Sunday, January 30, 2011

Two women

We’ve heard so much about Italian women being bimbos prepared to do anything to get a part in “Big Brother” or a job in politics that you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s the only truth. Unfortunately it is indeed true that a large number of Italian women think that sex is the best way to success, and not only the younger ones.
But it is far from being the only truth. Today, the left wing paper L’Unità (one of the two national dailies edited by a woman) organised a demonstration of women in Milan “to bring back some dignity to Italy”. On the other side of the political barrier, the right wing (ex-Alleanza Nazionale) paper, Il Secolo d’Italia, also edited by a woman has made the same appeal “to give dignity back to women” and to organise a demonstration on 13 February (to coincide with Berlusconi’s anti-judiciary demo).
As if to symbolise the other side of Italian women, in a remarkable coincidence, for the first time, the heads of the biggest employers’ association, the Confindustria and the biggest trade union, the General Confederation of Italian Workers (CGIL) are both women.
The first is Emma Marcegaglia, 45, from Mantua in Lombardy. Her father started a successful steel processing company in which both she and her brother became senior management. She went to the Bocconi in Milan and then took an MBA at NYU. In March 2008, she was elected President of Confindustria. She had been vice president under the two previous presidents resigning over political differences with one and completing her mandate with the second. Since taking up the high profile position she has shown that she is clearly an able woman despite being part of a family firm.
The Financial Times ranks her 29th in their list of fifty most powerful women in the world. Here in Italy, with an increasingly directionless government of the economy, the voice of employers becomes ever more important. Marcegaglia recently criticised the government for not having done anything for the economy in the last six months and gave an implicit nod to economics minister Giulio Tremonti taking over from Berlusconi.
The other woman at the top is Susanna Camusso, 55, who took over the leadership of the CGIL in November. Once upon a time she would have been Marcegaglia’s direct antagonist but given today’s climate, their interests are surprisingly parallel. She explicitly endorsed Marcegaglia’s remarks on the government’s lack of action. Camusso is also a Lombard, from Milan and almost as a mirror image of Marcegaglia, spent most of her career in the metalworkers section of the union.
The CGIL has been the strongest opponent of Fiat’s reorganisation plans and in particular, the metalworkers at the Termini Imerese plant are furious because they will stop producing cars at the end of this year and in the rest of the country because of the new contract with the other unions. Camusso is going to have to play the delicate negotiating act between her own members and the sister unions and the less delicate negotiation with Fiat CEO Marchionne.
This week she also led a demonstration which presented a draft bill to regulate one of the plagues of the Italian workplace, the unofficial work gangs or caporalato.
Given the governments lethargy, it is employers like Marchionne and the Confindustria or the unions who are actually addressing today’s issues and two of prime actors are women. So women’s prospects should be good in Italy, shouldn’t they? Well, up to a point…
Despite these two very visible success stories for gender equality, the reality is far more depressing and closer to the bimbo stereotypes.
In politics, parliamentarians are in practice appointed by the parties so the Berlusconi factor is very visible; the Chamber of Deputies has 133 women members or 21.1% and it is striking that they are heavily weighted on the younger side. Between age 24 and 29, there are four women and no men; 30-39 41.8% women: 40-49 25.7% women: 50+ 15.6%. The optimistic take on the numbers is that there is change taking place and that in ten or twenty year there will be Norwegian near parity. The cynical view is that physical appearance is more important than experience. In the European Parliament and the regional assemblies, this even more apparent.
Not surprisingly, the Cabinet shows the B-factor most heavily. Of the 24 members of the Cabinet, five are women (3 without portfolio, 2 with) three had very close personal connections with B before going into politics. It is striking that all five are young (between 33 and 43) and by any standards go from the good looking to the very goodlooking while the 19 men are mostly older and go from the ordinary to the the distinctly ugly. Just last week, the most notorious of Berlusconi’s women ministers, the former showgirl and topless model, Mara Carfagna, now minister for equal opportunities came to an agreement with the self-governing board for publicity. The ministry will be able to ask for the withdrawal of advertisements that “degrade the image of women or which are violent or sexist”. There is more than a touch of irony in the announcement given what Carfagna did before becoming a deputy and what her boss apparently still does with a wide variety of lovelies.
In the civil service and wider public service, there has been an increase in the number of women employed going from an overall 48.7% in 1994 to 54.4% in 2006, apparent progress for gender equality. Most of that increase has been in the health service: 55.2% to 62.0% and the regional and city administrations: 42.2% to 50.4% (both around a fifth of the total each), schools (over 30% of the total) 72.2% to 76.6%. But at a senior level, the increase has been slight; 28.8% diplomats and prefects in 1994 to 35.4% in 2006, universities 38.8% to 43.8%. The figures mask a very solid glass ceiling.
In the general labour market, according to the OECD, less than half of Italian women work (46.4% compared to almost 80% of Norwegians). Only Turkey in Europe is worse at 24%, and the Italian figure is declining – in 2008 47.2% worked. The 2007 World Economic Forum gender gap index put Italy in 84th place down from 77th in 2006.

