States where power moves through blood or marriage. Berlusconi’s daughter, Marina, is 44 and head for the family holding company, Fininvest. Over the summer she gave interviews on politics and the family papers gave her full coverage. Not surprisingly she denies that she would be going into politics.
On the left, obviously the natural candidate should be Pierlugi Bersani, the Democratic Party (PD) secretary who yesterday once again staked his claim as the leader of a future centre left coalition. There was a huge anti-Berlusconi demo in Piazza S. Giovanni addressed by Bersani alone. If anything it was more about Bersani and the PD showing that they really are the opposition leaders than the usual anti-B demo.
The problem is of course that for all his very real qualities, Bersani is still perceived as Massimo D’Alema’s man and apart from his diehard supporters, for most of the centre-left, D’Alema has been the kiss of death since he actively allowed Prodi’s downfall in 1998. And then since the introduction of primaries, first for Prodi himself and the Democrats of the Left in 2005 and then for Walter Veltroni in 2007, centre-left voters have not always followed the party line.
If there are elections next spring and assuming that there are primaries beforehand, the most likely winner is 52 year old Nichi Vendola, not Bersani. Unlike Bersani, Vendola is able to conjure up a dream, an essential quality for a winning politician. He also has practical experience as president of the Apulia region where he has governed effectively since 2005. In 2009, he founded his own party Sinistra, ecologia, libertà (“freedom” is the catchword across the whole spectrum). He is gay, Catholic and on the radical left; he is also a very strong speaker with an excellent presence and probably most important, untainted with the old political class even though he has been an activist since he was 14.
Age has become an issue since the 35 year old mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi said last month that the old leadership should be scrapped and traded in. Bersani could not do any better than saying I demand respect. Renzi is certainly very pushy but since he paid a private visit to Berlusconi, it is not quite clear in which direction he is pushing.
The mayor of Turin, Sergio Chiamparino, 62, is also another potential leader but definitely an outsider. Another outsider or possible future candidate is the president of the province of Rome, Nicola Zingaretti, 45, former MEP and secretary of the party’s international section. He has managed to install free wi-fi in areas throughout the province, no mean feat, has charm and works Facebook and the new media well.
Then of course there is the new right, or as they would prefer, the new centre that has its own potential leaders. There have been preliminary moves to form a “third pole” with Fini, Casini and former Radical and PD mayor of Rome, Francesco Rutelli but the differences between them and their lack of mass support mean that there is no great probability of the alliance taking off successfully. Only if Fini is able to take over as the leader of most of the centre-right would he stand a chance. He played the role of successor to Berlusconi until April, now he has to go it alone, a very difficult task.
An outsider on the right is another mayor, Rome’s present incumbent, Gianni Alemanno. Once on the far right, very ambitious, he might have been aiming at some bid when his mandate ends in 2012 but for the moment he is facing a serious of accusations of helping too many friends and relations find jobs in the city administration.
Outside the present political spectrum are three names worth mentioning: Ferrari chief, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the president of the Bank of Italy, Mario Draghi and Mario Monti, former European commissioner. The first has said that he is “prepared to sacrifice himself for the country” a sure preamble to putting his hat in the ring. And he has set up a thinktank Italia Futura, another precurser to a political party. He too would have a conflict of interest but after Berlusconi, his would be trifling. He is biding his time and waiting for the right moment to come along.
The other two have said very explicitly that they do not want to go into politics but with the precedent of Carlo Azeglio Ciampi who moved very successfully from the Bank of Italy to first Palazzo Chigi, then the ministry of economics and then the Quirinal, there are many who would like to see a clean and competent economist with practical experience take over. Draghi would probably prefer the ECB to Palazzo Chigi and his chances are good.
Monti was a much respected commissioner appointed by Berlusconi and then renewed by D’Alema, and is a confirmed European. He has returned to academe but for both him and Draghi, the siren song of “saving one’s country” would be hard to resist if the situation worsens dramatically over the next few months.
As for the next two days, all the talk is of Berlusconi’s shopping spree and he might just make it to a majority. But if he does, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. I will try and deal with that aspect of the crisis tomorrow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Italian countdown

Most of the foreign media seem to think that Italy is coming to the end of an era and that on Tuesday Berlusconi’s long moment at centre stage will be over. The Italian media are concerned about the detail – will he, won’t he get a majority? Who has changed sides? Why? And for how much?
For those who find Italian politics too arcane or too tedious to follow in its minutiæ, you should know that Tuesday 14 December is crunch time for Silvio Berlusconi. There will be two motions put to the Italian Parliament; a motion of confidence in the Senate tabled by the government parties – Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PdL) and Umberto Bossi’s Northern League (LN). It will be voted on in the morning and will pass as the coalition has a solid majority.
In the Chamber of Deputies there is a vote of no confidence in the government put by the various opposition parties from Antonio Di Pietro’s Italy of Values (IdV) to Gianfranco Fini’s Future and Liberty (Fli). On paper, if everyone votes and votes according to their positions a month ago, the government should lose. But these last few days have seen feverish negotiations across the spectrum. Some are about individuals not following their party whip; rumours fly – so-and-so was offered a consultancy job €100,000 a year over the next four years; someone else was offered a free mortgage and so on or a future position in government. Some negotiations have been made public. The veteran leader of the Radical Party, Marco Pannella is once again threatening to move his six deputies from the Democratic Party to support Berlusconi as he did in the ‘90s. The price is apparently special legislation on prison reform and on the administration of justice. Fini’s principal lieutenant, Italo Bocchino has admitted that he too had a meeting with Berlusconi in order to try and come to an agreement before the vote. But it came to nothing.
Some of the negotiations are of substance, both the sleazy ones (the PD leader has called for the prosecution of paid turncoats) and the political ones like Pannella’s but most of the activity is posturing. Everyone wants to maintain the moral high ground in this case defined as “responsibility”… towards the country which is in the throes of a worsening economic crisis. No one wants to be labelled as having brought about early elections so they want to present themselves as making every possible effort to avoid the divisiveness that an election will inevitably accentuate.
The other posture in the negotiations is to paint the other side as “traitors” and one’s own as being true to “our” principles. There has been much rhetoric on this score. The centre-right tabloid Libero ran its front page earlier this week with mug shots of the Fli deputies and others who had left the PdL under the banner headline “Traitors”. Di Pietro proclaimed yesterday that if any of his deputies voted to support Berlusconi they would be “Judas who sold himself for 30 pieces of silver”.
All those involved in the negotiations have promised cliffhangers right up to the moment of the division.
After they have all pressed their buttons and the screen in the Chamber lights up, the following scenarios are possible.
Berlusconi might scrape by with a majority. This is unlikely but just possible. He might just get an absolute majority – more likely is a win due to abstentions. If it does happen by whatever means, then everyone will go home for Christmas and there will be another crisis sometime in the new year, probably fairly soon.
If he loses, then precedent and constitution mean that he would offer his resignation to President Napolitano. Napolitano will then consult with party leaders and the speakers of both houses to see who might be able to put together a new government, i.e what sort of coalition could command a majority in both houses. There is a slim possibility that Berlusconi might be given a mandate to form a new government based on a broader coalition but this was more or less what Bocchino and the Fli offered him and which he turned down.
The second possibility is that someone else is given a mandate – perhaps Berlusconi’s éminence grise, Gianni Letta, perhaps the economics minister, Giulio Tremonti to see if he has any better chances of finding a majority. There was even talk of Berlusconi stepping to one side and becoming foreign minister. Much of the opposition is clamoring for a “technical” government or a government of national unity. This would change the electoral law and try and preserve confidence in the economy until new elections could be held. But at the moment this seems unlikely because Berlusconi and the PdL are strongly against a solution which would leave him out in the cold and in their words “betray the electorate who gave him a majority in 2008”. For him, it smacks of 1994 all over again when the LN brought the government down and put in one led by the Bank of Italy director Lamberto Dini. I will go over today’s potential leaders in another blog this weekend.
In the distant past, the negotiations for a new leader and new majority often went on for weeks, sometimes months. Today that is not going to happen. If no one can form a government in a few days, the most likely scenario is that early elections will be called. The bookmakers’ favorite date is 27 March. Unless something dramatic happens over the next few days, I would put my money on that outcome as well. The results of the elections are much more uncertain, but at the moment Berlusconi would most likely win in the Chamber and given his media resource and campaigning ability, he might even make it in the Senate. But March is a long way off.
Tomorrow there will be a massive anti-Berlusconi demonstration here in Rome in Piazza San Giovanni. In order to claim success, the PD will have to make it bigger than Berlusconi San Giovanni demo just before the regional elections this year. We’ll see tomorrow; today at least the weather is a sunny 12 degrees.
There is momentum for street protests as Italian students have taken to the streets and monuments complaining about cuts in education. There was a big demo at La Scala’s opening, again protesting against cuts in the arts budget. And there is everyone else who is tired of Berlusconi and uncertainty.
Last week the budget passed, almost without a murmur and the Constitutional Court should have begun deliberations on 14th on whether the present “legitimate impediment” law which give the prime minister immunity from prosecution is actually constitutional. But they have put it off until next month. So for the moment Parliament is centre stage.
This latest act in the Berlusconi saga is heading towards a finale, but not yet the finale.

