Ungovernable Italy II

The last time anything really changed in the socio-political sphere in Italy was when the Prodi government passed a couple of minor laws, including making it legal to get your hair cut on a Monday. Is Italy really ungovernable?

Reforms meant they can do it on Mondays!
Tim Hedges
On 28 November 2014 09:37

Regional elections in Emilia, which contains Bologna and Parma in the wealthy north, and Calabria, the rugged, crime-ridden toe of Italy, turned out a mixed blessing for Matteo Renzi. True, he won both votes, making four regions he has stolen from Berlusconi this year, but turnout was desperately low, giving rise to mutterings that enthusiasm for his youthful style is waning.

Similarly, in Parliament, he got his Jobs Act through the Lower House, no mean feat for such a controversial piece of legislation. The trade unions and the traditional left are strongly against the measures, claiming that they represent an attack on workers’ rights. There have been widespread strikes in protest and there will be a general strike on 12th December.

Renzi will easily finalise this, however, passing the few extra regulations required to get the Act in force. This is a remarkable success. The last time anything really changed in the socio-political sphere in Italy was when the Prodi government passed a couple of minor laws, including making it legal to get your hair cut on a Monday.

Since then, we have seen Berlusconi do nothing, Monti do little that was useful and Letta again do nothing. The new administration is finally on the score sheet.

However, despite this being a victory for Renzi, large swathes of his own party and of the associated left who would normally join him in a coalition abstained on the vote. He is beginning to realise that the political sums for his reforms don’t add up.

Immediately after the vote in parliament, Renzi attended an urgent meeting with President Napolitano to discuss the future. Napolitano is expected to retire on health grounds at the end of the year, more particularly at the end of Italy’s rotating European Presidency. He insists there must be a vote on a new President – a conclusive one, not the kind of stalemate which returned him unwillingly to the job last year – before his 90th birthday in June.

Renzi’s trouble here, ironically, is a split on the Right, something which would normally be good news. It comes in the form of Rafaele Fitto, a former minister of Forza Italia and former President of the Puglia region in the heel of Italy. Fitto regards himself as a big beast in the Berlusconi jungle and has been doing a bit of roaring.

He growls that Berlusconi is a sly operator (imagine!) and has been making approaches towards Matteo Salvini, the head of the Right-wing Lega Nord, which scored very highly in the recent elections. At the same time, of course, Berlusconi has made a pact with Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. ‘We are not the flock of either Matteo’ says Fitto, and claims that half of Forza Italia agree with him.

It is hard to see what the fuss is about. Anyone who thought Silvio Berlusconi was a straightforward, consistent operator has not been studying Italian politics this century. Agreed, it is a bit much even for him to be doing deals with both Right and Left at the same time, but he is a dealer and that is what dealers do.

The problems it brings for Renzi, though are enormous. His deal with Berlusconi, known as the Nazareno pact, is to the effect that Berlusconi will push through the Italicum electoral bill, and in return he will have a big say in who is the next President (Presidents can invoke the Presidential Pardon; that may possibly have gone through his mind).

But Fitto and the other Forza Italia deputies think, correctly, that as soon as Renzi has his electoral law he will call an election and win it. Their aim is to stop the electoral law in its tracks and improve their position in the polls while a weakened Renzi soldiers on until 2018.

Renzi’s position is to concede a centre-right President but ensure he is Prime Minister for two terms. A messy business, politics. With a bit of pushing from Napolitano it might sort itself out, though. Expect Berlusconi to smile warmly and make expressions with his arms to the effect ‘how could anyone mistrust a nice old gentleman like me?’

Fitto himself has a conviction in the first instance for corruption. Under the drawn out Italian system he has two further appeals before he gets to ‘phone a friend’. He might reflect that if he got to that stage it would be nice if the friend were called ‘Signor Presidente’.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

blog comments powered by Disqus

We are wholly dependent on the kindness of our readers for our continued work. We thank you in advance for any support you can offer.