So all in all, despite Marcegaglia and Camusso, the rest of Italy is pretty bleak for women.

Strikes and demonstrations

Italy is not just concerned with the prime minister's sex life. On Friday there were demonstrations across the country with the CGIL in particular preparing the ground for their battle with Fiat over the new contract that Fiat CEO, Sergio Marchionne signed with the other unions last year.
This is certainly not anything like a full scale revolution - both the labour movement and the centre left parties are seriously divided over what position to take - but the rising unemployment and decreasing purchasing power mean that most Italians are less well off today than they were a year ago or two years ago. But there is not a critical mass big enough to affect government policy yet.
Here was my own tuppenny ha'penny worth of comment.
It is interesting that the only real innovation and movement towards free market liberalism has come from Marchionne and not from either Tremonti or Berlusconi both of whom affect a great admiration for the Thatcher and Reagan reforms of the Eighties.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Federalism Italian style

Fiscal federalism is one of the core issues of the now wobbling Berlusconi government. Umberto Bossi, the leader of the Northern League (LN), made it the key issue in his support for Berlusconi in both the September and December votes of confidence. He also said last month that if the first of the enabling laws was not passed by 28 January, he would insist on early elections. That was a paper threat; the decrees are not going to pass today and there will not be an immediate call for early elections at least not today. But if there are elections the issue will play a huge role in the campaign.
Gianfranco Fini and his new party Futuro e Libertà and the opposition Democratic Party accept the general principle of some sort of federalism or devolution but draw the line at reducing economic support for the poorer south. Fini’s original split with Berlusconi in April last year was largely because he felt Bossi was leading the dance and Berlusconi was following. The centre left opposition also supports some of the principles of fiscal federalism but does not want to lose its electoral support in the south. The whole issue is another version of the differences between north and south, the Southern Question which has dogged Italy since unification. One commentator, Luca Ricolfi argues that the real divide in Italy is not left-right but north-south.
The problem today is that the fiscal federalism bill was passed in May 2009, but very few people even in government actually know exactly what the phrase means. More importantly, they don’t know how much it will cost and to whom. All the leaders of the Northern League have made it very clear that their support for the government is conditional on the implementation of fiscal federalism. It was listed as one of the five issues in last September’s vote of confidence but is still far from being a reality. The discussion this week is on what sort of tax and spending powers the local councils should have.
This plan does not aim to make Italy a genuinely federal state nor does it pretend to. Actually, the centre-left made Italy “federal” just before they left office in 2001 with a constitutional amendment confirmed in a referendum. It changed Chapter V of the constitution and gave more power to the 20 regions but it was never implemented. In practice, Italy is still one of the more centralised states in Europe and there has been next to no debate on what “federalism” actually means.
Put very crudely, a federal state is one where the constitution explicitly gives certain powers to central government and others to the lower or meso-levels. Some constitutions define the centre’s powers and leave the rest to the meso-level. Others do the opposite and others again are precise in their distribution. In the American case, the states have responsibility for most of the civil and criminal laws and their application and they have complete fiscal independence. Washington does not bail out an improvident Sacramento (nor does Albany bail out New York City); Massachusetts residents are painfully aware of how much they pay to keep their state going while Nevada residents are happily supported by the out of state gamblers who pay most of their taxes. Germans and Swiss too are very conscious of the different taxes and service from one canton or Land to another or from one city to another. In Italy, in contrast the responsibilities of the different levels are far from clear. The Naples rubbish crisis for the last three years has been an object lesson in buckpassing between national, regional and city governments.
Italian fiscal federalism is just that – fiscal and the legislation being discussed now is just for cities or comuni, not even the regions. Laws and law enforcement agencies will stay Italian. Some property will be transferred to regional and city governments and some already has. There are curious spats like the one between the city of Florence and the Ministry of Fine Arts over who owns Michelangelo’s David. Betta Povoledo described the serious and frivolous aspects of ownership of cultural heritage. The Mayor of Florence is adamant that it belongs to the city. The ministry argues that since it was commissioned for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, title has passed to Italy as the successor state. The Accademia is a state museum and David is the principal attraction; all income goes to the state. In another argument after last month’s snow, the Tuscan regional government wanted to fine the State Railways €1.3m for delays due to their incapability of dealing with bad weather. We can expect a lot more spats like these ones.
Spending will be proportional to taxes received which means that the north will get more and the south less. According to Il Sole 24 ore, a study published by IFEL for the national association of local authorities (ANCI) calculates that there will be a €2.5bn overall drop in income for the comuni or local government after last year’s cuts. The government calculated that a lower flat rate for tax on rent (payable to the comuni) would make up the shortfall but ANCI reckons the calculation is over-optimistic.
There are some elements of the reform which almost everyone agrees on – health services (managed by the regions) should cost the same to the regional provider throughout the country. At the moment the same service (clinical analyses, operations &c.) can be accounted for at vastly different prices in Sicily, Tuscany or Lombardy, with the price usually being more in the south.
But as the economist Mario Deaglio pointed out this week, not all local governments are actually capable of delivering the necessary services at the moment. Everyone loves the idea of federalism but the reality is very different, especially for the poorer or less efficient comuni or regions. And the French and Piedmontese centralisation is so deeply ingrained in Italian political thinking and practice that the centre always wants to keep tabs on what the periphery is doing.
The result is that even if Bossi manages to get some degree of fiscal autonomy for the north, it will be a small part of regional and local government business. And as the costs become clearer, the opposition mounts. The Northern League started its fight for fiscal autonomy in 1994; they risk having to wait another 17 year and still have little to show for the campaign. The immediate result is an even weaker government.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In the meantime… no change. Eppur si muove.