Interview with Sylvia Poggioli on NPR:

Link to the interview with Gerry Hadden in mp3 format

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Fini awakes

The gauntlet has been thrown down, and with a vengeance. Gianfranco Fini has finally come out into the open from his guerrilla warfare and has declared an open war.
At the end of a passionate and expertly articulated speech, he came to the climax with a call to Silvio Berlusconi to resign. Fini succeeded once again in passing on the responsibility for early elections and potential chaos to Berlusconi who only last week challenged Fini to come out into the open.
As ever in Italian politics, nothing is simple. Fini and the other people of his group made it clear that they are firmly within the centre-right, that they do not want early elections but that this government has gone beyond its best by date. Fini’s solution is that Berlusconi should resign and President Napolitano should call all the parties to the Quirinale and form a new centre-right government, almost certainly including the centrist UDC led by Pierferdinando Casini, a former Berlusconi ally and himself a former speaker of the Chamber of Deputies like Fini.
There would be no guarantee that the new government would have Berlusconi as prime minister and certainly Fini pulled few punches in his attacks on Berlusconi both for his private life but more importantly for his public accomplishment. Making fun of Berlusconi’s mantra that his is “un governo del fare” (a government that gets things done), Fini said it was “un governo del fare finta” (a government that fakes everything) adding that “the government is off course and adrift”.
If Berlusconi does not accept the challenge and stays where he is, Fini has said that his ministers will withdraw from the government. Berlusconi would then find it very difficult to stay put. He could replace Fini’s four (a cabinet minister, a deputy minister and two undersecretaries) and limp on. Fini said that his group, Futuro e Libertà would support measures that were part of the government programme so they would not bring the government down immediately but whatever he does, Berlusconi is a lame duck. He has little or no control over special legislation to help him out of the criminal charges that he is facing and the 14 December deadline is rapidly approaching. This is the day that the Constitutional Court will pronounce on whether the present immunity law is constitutional.
Legality was one of the points that Fini hammered on in his speech “without legality, there is no freedom” and again, “there is a culture of tolerance of arbitrariness and lack of fairness where the powerful dominate the weak”.
It was a speech worthy of any opposition, in favour of human rights and equality between north and south, men and women, black and white, hetero- and homosexual, a passage which brought huge cheers from the audience, perhaps surprising in a speech which was explicitly right wing and to a public which declares itself on the centre-right.
The latest sex scandal, “Rubygate”, was never mentioned by name but Fini referred to it when he lamented the collapse of part of Pompei yesterday and “other events which present Italy in a negative light”. And again when he quoted the Pope (emphasising three times that he was speaking “secularly”) who said that the rubbish is “not just in the streets of Naples but in people’s consciences”.
Apart from Berlusconi, Fini’s other target was Umberto Bossi’s Northern League who he accused of being the “most backward party in Europe”, strong words for a coalition ally. For Fini, the League was leading Berlusconi’s PdL.
That he is a man of the right was clear from the beginning when he spoke of the “nation” which he defined as “community, and the need for a clear national identity (there was a right wing mention of gens italica). After the speech the national anthem was palyed; there were some positive references to the church but Fini has never hidden his own secularity. Despite using the word “destra” or “centro-destra” most of the substance of the speech would have gone down well on the centre-left. There was plenty of talk about looking after the weaker members of society.
It was, explicitly, a challenge for the next elections whether they are in 2013 or next spring, or, just possibly, sooner. After 17 years of being Berlusconi’s presumed successor (it is almost exactly 17 years since Berlusconi endorsed Fini’s candidacy for the mayor of Rome), Fini has said in practice, “if you’re not going to retire quietly and give me the succession, I will fight you for it”. The only question is why it has taken him so long – he and Berlusconi have been in power for eight years out of the last ten.
And now the ball is firmly in Berlusconi’s court.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Here we go again! Italy ever teetering

