Italian Politics: Of Putin, porn, and, of course, Berlusconi

Since Mussolini the Italians have been terrified of anyone acquiring absolute power, so they devise it that no one has any power at all. Forming a government is throwing up all sorts of problems from Putin, through Berlusconi, oh, and that porn star who offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein to stop the Gulf War. Welcome to Italian politics

Ilona Staller, otherwise known as Cicciolina
Tim Hedges
On 16 April 2018 10:41

It seems incredible to people in the UK, America and France that an OECD country could go six weeks without a government (we must remember Belgium went for 18 months) but even for the Italians this is dragging on.

Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic, has announced that talks between the parties trying to form a government have ground to a halt. He will have to ‘decide what to do’.

Mattarella is a kindly old gent but is coming face to face with the reality of being Italian president. There is nothing to do for most of your five year term except making speeches at funerals and waving to the crowds on Republic Day, but at election time it is a 24/7 job.

The daft electoral system, like the last three daft electoral systems, means there is almost no chance of a government. Since Mussolini the Italians have been terrified of anyone acquiring absolute power, so they devise it that no one has any power at all.

There are two big hurdles to the easiest choice of a coalition of 5-Star and the centre right. The first is they each have a big policy: minimum income / unemployment benefit for 5-Star; flat tax for the centre right. The country cannot afford both (in my view it can afford neither), and it is difficult to compromise.

In the 1970s the UK Conservatives started researching a negative income tax where you were paid to the extent you earned less than a certain amount and paid in to the extent you earned more. But it threw up anomalies which had to be smoothed with a subsidy here and there and pretty soon it was just as complicated as the existing system.

The second problem with a coalition is that the 5-Star (the largest party, whereas the centre right is the largest grouping) flatly refuses to have anything to do with Silvio Berlusconi.

One has to be sympathetic since the old rogue represents pretty well everything they came into politics to change, but it is not helping. If they exclude him, it means Salvini without Berlusconi would be the junior partner rather than the leading force.

There will be a lot of pressure on the two parties to compromise over the next month. The country is still being run by Paolo Gentiloni, who was voted out on 4th March. Incidentally, both Salvini and di Maio are greatly in favour of normalised relations with Putin, and Gentiloni had to reassure the public that Italy had no involvement in the recent Syrian airstrike ‘other than logistical’.

In the meantime parliament has started to take matters into its own hands and begun to reform what most people agree is a scandal, the cost of politics. Part of this is the inflated salaries and benefits of serving members, which 5-Star have promised to reduce, but there remain the pensions of former members.

Most often quoted is Ilona Staller, who had been a porn star under the name Cicciolina, who served one term in parliament, in 1987-91. Readers may recall she offered to sleep with Saddam Hussein in return for peace. She gets a pension of €39,000 a year. When people say the 5-star candidates are not ready for office they quote her example: ‘How hard can it be?’

My favourite, though, is Luca Boneschi, who trousered his €3,000 a month until his death in 2016. He had been an MP for just one day, in 1982.

Perhaps the parties will just carry on, although Italy has a strong sense of bella figura and would like a proper government. Perhaps they can compromise: it is to be hoped so.

President Mattarella, a quiet man who gives the impression of being mildly disgusted by the whole circus, would like to get back to his law books and his funeral orations.

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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