A fortnight away and once again, everything changes in Italy; and yet, and yet, when I asked a friend what had happened while I was away, he replied, depressed, “Nothing!” Actually, lots of things are happening but it is very difficult to make sense of events beyond the immediate scandals. A couple of days ago, a deputy confessed to me that he really had no idea of what was going on and how it would end. He was an opposition backbencher but I suspect that even government ministers do not have any better ideas – except they don’t admit it.
A quick summary: ten days ago the Constitutional Court finally gave its verdict on the so-called legitimate impediment law. This was a law passed a year ago which allowed the prime minister and cabinet to claim that government business prevents them from answering summonses to appear in court as defendants in criminal cases. In practice it was meant to give Berlusconi immunity because he did not have to go to court on three major corruption charges. The law is only valid for 18 months and was supposed to be an interim measure before a constitutional amendment is passed giving the prime minister a more solid shield. After twice declaring Berlusconi’s immunity laws unconstitutional, this time the Court allowed the concept of “legitimate impediment” but declared that it would be the courts themselves to decide when the impediment was legitimate and not the prime minister himself.
This was not what Berlusconi wanted and the Milanese courts trying him immediately set about summoning him to hearings. Much worse for him was the news that prosecutors in Milan were investigating him for his involvement with the Karima El Mahrough aka Ruby a then underage prostitute,. The whole business was immediately dubbed “Rubygate”. Telephone taps suggest that not only was she a frequent guest at Berlusconi’s principal residence but that there were lots of other girls involved. There were also some details of what the supposedly exotic and erotic (and not a little racist, too) “bunga-bunga” really is.
Since then, the president of the employers’ federation, Emma Marcegaglia of the Confindustria, criticised the government by explicitly saying they had done nothing to improve the Italian economy for six months; essentially they had not been governing, she said. The president of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, Angelo Bagnasco made veiled criticisms of Berlusconi when he spoke of the climate of “moral discomfort” in the country. But he also criticised the judiciary for being overzealous. It was a typical cardinal’s speech with no explicit judgement but the implication was clear enough.
And then Berlusconi called an evening talk show which was investigating Rubygate, insulted the presenter and his guests and then hung up. He refuses to defend himself in court but is happy to do so on television. But then the call was a dialogue defined as “I talk, you listen, and if I don’t like what you’re saying, I hang up”. In one sense, this was very refreshing as Berlusconi is the most unspun of politicians; this was a raw, unmediated response, the sort of outburst that drives his minders crazy and endears him to his core supporters
All this makes good copy but is there anything new? We have known publically about the prime minister’s penchant for young girls since his wife said “he frequents minors” in April 2009. And details of what that meant have been piling up since then. The Constitutional Court has already overturned two laws which gave the prime minister immunity from prosecution. Both the Catholic Church and the employers have been criticising him more or less openly for more than a year and Berlusconi has been making surprise calls to talk show hosts for years defending himself and insulting them.
In this sense, my friend was right when he said that nothing had happened while I was away. It was all more of the same. Once again, there is the sad picture of an old man watching television alone and flying off the handle when there is something he disagrees with on the tube. When he’s not alone in front of the box, the same old man needs a bevy of bimbos to tell him how young and potent he is. And his natural political allies try to nudge him back into reality.
But there has been a change nonetheless. The sheer quantity of evidence is mindboggling and there are even allegations that some of the girls were not willing at least for some of the personal services requested. If the charges are sex with underage girls and maybe rape as well, then this would be a different level. With Naomi Letizia (the first girl that we know about who called him “Papi”), it was possible to finesse the exact nature of their relationship. With Ruby, it is next to impossible.
The conclusion is that Berlusconi is no longer a man in control either of his government or of his own private life. He is a fighter, though, and the television outburst shows his mettle. He still has huge resources and is prepared to use them all to maintain his position and his power. He has threatened prosecutors and the courts that he will take to the streets with all his supporters if they continue prosecuting him, I’m sorry, persecuting him; in practice a coup d’état against the judiciary. Approval ratings for him and his party are still around the 30% mark and even the worst still puts his party first.
While the rest of the world is agog at the Italian prime minister’s antics and cannot understand why Berlusconi has not resigned, Italians worry about rising prices and reduced purchasing power and lowered wages (or none at all). One of Berlusconi’s ministers faces a vote of no confidence today and the his closest allies, the Northern League are fighting to get their fiscal federalism implementation measures through parliament (my next blog). So not everything has changed but as Gallileo said “but it does move!”. He was talking about the earth but there are times that the movement in Italian politics is as imperceptible.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Italy-Ghana. Micro international relations