At the risk of being repetitive, the Italian media and a good portion of foreign commentators are once again agog at Berlusconi’s sex life and above all, his abuse of power. We can only echo Yogi Berra wearily, “It’s déjà vu all over again”.
For a moment, one was tempted to think that this was all a great plot by a diabolically devious Berlusconi; his friendship with “Ruby” the now 18 year old Moroccan girl almost looks like a diversionary tactic to shift media focus from his government’s inaction and lack of success. He did something like that in 2003 when he suggested in the European Parliament that a German MEP, Martin Schulz, could play the part of a concentration camp guard. It caused an uproar but no one got an answer from Schulz’s question (“how will you be able to act as the president of the European Union with your conflicts of interests?). This time, though, there were no hidden motives and both he and his government are suffering real damage from what has inevitably been called “Rubygate”.
The superficial story is that the Italian prime minister has a weakness for pretty girls. This is hardly news; 18 months ago his wife said that he was “not well and frequents minors”. He had met the 17 year old Naomi Letizia on various occasions and then very publically went to her 18th birthday party. A month later it transpired that he had spent the US election night in November 2008 with Patrizia D’Addario, an escort from Bari who had recorded their encounter. Photographs were published of almost naked girls at his Sardinian villa. This time he called the Milan police last May to secure the release of an underage Moroccan with no documents. The girl had visited Berlusconi at least once and he admitted both to the meeting and the calls to the police when he said he “always helped people in need”.
But there other aspects to the revelations which are even more serious. So far no one is suggesting that he had sex with the girl but over the last week there have been more allegations about paid sex for the prime minister and now another minister, Renato Brunetta, hyperactive and even more vertically challenged than the prime minister who has been trying to cut waste and overmanning in the public administration.
The story came out as part of an investigation into a prostitution racket. The main figures under investigation are all closely linked to Berlusconi. There is Emilio Fede, the grovelling anchorman of Berlusconi’s Rete Quattro news. It was Fede who made the connection between Berlusconi and Naomi. He is a frequent member of beauty contest juries and is always on the lookout for young talent. Also under investigation is Lele Mora who is professionally a talent scout and agent as well as being a neighbour of Berlusconi’s in Sardinia. There are also investigations into Mora’s connections with Calabrian organised crime, the ndrangheta. The third person is Nicole Minetti a 25 year old former showgirl and dancer, now described as the Prime Minister’s dental hygienist. Earlier this year Berlusconi put her up for election to the Lombard Regional Assembly where she now sits. It was Minetti who took charge of “Ruby” after the Prime Minister’s phone calls to the police.
At the very least, this suggest a rising tide of sleaze even if there are no criminal convictions at the end of the day. Berlusconi himself has made matters worse by admitting the call to the police in May and then boasting about his life style. And then to add to the anti-semitic, anti-women and blasphemous “jokes” last month, he proudly proclaimed that it was better to “love women than to be gay”. Finally then to give the old definition of chutzpah [the quality of nerve defined by the person who murders both his parents and then demands support from the community because he is an orphan] a new spin, Fede explained that Berlusconi “is single and has become sad since he lost his mother. I can’t see anything wrong if he enjoys himself one evening a week”. He ended the interview saying “I’ve got to go on air, otherwise he’ll fire me”.
But there is more than sycophantic courtiers to this story. Some of Berlusconi’s carabinieri escorts have complained that they spend more time moving and escorting the prime minister’s “escorts” than providing security. Worse is the strong suspicion that Berlusconi leant on the police to have Ruby released. So far the letter of the law appears to have been followed but in Italy and in many other places a policeman ignores a call from the prime minister at his peril.
All of this happens as rubbish once again piles up in and around Naples; Parliament was adjourned for most of last month; last Friday’s cabinet meeting failed to set up a nuclear energy agency or appoint new members of the stock exchange watchdog, the Consob. And on Saturday, Emma Marcegaglia, the president of the Confindustria, the employers’ association, once again laid into the government’s inaction. “The country is paralysed” she said, “and the government is absent”.
Worse from Berlusconi’s personal point of view, his “reform of justice” (shorthand for his own immunity) has ground to a standstill with strong opposition from the breakaway centre right group lead by Gianfranco Fini and from President Napolitano. On 14 December the Constitutional Court will pronounce on the constitutionality of his present immunity law; if they overturn it, then Berlusconi will have to again answer summonses to appear in court and could face a conviction by the end of next year. If that happens, there is a fair chance that Berlusconi would cut and run like his friend and mentor Bettino Craxi 20 years ago. Craxi spent the rest of his life in gilded exile in Tunisia; Berlusconi has just bought a new villa in Antigua so there might be a Caribbean future for him; still, it would be a terrible failure however comfortable.
By any standards, he is floundering. Opposition leader Pierluigi Bersani and other have urged Fini and his Futuro e Libertà to “pull the plug”. They could, and would like to do so on the immunity/impunity issue but for the moment, they don’t dare.
Fini has carved out a role as a “responsible statesman” – he cannot be seen to being bringing down the government and in any case, his group Futuro e Libertà is not ready to fight an election. He cannot be seen to be a rabblerouser especially when his natural allies like Marcegaglia and the Confindustria have said explicitly that they do not want early elections. The trades unions have not been so clear but they too don’t want to risk elections which mean instability and who knows whether the polls would give them a better result. For its part only Di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori would relish a campaign.
So Berlusconi will teeter on. In the meantime support from conservatives and the church is eroding because of his lifestyle, from business because of the stagnant economy and from consumers because of declining purchasing power. But for the moment, there is no alternative and if elections were held now, he would, despite everything, probably, win again; the relative majority in the Chamber, but that would give him an absolute majority of seats. So he can challenge Fini as he did today and Fini will for the moment “support the government programme”.
In Italian grand opera, the heroine takes half an hour to die; in the Grand Soap Opera which is Berlusconi’s Italy, the government takes half a year or more to collapse.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

With enemies like this, who needs friends… the opposition in Italy
For years now, the joke has been that Berlusconi’s best allies are the centre left. Unfortunately, for years it has not been a joke – it’s true. Now that we are likely to have elections next spring, the question has become a very practical and urgent one not just for the centre-left but the whole democratic process.
In April 2008, after Gianni Alemanno won the Rome municipal elections for the centre-right, some of his supporters swarmed around the Campidoglio. The more crass greeted the victory with the fascist salute; others showed that parts of the right have a sense of humour. They raised placards saying “Veltroni – santo subito!” (“make Veltroni a saint immediately”) echoing the cries for immediate sainthood for John Paul II. Their reasons were clear enough; Veltroni founded the Democratic Party (PD) in October 2007 and organised primary elections for the leader. This undermined Prodi’s authority as prime minister; then he declared that the PD would stand for election alone, without coalition allies. That frightened off the weakest element of the then Prodi government, bringing down the government and provoking early elections at a moment when Berlusconi was riding high and the centre left was very unpopular. And finally, he put up Francesco Rutelli as candidate for mayor of Rome making it clear that the party and the people had no choice in the matter – except they did and elected Alemanno. In six months, he brought Prodi and the centre-left government down, removed Communists and Socialists from Parliament for the first time in 65 years and then gave Rome to the centre-right. The least they could do for him was sainthood.
Except now he has done more; he suggested last month that the centre-left should look outside the PD for a leader, “a foreign pope” was the metaphor used. All sorts of names were thrown up as a result; from Nichi Vendola, president of the Apulia regional government, much loved by the left, with charm and charisma, gay and Catholic, to Ferrari chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, a possible leader of the centre. This was yet another re-run of the battle between Veltroni and D’Alema as the present PD secretary, Pierluigi Bersani, is a D’Alemiano. The problem is that Veltroni and D’Alema have been bickering “since they wore shorts” as one commentator put it. Since then Veltroni has withdrawn the suggestion, but the damage was done. The centre-left showed its divisions once again.
They are no better when it comes to winning policy and position issues. Compromise is inevitable in politics and sometimes even admirable but the PD’s version always seems to come across as tired, old fashioned and unprincipled. In the never-ending story of Berlusconi trying to avoid his criminal trials coming to verdict, the PD immediately left the moral high ground and is seeking a solution which distinguishes the “political” from the “legal”. And this at a time when a growing section of the centre-right is tired of the Prime Minister’s squirming for impunity. They could fight for principle and political advantage at the same time but they don’t.
They did the same on the vital issue of the High Council of the Magistrature, (CSM or Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura), the judiciary’s self governing body which is crucial given the battle between Berlusconi and the judiciary. The vice president is in practice the voice of the CSM (the president is the President of the Republic who only has a ceremonial role) and this time was due to be held by an opposition appointee. Instead of fighting for a distingished and independent lawyer of which there were many possibilities, the PD settled for a centrist figure who had already helped in drafting one of Berlusconi immunity bills and after election immediately began coming to terms with the centre-right members of the CSM. Again, a loss of principle and position.
Winning elections needs three components: leadership, organisation and a programme. Strength in one suit can compensate weakness in the other two but the centre-left is weak in all three. Given the format of elections in most western democracies today, leadership is undoubtedly the most important. Even in parliamentary systems, election campaigns are in practice “presidential”. Despite some real differences in programmes between the Labour Party and the Tories, it was the Brown-Cameron contrast which counted. The first time presidential style debates emphasised the leadership factor.
In Italy, the combination of Berlusconi’s “entry onto the field” and then the change of electoral system meant that personality and leadership became essential in the political game. For almost 17 years Silvio Berlusconi has been the focus of Italian politics even when he was in opposition. No one denies his previous qualities of personality and leadership and his rapidly learnt ability to navigate political shoals. The opposition has had to take this into account and the only times that they were successful was with Romano Prodi who expressed the antithesis of Berlusconi’s qualities. Prodi was careful and plodding where Berlusconi is spontaneous and mercurial; Berlusconi vaunts his successful football club while Prodi rode his bicycle even to the top of serious alpine passes. Prodi was the professor who explained everything in lengthy and calm detail; Berlusconi produced the “contract with the Italians” in five bullet points. But Prodi won twice against Berlusconi.
Today, Prodi is not poised for a second comeback though the PD leader, Pierluigi Bersani, tried to launch a Nuovo Ulivo in August. It was as if by invoking the winning name of a past alliance, he could conjure up a new and successful formula. Instead it only brought on yawns. Bersani is a solid ex-Communist from Emilia who was a more than competent minister for development in Prodi’s last government; he is sharp and a good debater but does not have the flair that only Berlinguer and maybe Togliatti had among Communist and post-Communist leaders. Above all, he is marked as a D’Alemiano which means that half of his natural supporters do not fully trust him.
As for programmes, in the big metal workers’ demonstration on 16 October protesting the threatened FIAT plant transfers and government inaction, some PD leaders participated, others kept their distance showing once again a lack of clarity in what they stand for, left or centre, workers or management. They need both, of course, to win an election, but they seem unable to finesse their different elements.
On the last point, the organisation is still there, a tribute to the Italian Communist Party whose ghost is still supporting its successors 20 years on.
But it is not enough. Their only hope is the growing confusion on the other side but despite the increasing discontent with Berlusconi, he would still win an election held today. Even if he lost and the PD won, what would they do with victory? It is not an edifying spectacle.

