Comic opera as Brussels comes to Rome

The EU farce in Rome was widely trumpeted. Italy has contributed more than its fair share to European culture, but no one reminded us that Michelangelo and Puccini did their bit without the help of an unelected supranational body in Belgium. Meanwhile, the euro continues to strangle the Italian economy and Britain heads out the door

Italy's pre-EU glory
Tim Hedges
On 28 March 2017 10:43

The comic opera which is Italian politics continues into its umpteenth act. The story so far: Italy’s constitutional referendum was held on 4th December last year, to decide on the future of the upper house.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s proposals were roundly rejected by the electorate and he resigned. His successor Paolo Gentiloni has been in office now for 100 days; he is the fourth successive Prime Minister not to have been elected as such.

After losing office, Renzi managed to hold on as leader of the Democratic Party. His plan was to engineer a general election this spring, a year earlier than constitutionally required, his successor Gentiloni graciously making way for the younger man.

But the plan has gone awry, as plans are wont to do in this land of constant political upheaval. The first to let him down was..cue horrified chorus..his father.

Tiziano Renzi, Matteo’s dad, was a small time Florentine politician. Along with another Renzi ally, he is being investigated in a grubby little affair concerning government procurement contracts.

It is the sort of thing which tends to go away in Italy, with its slow lawyers and forgiving Statute of Limitations. But the timing has been unfortunate for Renzi junior.

Next came a more serious, if more anticipated problem (more caterwauling from the wings). The old left of the Democratic Party, sensing that Renzi was on manoeuvres, started a formal breakaway, with a new political grouping. This would of course ally itself with the main body in parliament but would be there as a threat in case Renzi tried any more of this reform stuff.

It was enough for Renzi and enough for the voters. As the split in the Democrats became more apparent, so its support slid. Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star Movement is now the most popular party, with an estimated 32 percent of the vote against the Democrats’ 27 percent. There will be no early election.

So much for the principal cast of villains; now a change of scene, a flurry of allegro. Rome was hosting a party. Not a party for the people, you understand, whose only involvement is to pick up the bill at the end of it. This was a party for the great and good to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Rome in 1957. Chorus: a joyous drinking song.

Large parts of the city were closed off in case anyone took a pop at one of these grandees with their chauffeurs and golden pensions and inexhaustible appetite for lunch. Rome is perversely delighted to have played a major part in this sick, expensive exercise, and while the city’s ornate halls rang to the chinking of crystal glasses, the airwaves were heavy with portentous speeches reminding us that this is Important.

The names were recited like a roll of Old Testament prophets: Schumann, Monet, Spinelli; the glories enunciated in rolling verbiage: European culture, European decency, European economic success.

Italy has contributed more than its fair share to European culture, but no one reminded the listeners that Michelangelo and Puccini did their bit without the help of an unelected supranational body in Belgium.

Nor less did anyone point out that the country which gave us Shakespeare and the Beatles has had enough and is leaving.

For Rome, these celebrations were a matter of great pride, of bella figura. There was no mention that the EU did not in fact exist until 1992; nor did anyone say that its economic policy, designed mainly for Germany, will have left a whole generation of Italians with no experience of work.

The euro, 30 percent overvalued for Italy, has left youth unemployment here at two in five.

The European political and economic edifice, under its various names, was good to Italy at the start, where the northern economic motor was set to work by financial handouts from the rest. Since enlargement Italy has become a net contributor but still, for the most part, does not feel like a wealthy country. People increasingly suspect that the euro will stop it becoming one.

The problem is that the Italian opera house was being invited to boo its minor cast of villains, Renzi, Grillo and Berlusconi, but to offer rousing nostalgic applause to the cast of undemocratic incompetents which led it on and let it down.

At their lunches they were talking about their new idea, a uniform European Social Policy. God help us all.

The audience may be disgruntled, but the opera continues. And it’s not getting any better.

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

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