Politics is not only the grand activities of leaders or the effects of big numbers – economical, electoral or social. It is also the sum total of millions of tiny events, decisions and discussions. Politics is about the distribution of power and resources, material and non-material; political science tries to analyse that tangled mess.

The Winter programme that my university, The American University of Rome runs in Ghana is one example. Since 2004 we have been using Ghana as a classroom for our own international students and for Ghanaians. They visits sites and talk to experts and opinionmakers as well as ordinary people in Accra and the villages. For a fortnight, we learn about Ghanaian history – the slave trade, an earlier globalisation which brought together Europe, Africa and the Americas. Ghana has some of the most striking monuments; British, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese castles and forts which starkly illustrate the Atlantic trade. Then the colonisation and independence where Kwame Nkrumah’s legacy is felt keenly – his daughter Samia is now a member of Parliament and she gives us a direct link with the past and an up to date picture of today’s politics.

Politics and Ghana’s democracy are the programme’s second pillar. Over the last 20 years Ghana has moved from military dictatorships and weak democracies to a well consolidated example of democracy not only for Africa but the rest of the world. There have been two peaceful changes of party with the 2008 results fought down to the wire over a handful of votes; but with no violence whatsoever. A far cry from Kenya that year or neigbouring Côte d’Ivoire today. The third element is west African international relations; developments in the Ivorian crisis will show us exactly what the international community can and cannot do.

Finally, there is economic development; Ghana aims at reaching emerging economy status by 2015. Oil started flowing a month ago and everyone is very conscious of the perils that oil wealth might bring and working on making oil a blessing and not a curse.