Friday, October 01, 2010

A comment on "Ahi serva Italia"
Italy hasn't changed over the centuries, has it? That is why it remains so frustratingly lovable, in its eternal adolescence, even in the eyes of the foreign beholder!
What must be stressed, nowadays, is that Berlusconi is the consequence, not the cause, of the much lamented general meltdown of Italian politics."

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"No-one doubts that he will win the vote." "Berlusconi will celebrate his birthday with a rousing majority..." Sorry, I thought we were expecting some political excitement...Or might it all go pear-shaped even at this late juncture? Thanks, PP

Very unlikely today - the vote is scheduled for 19.00 today. But it will almost certainly go pearshaped again in a few months. JW
A lucid and fair analysis of the latest developments in traditionally-murky Italian politics, though I am sure Blair will not appreciate being paired with Berlusconi. It is still unclear whether Fini's long conversion to the middle ground of Italian politics is genuine, or whether it is solely motivated by a lust for power. What is even more worrying is the ineptitude of the Italian left to profit from the situation. Have they learnt nothing from New Labour? The Partito Democratico will never win an election if it does not come to terms with the fact that Italy is a fundamentally conservative country.

Nick Rigillo, journalist
Berlusconi’s Birthday not quite the OK Corral

For the last week or so, there has been growing tension over today’s debate on Berlusconi’s “Five Point Plan”. Will he, won’t he make it into a vote of confidence? (it is a vote of confidence). What sort of majority will he have? (No one doubts that he will win the vote). Will this really mean peace in the governing coalition and the possibility of facing some of Italy’s real problems?
The answer to the last question, unfortunately, has to be no. The vote is just another skirmish in the ongoing battle between Fini and Berlusconi, every bit as fascinating in personal and political terms as the Blair-Brown saga and much more drawn out and much more damaging for the country. Their partnership began in 1993 and is only now drawing slowly towards the endgame but there are still quite a few acts to follow.
After much speculation, Berlusconi has decided to make the motion into a vote of confidence forcing the Finiani to support him or take the responsibility of bringing the government down in the middle of a dire economic situation. The precise motion that Parliament will vote on in a few hours time has not been published nor discussed by the government coalition, nor even, according to a cabinet minister and Berlusconi spokesman, Sandro Bondi, last night, has it been discussed in the cabinet. We can be sure that the five points (economy, the south, federalism, justice, security) will be covered in very general terms which will allow the Finiani to vote it along with the other deputies who are the result of Berlusconi’s autumn shopping spree and have made his offers to them public (€10,000 a month to one, a junior ministry to another).
Fini shows a curious ambivalence; he talks tough but then pulls his punches. He and his supporters, particularly Italo Bocchino who has in practice become his spokesman, show an increasing contempt for Berlusconi politically and ethically and at the same time are prepared to support his government.
Over the weekend he apparently threw down the gauntlet in a Messaggero interview challenging Berlusconi with a serious accusation and fighting words: “what is happening now puts the whole democratic system at risk; this is a dark moment for democracy… we have a gunfight at the OK Corral, a fight to the last drop of blood”.
Earlier in the month he spoke for an hour and half at Mirabello near Ferrara attacking Berlusconi and the government in no uncertain terms. He accused the prime minister of using Stalinist techniques and told him to stop using Parliament like a supermarket full of his employees saying that it was not “an appendage of Palazzo Chigi” (the prime minister’s office).
The fighting words, though, have been balanced by an apparent willingness to compromise. He and his supporters have repeated that they are willing to vote a motion on their electoral manifesto and that they would even accept a constitutional amendment which would give the prime minister immunity from prosecution.
There is one Fini who is an intransigent man of stern moral fibre and adamantine principle and there is another prepared to compromise to save his position.
Fini’s ambivalence is understandable. He is vulnerable on various levels. He knows that he is not ready to fight an election with his own party especially if he is seen to have brought the government down. He also knows that when the election campaign starts, the going will get very rough for him. Already he has been put through the wringer for the last two months by the Berlusconi family newspapers (Il Giornale and the weekly Panorama) and supporting paper (Libero). It has been a similar campaign to the one waged against Dino Boffo, the editor of the bishops’ newspaper L’Avvenire, last year. Boffo had been mildly critical of Berlusconi’s lifestyle and was pilloried by Il Giornale for an harrassment charge (true) with an official document saying he was a known homosexual (false and Giornale’s editor subsequently apologised) but by then Boffo had by then resigned.
This time Libero and Giornale claim that a flat in Monte Carlo left to Alleanza Nazionale has in some way been misappropriated by Fini’s brother in law. It is a complicated story and if it comes back into focus with either criminal charges or proven sleaze, I will try and link the chain which goes from Rome to Monte Carlo with diversions to St. Lucia, Santo Domingo and cheap furniture on the ourskirts of Rome. So far, nothing criminal has been alleged let alone proved – there is certainly more than a whiff of sleaze and some incompetence. But so far nothing has been proved. Still, it forced Fini to make a statement in which once again he attacked Berlusconi but promised to resign as Speaker if it was shown that his brother in law was indeed the owner of the Monte Carlo flat
The three divisions between the two men remain; Fini argues that the Northern League is demanding too much power and is moving towards some sort of division of the contry. He supports the constitution and “legality” which he says Berlusconi is dismantling with his attempts to avoid going to trial and finally there is the personal antipathy, not enough to destroy a political alliance but no help when there are real political differences
He has supported Berlusconi for 16 years which makes a divorce on matters of principle very difficult since Fini supported the previous immunity laws.
Today is Berlusconi’s birthday, he will be able to celebrate it with a rousing majority from the Chamber but the real problems are still to come. In December the Constitutional Court will decide on the law which allows Berlusconi to avoid his trials. More importantly for the whole country are the economic problems which are not being faced. The minister for economic development has still not been filled after almost five months; unions and employers agree that unemployment and growth are priorities but nothing is being done. Today’s vote is only the beginning.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More on “Ahi serva Italia”.
Last week’s blog was republished in Foreign Policy and provoked some responses. The most public was from Giulio Terzi, the Italian ambassador in Washington:

