November 17, 2011
Guest post by Giuseppe LENZO,
MA International Relations (Europe) awarded with Distinction – School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University (UK)
After a long ‘reign’ lasted about seventeen years (he was elected Prime Minister the first time in 1994) Berlusconi finally resigned. He took the decision to step down after the loss of majority during the approval of the state report last week, the eight of November. In fact, he obtained 308 votes out of the 316 required to hold the majority, so the bill passed through the Parliament only because the whole opposition abstained.
Now, after consultations took place in Rome directed by the Head of State, Giorgio Napolitano, a new government was formed. Mr Mario Monti, the former European commissioner and internationally recognized economist is Italy’s new Prime Minister. Last Saturday people gathered in Quirinale square (the Head of State’s residence) to greet Silvio Berlusconi’s resignation with shouts and insults, even by throwing coin, a symbolic gesture recalling how the former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi was ‘welcomed’ after the 1992 corruption scandal known as ‘Mani Pulite’ (’Clean Hands’).
Nevertheless, the sad news is that it was not public opinion or politics that led to the fall of Mr Berlusconi, but the financial markets. In fact the interest rates on Italian sovereign debt had reached unsustainable levels (around 7%) over the past few days and the spread with the German bund peaked at more than 500 points. It should not be forgotten that Greece and Portugal asked for a bailout when their public debt interests got to 7%. The EU’s third biggest economy suffers one of the world’s highest debt (120% of its GDP, in other words 1.900 billion euro) and requires rapid and bold measures to restore credibility.
These considerations played a major role in Italian politics more than any other, since there seems to be no serious alternative to run the country. Some claimed that technocracy won at the expenses of politics and democracy, since nowadays finance reigns over governments: this is not far from reality, but it is also true that Italian politicians have been unable to tackle the major economic challenge facing their country.
Since the main opposition parties (Democratic Party, Italy of Values and Third Pole) had not proved reliable to defeat the People of Freedom (PdL) in Parliament, the new government is directed by technocrats only, especially academics. Mario Monti does certainly have the credibility Italy needs to continue selling its debt shares and to implement reforms for growth. Yet, the task will not be surely easy for Mr Monti given the incapacity of many MPs to be coherent and courageous for approving unpopular measures for the interests of the country.
Hence, it is time to provide a general assessment of Silvio Berlusconi’s period in office. Although comments can be made on the grounds of partiality and personal bias, what clearly emerges from this account is the absolute failure of Mr Berlusconi’s promised liberal revolution. This happened even though for his last government (2008-2011) he won with an outright majority over the opposition, the highest surplus in Italy’s democratic history.
Italy still suffers a sluggish economy and a slow and inefficient bureaucracy; there have not been applied decisive measure for competitiveness, as many market fields remain blocked as exclusive territory of some interest groups or corporations. On contrast, the public debt dramatically increased and so did tax evasion. These are only few sources of unrest about what Berlusconi’s governments have produced.
Needless to say, the problem of conflict of interests has not been resolved. The opposition played in favour of Mr Berlusconi during his 2006-2008 office as no proposal was drafted to this respect. This is a reason strengthening the view of those who believe that regardless of the preeminent figure of Mr Monti, Italy presents structural and cultural problems which will still last for some time.
In fact, as Gerhard Mumelter recently wrote on the Austrian newspaper “The Standard”, in the Italian Parliament MPs changing side or party or coalition (called ‘voltagabbana’ in Italian) mushroomed in this term of office. They have been 163 in the 2008-2011 government. The situations worsened after some accused Berlusconi for purchasing opposition’s MPs for winning the October 2010 crucial confidence vote and keeping majority.
The government of Italy’s now former Prime Ministers has indeed deteriorated these sources of trouble, since it was propagated an overlap/confusion between private and public interests, sexism and institutional chauvinism. For instance, some wonder why some showgirls rather than leading professionals were promoted to MPs with apparently no proven skills to undertake such crucial job.
Moreover, scandals over sex with underage prostitutes, trials for bribery and inefficiency to solve Naples’ rubbish disaster and reconstruct L’Aquila after the 2008 earthquake worsened the scenario and affected the government’s destiny. It was a triumph of propaganda – he had stated, for example: “We’ll clean Naples totally in three days” – over politics.
In conclusion, it does seem apparent that Italian leaders have not been capable of implementing audacious actions to generating growth and calming down financial markets and the European Union. Nonetheless another Italy may soon emerge as new force working for a better future. Among the other things, recently Michele Santoro, a journalist formerly working for the State-owned TV broadcasting company RAI and then sacked for not being accommodating with power, defied this decision and founded a new multi-platform programme broadcasting through internet, satellite and small local televisions, and most surprisingly is the fact that this operation has been funded by more than 100.000 Italians.
This experiment constitutes a very important novelty for Italy’s freedom of speech and breaches the de facto duopoly directed by RAI and Mediaset (Mr Berlusconi’s company). Hence, although Monti’s government will likely face hard times, a closer look suggests that post-Berlusconi’s era will disclose some hope and vitality for Italy. And, after Berlusconi’s reign, this is not hard to imagine.