And on our own micro level, we are part of that development; we have been awarded a grant by the Latium Regional Government (the regions are Italy’s second level of government and Rome is in Latium). Development aid and projects can either go through multi-million dollar initiatives run by governments of UN agencies like the FAO or they can be managed by NGOs and universities like ours; it’s called “decentralised cooperation”. Here the support comes from local government, like the regions or cities for much more modest sums, tens of thousands of euros.

Our own projects are both commercial and educational “Sustaining Education; Educating for Sustainability”. Our partner in Rome is La Sapienza, Rome’s first university and our partners in Ghana are the Kokrobitey Institute where we will be contributing to “Little Steps” an initiative which teaches young women from the village to produce and market fashion items from recycled material. The second part is at the Cape Coast School for the Deaf together with the Cape Coast NGO, DASFA (Development Assistance for School Farms) where we will be working on their school farm, building on the previous fundraiser which gave the farm a poultry unit. We hope that along with the very concrete benefits which the grant will be able to produce, it will also enhance links between Ghana and Rome and Latium. Apart from fashion items where Italian and African design could produce some very creative results, “Little Steps” produces shopping bags made from recycled sacking and posters – from 1 January, Italy has banned plastic bags from the supermarkets, so there’s a new market for us.

The other piece of excellent news is that we have our Spring 2011 AUR Ghana Scholarship beneficiary: he is Darlington Kwablah Wiredu, third year Business Administration student from the University of Ghana. Congratulations Darlington. Darlington will spend two weeks with us on the January programme before coming back to Rome with us for the regular semester. Our thanks too, to the Committee: Profs. Samuel Agyei Mensah and Kodjo Gavua of the University of Ghana, Legon, Dr. Kwesi Aning, of the Kofi Annan Inter¬national Peace¬keep¬ing Training Centre, Prof. Nana Apt, Dr. Zelalem Birhanu, a physician who works on public health and with refugees, Commissioner Anna Bossman of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, Prof. Gyimah Boadi, Executive Director of the Ghana Center for Democratic Development, and of course, the director of the Kokrobitey Institute, Renée Neblett who chaired. They did all the work publicis¬ing the award and then going through the applications. Thanks to Bliss Holloway who provided the funds to get the scholarship going and who provided the links to get the programme started back in 2004.

But in order to maintain the scholarship we will need contributions from others. AUR waives full tuition and I am normally able to find a home stay or a space in AUR housing. That leaves the allowance which at the moment is set at €500 per month or €1,750 per semester, €3,500 per year.

At the same time, I would like to offer a scholarship/grant to support a student going to Ghana. After paying for the course, the flight and spending money, there is little change from €3,000 which I still reckon is a good deal, but it is still quite a lot of money. I would like to aim at two €1,000 awards to be given to students from Rome who can show a combination of need, academic excellence and good reasons for wanting to go.

I would like to aim at €6,000 for the first year and to start the ball rolling I will put in €500 myself. Those of you who are earning in the US can of course make the donation tax deductable and I would guess that something similar exists in most other countries.

How to donate

From the US (in Dollars), wire to:
Bank of America
Account: 001923458961
Routing: 026009593

From Europe (in Euros), wire to:
Banca Popolare di Sondrio
Account: 3010X51
IBAN: IT48C0569603221000003010X51

By check (in Dollars or Euros) to:
The American University of Rome

Send check to:
The American University of Rome
Via P. Roselli 4 – 00153 Rome, Italy

Or send check to:
The American
University of Rome, c/o NIAF
1860 19th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

Donors should specify what their donation is for. AUR President’s assistant, Maurizia Garzia, keeps a log of donations and issues thank you letters with tax relief notes to donors, but she needs to know what donations are for. Please can you let me know as well.

We have also established link with the Italian public broadcaster, RAI’s flagship international affairs programme Radio 3 Mondo; Anna Maria Giordano is due to be with us for the second half of our stay. This is another example of the synergies which this type of programme can develop.

Academic and policymaking research is also part of the programme. We have a project with the Real Instituto Elcano and the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Centre on transnational organized crime. We will be meeting with Dr. Kwesi Aning of the Centre to work on the project.

As well as Anna Maria Giordano’s reporting on Ghana and West Africa, I plan to write on Ghana’s successful route to democracy, transnational organised crime and oil.

• Candidates for the Fall 2011 Scholarship or those who want practical infor¬mation about applications should get in touch with Nathanael Larbi
• For enrollment or information about the 2011 and 2012 Program, get in touch with me at