To put it simply, the article by James Walston, whose title I will avoid mentioning so as not to spread its vulgarity, is a clear example of faziosita’ (factiousness). And Mr Waltson’s choice of Dante’s quote may well be a Freudian slip, since Dante himself experienced the tragic and painful effects of the fight between fazioni in XIII Century Florence, being eventually banned from his native city and exiled.
Anyone has the right to express his own opinions, even when they are blatantly biased as in Mr. Waltson’s case. But I am very surprised that an important publication which is dedicated to Foreign Policy and bears on its front page the name of its illustrious founder Samuel P. Huntington chooses to host such an acrimonious and false story based on domestic gossip, with a lack of balance and seriousness one could expect at the lowest levels of tabloid sensationalism.
I am even more surprised since it’s also on the international stage, the “Foreign Policy”, that, over the years and in particular with the current Government led by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy has given more and more evidence of its worldwide credibility, strong commitment and resolve as is proper to a founding member of the European Union and a leading country of the G8.
For coming issues of “Foreign Policy” I dare suggest a few stories about Italy that may be of some interest to your readers all over the world: for an Afghan audience you might run a story about the 4000 Italian troops helping secure the country against the Taliban threat and strengthen local communities together with the US and other Nato allies; your readers in Lebanon, Balkans and in Africa will most probably be happy to see some pictures of those 7,500 Italian peacekeepers they meet every day in their towns and villages and that make Italy the first G8 country contributor to UN missions; as for those in the US who are particularly scared about the well known effects of unregulated financial markets, it could be useful to learn more about “Lecce Framework”, a set of common principles and standards for propriety, integrity and transparency proposed during the Italian G8 presidency last year or the proposals Italy has put forward on commodity speculation for the upcoming G20 Summit in Seoul (by the way, talking about economy Mr Waltson might want to reconsider his figures about Italy’s growth and take a look at more recent public data showing an annualized rate of 1.3 percent).
Best Regards,
Giulio Terzi
Ambassador of Italy to the United States

Another took issue with Paolo Sylos Labini


While another recommended that I take up the English Catholic author G. K . Chesterton as an antidote to a supposed anti-Italian and anti-Catholic bias from a Brit or an American:

Leggo che Lei,a proposito dell'Italia, cita il Purgatorio di Dante(serva Italia di dolori ostello,nave senza nocchiero in gran tempesta,non donna di provincia ma bordello).Non so se i media hanno riferito questo parallelismo con i tempi di oggi correttamente o hanno esagerato travisando il di Lei pensiero e riferendo che l'Italia è un bordello.
Se fosse così sarebbe disinformazione e gossip.Che le cose vadano male è vero, ma prestarsi al gossip dei media disinformati e pilotati è puerile. L'Italia non è peggiore di tanti stati europei che hanno abbandonato l'etica e le radici giudaico cristiane per trattare solo di denaro.Purtroppo,dalla caduta dell'Impero Romano d'occidente, l'Italia è stata invasa da barbari di tante provenienze ed è per questo che ha perduto le sue radici latine e la sua genuinità democratica e repubblicana.Immagino che Lei conosca lo scrittore inglese Chesterton;dia una ripassatina ai suoi libri e si ricrederà. Non è offendendo una nazione che la si aiuta a migliorarsi.La prego non si adegui al pensiero imperante mitteleuropeo che è geloso dell'Italia per le sue latenti possibilità di RENAISSANCE. Da una università ci si aspetta un pensiero costruttivo e non il solito chiacchiericcio (baked & baked).

There are other replies and comments on the Foreign Policy site, mostly positive. My favorite is:

"There has been a lack of clear leadership since the end of July"
Italy has not been having a clear leadership since Cavour: and he spoke french

My response to the ambassador was the following:
Dante was indeed very concerned about discord in Florence and did suffer personally. He was also an authority on the consequences of lack of leadership, consensus and moral authority. Hence my use of his quote.
Italy’s problem today is not that there are political factions or parties. Italy and Italians are as capable as any other country of discussing issues; the medium term problem is Silvio Berlusconi’s massive conflicts of interests, unique to Italy and unacceptable in any other western democracy and the ensuing concentration of power in the executive (not unique in the west but more pronounced and long lasting). These two factors have rendered a good part of Italy government “courtiers” rather than servants of the state. The point of my article was that it is the wholesale corruption of the institutions which is the “vulgarity”, the prostitution of ideas and minds not the “tabloid” sex.
Commenting on the laws passed to prevent the Prime Minister’s trials coming to verdict or the indictment of other politicians is a “partiality” shared with most of the western press, left, right and center; it is hardly “gossip”. In these fundamental issues, Italy is out of step with the standards of the rest of western democracies. This is a concern for us all.
In the immediate past, moreover, Italy has indeed been without a helmsman with even Berlusconi’s own newspapers commenting on his lack of leadership.
The growth figure that Amb. Terzi quotes refers an increase after striking declines in previous years and in any case should be analyzed together with other figures. However, whichever figures the Ambassador cares to use, it is undeniable that Italy has been in relative decline for almost the last two decades (eight years of center-right under Berlusconi, seven years of center-left under Prodi and others, the rest technical or centrist).
As far as the record of Italy’s peacekeepers across world is concerned, I wholeheartedly support Ambassador Terzi’s affirmations and have said so in the past and in an article due out next month. They do sterling work in the Balkans and in Lebanon and as well as in Afghanistan – all are missions given almost universal support by the Italian Parliament and initiated by both center-right and center-left governments. But their good work does not cancel the strongly negative elements of Italy’s present and past governments.

I would add that Italy’s apparent lack of leadership and lack of alternation in the so-called “First Republic” from 1948 to 1994 with 47 governments in 44 years was compensated by consistent economic growth and a distribution of power and resources (lottizzazione) which however grubby at times, did maintain a high degree of pluralism.
As for my correspondent who gives Paolo Sylos Labini the responsibility for Italy’s population decline, I am sure that there are many economists who would dearly love to have had such an influence on society but few apart from perhaps Keynes have been anywhere near. Many on the left would also dearly have loved to have been in government for 30 years but so far that is just pie in the sky.
On the Catholic score and the role of the Church in Italy, today is 20th September and I hope to address that question on the 140th anniversary of the Breach of Porta Pia.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Ahi serva Italia, di dolore ostello, 
nave sanza nocchiero in gran tempesta, 
non donna di province, ma bordello!
Quoting Dante (or Shakespeare, Wilde, Shaw) is, I admit the last resort of a scoundrel or at least the indolent scribe. But this one is too apposite not to use. Roughly translated, it reads “Alas enslaved Italy, inn of sorrow, a ship without a helmsman in a great storm, not a queen of her provinces, but a whorehouse”. It was the title of a book by Paolo Sylos Labini published posthumously in 2006; Sylos Labini was not only one of Italy’s most distinguished economists but a man of absolute integrity who consistently and very openly refused to compromise with Power (even “power” with a small ‘p’). His last work described, analysed and criticised the Italy of five years ago. Today’s Italy has been battered by even more internal storms as well as the obvious international economic ones; since then the Prime Minister’s residences have become brothels literally and not just metaphorically. Above all, the ship of state is near to being rudderless. So I am not the only person quoting Dante.
There has been a lack of clear leadership since the end of July as anyone who follows these blogs will know but over the last fortnight the lack of direction has become paroxystic. For most of August, Berlusconi threatened elections in order to bring the rebellious Fini and his followers to heel. Then as the polls showed that the only real winner in an early vote would be Umberto Bossi with the Northern League and, worse, that there was a good chance that he would not win a majority in the Senate, he started backpedalling. These last few days, his public statements once again refer to “three more years in order to carry out the Great Reforms”.
He spoke at the Kremlin organised Global Policy Forum in Yaroslavl last week about the details of Italian politics, with a swipe at Fini (without naming him) saying there were some who had created “little political businesses” (aziendine); then he made the nth complaint that “communist judges” were stopping him and his people from governing and finally, to cap his effusive welcome to Ghedaffi a week ago, came the remarkable statement that his hosts Putin and Medvedev were “god’s gift to democracy” (pity that The Economist’s KAL had beat him to it with a cartoon showing Vladimir Putin’s real love of democracy and the press.
Even the editor of one of his own papers, Vittorio Feltri in Il Giornale criticised him for wavering this morning. Worse, his approval ratings are down to 37% with the PdL below 30%.
We will know if the “three more years” proposal has any chance whatsover at the end of the month when the Chamber will debate Berlusconi’s five-point plan (justice, federalism, security, the south, the economy) and vote on it. In the meantime, it seems that he is on the expected shopping spree hoping to pick up independents so as to make up the loss of Fini’s deputies - he needs 19 to have a secure majority.
He has experience in convincing parliamentarians to come over to his side as revelations about the so-called P3 are showing. In late 2007, in another shopping spree, there was a lot of movement to bring Prodi’s government down and in January 2008 Prodi’s government duly fell. But the revelations themselves are proof of the change since then. It seems that most of the accused are singing as if they were in La Scala – and suggests rodents leaving the nave sanza nocchiero.
The storm buffetting comes from real winds. Some come from a long way off; Italy’s relative decline began almost 20 years ago but every year production figures go down with respect to Europe, and of course China and the other emerging economies. Last week the OECD reckoned that Italy’s GDP would decline by 0.3% in the third quarter, the only G7 country with negative growth and grow by a miserable 0.1% in the fourth quarter. The World Economic Forum reckons that a real recovery has not begun and puts Italy in 48th place for global competiveness. Economics minister Tremonti preferred the ISTAT figures which are slightly better but not much. Youth unemployment continues to grow. The Minister for Economic Development resigned four months ago and still has not been replaced. As the school year begins, teachers are on the warpath over cuts as are the police. There are plenty of real issues but they are not being faced.
So is Italy once again “enslaved” as Dante lamented 700 years ago? And is Italy a brothel instead of queen of her own provinces?
A new book by a Princeton scholar argues that Italy is very much the brothel. In La libertà dei servi (Anticorpi, Laterza 2010), Maurizio Viroli says that Italy has succeeded “… in the political experiment of transforming, without violence, a democratic republic into a court which has at the centre a feudal lord surrounded by a plethora of courtesans admired and envied by a multitude of people with a servile spirit”.
Rigoletto cursed the courtesans with his wonderful aria “Cortigiani, vil razza dannata!” but today it is the courtesans who are in control. Even Fedele Confaloniere, probably Berlusconi’s best friend and closest associate described him in 2004 as “an enlightened despot… a good Ceausescu, but decidedly anomalous as a democratic politician”.
Last week a centre right deputy in Fini’s group accused some of her fellow deputies of having prostituted themselves to get into Parliament. She withdrew the statement immediately but Veronica Lario, Mrs. Berlusconi, and the Fini thinktank “FareFuturo” had made the same point in April last year. The real point though is that the problem is not that some women got into Parliament through a bedroom; it is that men and women, journalists and professionals, have given up their minds and principles rather than their bodies.
So Dante is oft-quoted for good reason.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Dangerous liaisons
There was something profoundly depressing watching the style, expertise and control of the two cavalry squadrons performing on Monday night in Rome. Maybe a hundred horses and riders wheeled charged and feinted in a breathtaking series of manoeuvres, trotting, cantering, galloping in near perfect unison in close order with sabres drawn.
Then the camera cuts to two elderly men for whom the spectacle is being enacted, Muammar Ghedaffi and Silvio Berlusconi. They are enthroned under an awning and the contrast between them and the men and horses they are watching is striking as neither have the style and control of the animals of the carabinieri. It was a show that deserved a more worthy audience.
For the fourth time in just over a year, Ghedaffi was back in Rome. Not surprisingly, most of the comment concentrated on the circus aspect. This time the Libyan Ghedaffi’s inevitable trademark tent was apparently pitched in the embassy grounds. This time, some hundreds of young women were paid to listen to the Colonel extolling the virtues of a rather unorthodox Islam and trying to convert them. The women were somewhere between film extras, “hostesses” and even, according to some accounts “escorts” a very loaded word in today’s Italy.
Whatever they did with Ghedaffi, he outdid his host in numbers at least. Berlusconi’s parties in Palazzo Grazioli are much more limited affairs with a mere twenty or thrity lovelies to listen to his speeches and songs. But their taste in company unites the two men along with the surgical enhancement which both exhibit most visibly.
Aside from the personal foibles, there are very solid national and personal economic interests which they have in common. The visit was meant to celebrate the second anniversary of the 2008 Italo-Libyan treaty. This recompensed Libya for damages incurred under colonial rule (a precedent that Britain and France or even the other colonial powers did not appreciate) but in return gave Italy guarantees of oil and supply contracts and prevented immigrants in transit from reaching Italy. It was a typical piece of realpolitik and no worse than many other deals that Britain and France (or the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, Germany) have come to with unsavoury dictators.
The difference is the way that Ghedaffi has been treated by Berlusconi. However embarassing it was for Britain to honour Ceaucescu or Giscard’s France to honour Bokassa, they only did it once, not four times in 15 months. More importantly, neither Queen Elizabeth not Giscard were personal business partners.
Already a year ago, John Hooper in The Guardian pointed out that Berlusconi’s Finivest and Ghedaffi’s Lafitrade were shareholders in the Tunisian media company Quinta Communications..
Before this last visit, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs denied the link which even Berlusconi’s own companies publish “We repeat, there are no relations whatsoever between the prime minister and the business group he created with President Qaddafi or with the Libyan state”.
Apart from the Colonel, Berlusconi has another very equivocal and even closer friendship with Vladimir Putin. Last October, he spent two days with the Russian prime minister accompanied by a single deputy as interpreter. There were no civil servants from the Cabinet office, neither minister for foreign affairs nor economy. No public statements were made as to the nature of the meetings but the business was so important that Berlusconi put off his departure for a day cancelling a longstanding engagement with King Abdullah of Jordan who was on a state visit to Italy. We know about the gas deals with ENI but we have no idea what (if any) private deals Berlusconi has come to. Paolo Guzzanti, a journalist and deputy and formerly loyal supporter, called Berlusconi’s foreign policy “like Louis XIV’s”. With Ghedaffi there are probably no side deals but again we cannot be sure.
Ghedaffi, Putin and Berlusconi are populists who feel that they have an absolute mandate from “the people” and all three make little distinction between what is public and what is their own private interest.
At the risk of being pedantic, it is worth pointing out that Ghedaffi is officially neither head of state or head of government; he was actually introduced as “leader of the revolution”. Berlusconi is head of government but not head of state. Foreign policy is also created out of symbols and theatre and the Ghedaffi Show was excessive by any standards at least in western Europe. It did show once again how Berlusconi’s personal diplomacy trumps Italian interests and good taste.
Next week the Finnish president will be in Rome on a state visit. She is here to promote Finland from Nokia to reindeer ham to Sibelius with Italy for its part wanting to increase economic and cultural relations but I think we can be pretty sure that it will be a low key affair on both sides. She will give a talk at the Accademia de’ Lincei, one of the oldest and most prestigious Italian centres of culture. Her audience will be staid, middle aged and unpaid and she will not be trying to convert anyone. And then there will be a reception at the Finnish Academy with the Italian head of state, President Napolitano. Villa Lante is one of the most beautiful of the foreign academies and the one with the best view but there will be no reindeer cavalcades on the Janiculum.
Quite apart from the impropriety of giving full honours to a dictator and allowing him to use Rome as his own private Disneyland (as the Fini thinktank, FareFuturo said), it is also a dangerous and counterproductive policy even without taking morals and human rights into account. Ghedaffi’s attempts to proseletise have alienated the Vatican and the Northern League neither of which are keen on a Muslim Italy. His treatment of immigrants trying to reach Italy also goes against Church policy. As for the economic interests, given Ghedaffi’s age and the uncertainty of his succession, it might not be good for Italy to be seen to be too close to Ghedaffi personally. And even in the short term, there are many Italian business people and economists who are nervous at the idea of Ghedaffi being a majority shareholder in major Italian financial institutions and businesses.
It is interesting that FareFuturo has explicitly asked Berlusconi to clarify his relationship with both Putin and Ghedaffi. After all, its sponsor, Gianfranco Fini, was foreign minister for a time. This does not bode well for the government’s future – for the moment the warring factions for August have decided that discretion is the better part of valour. Berlusconi does not want to risk a fight with Napolitano in order to call early elections and he does not want to risk being overtaken by Bossi and the League if there are elections. Fini is bruised after the Berlusconi press attacks with more revelations threatened and he is not at all sure that he could fight an elections at short notice. So for the moment, Berlusconi will have his vote of confidence in September but the future is anything but clear.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Salami tactics – Berlusconi’s legacy
Once again the opposition smells blood, Berlusconi’s blood, and hopes grow that the nightmare might be ending. On Friday he came back to Rome to chair a party summit to deal with the Fini secession – he looked terrible; puffy and bloated, visibily overweight and spouting fire and brimstone more in anger than coherence. He no longer has an absolute majority in the Chamber and risks losing it in the Senate too; his party, the PdL is rating 28% in the polls compared to the 38% they won in 2008. But not for the first time, it would be unwise to write off Silvio Berlusconi quite yet (if only because of the lack of serious, organised opposition – but that will be another blog).
But it is the moment to once again try and measure what Berlusconi has done to Italy and how much will remain, whether he leaves the political scene before Christmas or instead wins another general election, does another stint as prime minister and then retires in his eighties after seven years as President.
His declared political aims have always been clear; for the last 16 years, Berlusconi has complained about the prime minister’s lack of power and his persecution by “politically motivated” magistrates. For a decade and a half, he has tried to build his own executive powers based on the “sovereignty of the people” expressed through their elected leader. As such he is as he famously said “anointed by the people”, a latterday and supposedly democratic absolute monarch. But it hasn’t happened; there has been no cathartic, revolutionary change either in the written constitution or even, notwithstanding a landslide of remarks by Berlusconi’s spokespeople over the last few days, in the unwritten constitution.
His other declared political aims include introducing business “freedom” and reducing the role and weight of the state. But there has been no Thatcherite revolution either but this is more because he is actually not that interested in a real free market.
His undeclared aims were and still are to protect himself from criminal prosecution and to benefit his own businesses. In these, he has largely succeeded at least for himself. With minor exceptions, he has never been convicted of any crime; either by decriminalising the action (false accounting) or by using delaying tactics. His many charges have been dropped either because the action is no longer a crime or because the statute of limitations has come in. Despite laws to help some of them, his friends and associates have not been so lucky. The co-founder of the PdL, Dell’Utri has just been sentenced to 7 years for mafia-related crimes by the Appeal Court. His longtime lawyer Cesare Previti was convicted to seven and a half years for bribing a lawyer; his English lawyer, Mills also has an Appeal Court sentence for perjury. His brother Paolo has been in goal and his company’s chief accountant Sciascia was also convicted. Berlusconi has needed all his wiles to avoid his own conviction.
On the material benefit, his first government in 1994 passed a law within a month of taking office which gave his companies a €129m tax write off. This year Mondadori benefited from another bill specifically aimed at the giant publisher.
But whoever succeeds Berlusconi is unlikely to have the same problems with the criminal law or possess the same wealth. The lasting effects of his personalisation of politics has already taken effect in the wider privatisation of both the criminal law and material benefit as Marco Travaglio has catalogued in his recent book Ad personam. This lists measures which have given material or legal advantage to friends and followers on the left and right, a change which is expensive to the exchequer and debases the law.
Even more insidious and dangerous are the effects on the fabric of Italian democracy. Six years ago, Paul Ginsborg wrote that some reforms “designed to change the very character of Italy’s democracy and its fragile balance of powers are forging ahead. The autonomy of the magistrates is in the process of being destroyed. The devolution envisaged by Bossi will create a series of regional baronies. The composition of the Constitutional Court is to be changed. The powers of the premier are to be greatly increased, so as to establish his ascendancy not just over parliament but, if need be, over his own majority as well” (Silvio Berlusconi. Television, Power and Patrimony 2004: 182).
It is testimony to the strength of Italian democracy that magistrates continue to investigate Berlusconi and other politicians, that Italy has not been divided up into a neo-mediæval collection of fiefs and that a year ago the Constitutional Court was again able to declare immunity from criminal charges for the prime minister to be unconstitutional.
In 2002, the Milan prosecuter and leader of the “Clean Hands” investigation, Francesco Saverio Borrelli, retired and in his final speech exhorted his colleagues to “resist, resist, resist”. Since then, they have fought hard and long and certainly prevented the final end of the rule of law. But they and the other powers which make up Italian democracy have been forced to retreat.
Unable to overcome democratic pluralism with a frontal attack, Berlusconi has taken his cue from one of Italy’s most famous products and uses salame tactics. He has sliced away at Italian polyarchy, the word coined by the great scholar of democracy, Robert Dahl.
Before Ginsborg’s remarks, Italian pluralism had been reduced by Berlusconi’s concentration of political and media power. Since then it has been further reduced by an electoral law in which parliamentarians are wholly beholden to their parties and not to their electorate. The supposedly independent authorities meant to monitor broadcasting, privacy and so on, have been made even more toothless by pressure from the majority in Parliament and by Berlusconi himself. Most dangerous is the reduction in the independent power of the magistrature’s governing body, the High Council of the Magistrature (and this with the connivence of the opposition). Both the print media and television have been very largely muzzled apart from Berlusconi’s own family media which on the contrary have been unleashed in vicious campaigns against all opposition from the Bishops’ Conference daily editor, Dino Boffo, to the Chamber Speaker, Gianfranco Fini.
Which brings us back to politics today. Over the next month or so, there will be various battles royal over which slice of Italian pluralism will be cut away. Will Giorgio Napolitano give up the presidential prerogative to dissolve Parliament in the face of Berlusconi’s barrage calling for elections? Will Fini and his supporters maintain some independence in Parliament or will they be forced to eat humble pie? Will Berlusconi be able to start the reforms that Ginsborg listed in 2004, above passing a constitutional amendement giving himself immunity?
Power in Italy has already shifted massively to the executive and has left the legislature, the judiciary, civil society and the media much weaker than in 1994. We are in a crucial phase in which Berlusconi could succeed slice by slice in his design of a “populist democracy” or in which those inspired by Borrelli’s resistance might instead slow the process down.

This is a summary of a paper which I will give at the Conference Group on Italian Politics (Congrips) session at the American Political Science Association’s annual conference this year in Washington DC 2-5 September.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bards and storytellers – summer entertainment
It would be nice at Ferragosto when all of Italy stops not to talk about the Prime Minister for once, but even around 15 August, it is difficult to avoid him. Going to the theatre is normally an entertainment and nothing more, but this year there is a storyteller who makes opposition to Berlusconi into an evening out.
Italy’s summer shows are justly famous and their settings are spectacular. You can see grand opera in the Verona arena, baroque opera in a Tuscan garden or Greek comedies in Syracuse. Goran Bregovic performs in summer arenas as does Bob Dylan and even the Jethro Tull. There is experimental dance and music on the Janiculum in Rome and 1950s jazz under castle walls in the Marches. Last year, Roberto Benigni kept thousands entranced in a Florence square simply reciting a 700 year old poem. But the poem was the Divine Comedy and Benigni is the quintessence of Tuscan wit and culture.
The variety is almost infinite but the most unlikely and unusual has to be a lone journalist sitting on a stage without props just telling a story. This is Marco Travaglio, the man who more than anyone else personifies opposition to Berlusconi.
On a summer evening, more than 2,000 people paid €25 to sit in the Roman theatre of Ostia to listen to Travaglio explaining Silvio Berlusconi’s rise to power. It was a throwback to simpler times when people gathered in a square or a field and listened to well-known stories or fables. The audience knew the characters and like an English Christmas panto, cheered the heros and booed the villains. Since everyone knows the main points of the narrative, there was little surprise but since no one knows the detail that Travaglio can muster, there were always gasps of disbelief as we learnt or were reminded of the sheer extragavance of the tale unfolding.
For rank improbability, the Berlusconi Saga competes well with Il Trovatore except that every word of the script comes from judicial proceedings. There is also more than a passing resemblance to a Dante reading as the Comedy (especially the Inferno) is a biting comment on the politics and society of 14th C Italy. Only one other contemporary, I think, compares directly to Travaglio; Marco Paolini, an actor-narrator who began some years ago with an acerbic rendering of his native Veneto, Profondo Nord, and then went on to narrate some of Italy’s worst mysteries and disasters, the Vajont dam overflow on 1962 with its negligence, death and cover-up; the downing of the Itavia DC9 near Ustica in 1979 with its death and international obfuscation. These are grand dramas accurately and movingly rendered. But Paolini uses props and takes on parts. Travaglio’s quality is to be able to concentrate Italy’s present disaster into powerful drama just with words.
He is one of the country’s best investigative journalists, a quiet and polite Piedmontese who never raises his voice and, a rarity in public life today, rarely uses expletives. His devastating lines are delivered with a smile rather than a snarl and the terrible truths come with wit and humour. He has produced more than a dozen books on Italy’s political scandal and despite being accused of being a Jacobin leftie, began his career with the great conservative Italian journalist, Indro Montanelli who Travaglio admires and often quotes. Not so long ago, some of the left accused him of being on the right. Apart from the occasional theatre, Travaglio writes an editorial for Il Fatto Quotidiano six days a week and a half hour webcast on Mondays called Passaparola (“pass it on!”) and last year at least, was part of the regular cast of Annozero, one of the RAI political talk shows that Berlusconi would like to close.
Although Berlusconi was obviously the centre of the show, he was certainly not the only subject. Marcello Dell’Utri one of the founders of Forza Italia who was recently given a seven year gaol sentence for mafia association figured prominently but the centre-left was not left out of the line of fire. Massimo D’Alema was given a lambasting, much to the crowd’s delight as was Bersani and other centre-left figures, only Di Pietro was not included.
It was a great evening – just walking around Ostia is a special pleasure even without a show. Leaving the theatre along the umbrella pine avenue, I have no doubt that we all felt particularly virtuous at having done our righteous bit in supporting the opposition to Berlusconi. Until… until… I realised that the whole business had been a damning symbol of Berlusconi’s ultimate victory. He is the ultimate impresario and he had succeeded in reducing the opposition to a side show performing for the converted far from the places where real decisions are made and opinions formed: the media, the demonstrations, even the emasculated parliament. Travaglio’s verve had not changed a single person’s opinion.
On the real stage, the allegations of sleaze against Fini and his brother in law continue to dominate not only the Berlusconi media while allegations of conflicts of interest and money laundering by magistrates and the Bank of Italy against Denis Verdini take third or fourth place. Verdini is one of the PdL’s three coordinators. And then everyone is limbering up to fight over early elections. Berlusconi and Bossi are playing good cop/bad cop with Berlusconi’s people arguing that the de facto constitution says that “the sovereign people” should decide if the present government no longer has a majority. Bossi and his people threaten demonstrations and secession if they don’t have elections. President Napolitano is fighting to maintain the president’s power to dissolve parliament. Even before the end of August, the battle lines are well drawn.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To vote or not to vote
In the mid-90s I used to teach a course on Italian politics every two years in the spring and from ’92 to ’96 the powers that were very kindly gave me a general election to illustrate my course with. After a decade of stability, we seem to be returning to the more usual confusion and continuous jockeying for small slices of power.
There is a pretty good chance that Italians will go to the polls again next spring and there is a small chance that it might even be as soon as November (the republic has never had an autumn election so it’s unlikely, but Umberto Bossi is pressing for it and Berlusconi loves campaigning and is very good at it).
The drama, as ever in politics, is part issues and part personal. Except that in Berlusconi’s Italy, most issues are also personal so once again, despite a major economic crisis and plenty of other only slightly less pressing problems, we are still talking about one man and his conflicts of interest.
The immediate bones of contention, as most of you know already, is the split between Berlusconi and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, Gianfranco Fini. Initially Fini was joined by 33 deputies who formed a new group (not “party”) called Futuro e Libertà (Fli) and was then followed by Chiara Moroni, the youngest deputy in the Chamber but highly symbolic in the present context as she is the daughter of a man who committed suicide after being accused of corruption in the first “Clean Hands” investigation in the early ‘90s. She might have been expected to defend alleged corruptors but she supports Fini in his campaign for “legality”.
The division where the 34 Finiani declared themselves was a vote of no confidence on the PdL minister, Giacomo Caliendo, accused of being part of the new secret masonic lodge, the so-called P3. Di Pietro tabled the motion which was supported by his group, Italia dei Valori (IdV) and the Democratic Party (PD) and rejected by 299 members of the government a long way short of the 316 majority. Fini’s people abstained and the motion was defeated but since last week, it is clear that the PdL no longer commands an absolute majority.
That leaves three possibilities: immediate elections (November), a transitional “technocratic” government, and finally, a limping lame duck continuation of the present government.
The first is supported by Bossi and the Northern League who reckon they would make a killing in any elections at the moment. The former centre-left mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari reckoned dismally that the Lega would win 50% of the vote north of the Appenines. This is probably Cacciari playing an exaggerated Cassandra, but she was right after all; the Lega will do well because it manages to present itself as an anti-system party at the same time as being in power; they have good local organisation and a clear programme. I’ll do a blog on their biggest issue “federalism” next month. Di Pietro too would be happy to move to the hustings because IdV is the only intransigent and clear opposition to Berlusconi and would certainly take a good portion of the disgruntled PD voters. Naturally Berlusconi is raring to go and has just launched a pre-election campaign to that Italians will “understand what the government has achieved”. No peace from politics even in August.
An interim government would bring back echos of Dini in 1995 but too much has changed since then for there to be a repetition with Tremonti playing Dini’s. First of all there is a different president and the choice between elections and a new government is the president’s choice, not the prime minister’s. Oscar Luigi Scalfaro is a tough and honest old fashioned Piedmontese Christian Democrat. As president he refused to allow Cesare Previti to become minister of Justice – Previti was under investigation for corruption and was later convicted. When the Lega withdrew support for Berlusconi’s government, Scalfaro insisted on offering Berlusconi’s finance minister Lamberto Dini the possibility of forming an interim government, which he did. The present president, Giorgio Napolitano is not made of the same stuff. He prefers to mediate behind the scenes rather than stand up to Berlusconi who has himself learnt much over the last 16 years. He knows that if he refused a request for early elections “Berlusconi would go nuclear” as a diplomat friend said last week. The nuclear option would mean unleashing all his media – the five television channels (three Mediaset and two RAI) and the two newspapers which are presently savaging Fini (Il Giornale and Libero but more of that next week). Only the PD is really in favour of this option as they are divided and disorganised and too pusillanimous to fight an election at the moment. But the “transitional government” is hardly an option as it would mean them getting into bed with Tremonti who they have constantly attacked for his austerity budget which would make them look very inconsistent. And that presupposes that Tremonti would be willing to play Dini’s 1995 role.
The final option would be for the present government to carry on until there is another crunch time with Fini. Government spokesmen say they will fight on the economy, the South, federalism and justice.
The last two are the most controversial. Fini has always been against allowing too much devolution or giving too much power to the Lega. Justice includes a constitutional amendment to give immunity to the prime minister, putting a best-by date on criminal trials; three, two and one year for the three different levels, but without changing procedure. In practice all but the simplest trials would be dropped. They also want to reform the magistrature’s self-governing body, the High Council of the Magistrature and reduce its powers. The PdL would also like to see the bill which limits phone taps passed without being watered down. Each one of these issues could push Fli to vote against the government but at the moment at least, they are not ready to fight an election.

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