Why this title? Because recent Italian news intertwined with the past, present, and future of the Balkans.
At the end, a short story to summarize the article.
Click on the link if your prefer- but before or after, read the article- it will give you the background information behind the story, including links to relevant articles from the Italian and International press.
And I am not referring to Ancient Rome- in the 1990s, I met Yugoslavs (nowadays Slovenians) who were working in Gorizia (just across the border from Nova Gorica), and thereafter some Italian companies, in a not-so-proud page in Italian business history, set up some “maquilladora” operations in Albania.
But Italian companies were present also with other activities, as shown by the recent announcement by the FIAT CEO that a new car model will be produced in Serbia.
If you read the news item linked above, and compare it with how this was reported on Italian newspapers, you will see a completely different perspective.
Where do most of my fellow Italian get the news? Mainly from TV, as newspapers’ audience is not as wide as it seems.
And this generates a curious side-effect: as the newspapers write for what is really a limited audience, reporting news is close to making news, aiming for their real stakeholders, and newspapers write often about articles written on other newspapers.
Also because newspapers are used as a kind of “virtual soapbox” to communicate across the political spectrum, by giving interviews that are more a message than a statement, and then seeing interviews, not directly quoting the original one, appear on another newspaper- but building a dialogue- call it “dialectical fencing”.
But this is well known: I remember a US documentary, explaining newspapers’ ownership in Italy, stating something on the line of “imagine if IBM were the owner of the New York Times, General Motors of the Washington Post”.
An interesting Italian habit is the “disavowing” of interviews: when somebody states that his/her interview has been misquoted, you never know if (s)he is saying the truth, or just playing the usual game.
Until 10 or 20 years ago, this would have sound unusual in any other country- but nowadays this is the not-so-exacting publication model adopted on the Internet.
The nasty side-effect: also if you are an Italian, you have to follow multiple newspapers to try to understand what is really going on- and, beside being few, readers are usually quite loyal.
Under these constraints, what you risk getting is tunnel vision, and the confusion between reporting and editorial content increases the chance of producing this consequence.
So, why this is relevant? Because it is next to impossible to summarize what is going on in Italy into the typical few lines- and foreign newspapers usually go for the easiest target: one-liner announces, items that fit the stereotype of “emotional and unreliable” Italians, and so on.
But this is our collective national fault, as our visible presence abroad ranges from pizza to the mafia, to the football fans and singers.
Our industrial and research base is often better know by selected few abroad, with almost no active marketing initiatives.
When you talk with small companies in Italy, often you discover that they are exporting and working in other countries.
Discover: because as soon as they start working abroad, they suffer from the typical stereotypes projected by the foreign media.
And, instead of developing their own presence, they work through distributors, agents, etc- as if they were unable to be directly visible on other markets.
As an example: Martin Scorsese used the movie restoration services of an Italian entity in Bologna.
And were do you read about it? On El Pais.
Also in discussions with Italian startups and SMEs working abroad in various industries, quite often the common complaint was: we are invisible abroad, as we do not get anything even minimally comparable with the support received by their government from, for example, English or American companies.
Admittedly, Italy managed to spend millions of Euro on building an Internet portal for the country- across two governments, and finally pulling the plug.
And it works the other way around: anything coming from abroad is considered “more advanced”, and adopted without any consideration for the obvious market and cultural differences.
Actually- we Italians have a word to describe this peculiar attitude: “provincialismo”, i.e. being focused only on what is going on in your own county, and assuming that anything coming from abroad is better.
Provincialismo and the Roman empire
If you are a non-Italian living in Italy, eventually somebody will come up with the usual “we had an empire”, meaning the Roman empire.
I worked since the late 1980s on decision support and then change management: and understanding the “corporate folklore” (i.e. both the formal and informal culture) of your customer is required, if you want to introduce a change that stays on also after you complete your project.
If you compare the cultural attitude of current Italian citizens, politicians, companies, and the Roman empire… you understand that, with few exceptions, short-termism is the local attitude- not really what empires are made of.
In Italy, at least since I entered the work market in mid-1980s, I constantly saw “strategic” announces… on a yearly basis- and both in the private and government/political sectors.
Overlapping strategies- that, in the end, had to be converted into reality by the same people- whose way to keep their sanity was to turn a deaf ear, and wait for something to happen and produce a new “strategy”.
My joke with foreign friends is: in Italy, a new law is respected only after few years… if it has not been superseded by another law.
We had a “non smoking” law since mid-1970s: but it was only in 2005, when the shop owners started being fined if their customers smoke on their premises, that the law started being respected.
I selected three threads because, beside helping to understand something more about Italy, they could also illustrate as the evolution of Italy is not just an internal Italian issue- because it could impact on the evolution of a sizeable chunk of present and future European Union.
Thread 1: Future politics The increasing nervousness of the industrialists’ association about the random strategizing of both main political blocks, that has lasted at least since the early 1990s
Thread 2: Balkan development The ICJ pronouncement on Kosovo and its immediate (e.g. FIAT announcement on the Serbian production facility) and potential future developments
Thread 3: Rebuilding legality The constant streams of announces about the “final victory” against organized crime in Italy (actually- this impacts on both EU and other regions, e.g. Southern America and Australia), and the renewal for a further 6 months of the Italian army patrols in Italy.
Somebody would say: what are your qualifications to write about these subjects?
Designing and implementing a change requires not just analysing where you are, where you want to be, and the transition path- but also assess how much all the stakeholders involved understand where they really are.
The key concept is: seeding action through the analysis of information.
As for the specific knowledge required: you can always find individual or organizational industry experts- or, increasingly, find information in a structured form online.
To make it simple: I will report on the three threads and potential developments, and then add a short story set in 2015 about a potential scenario (no, not the one I would like to see: but reality is not necessarily complying with our desires).
Thread 1: Future politics The increasing nervousness of the industrialists’ association about the random strategizing of both main political blocks, that has lasted at least since the early 1990s.
If you ask Italians, and most people who know anything about recent Italian history, they will tell you that since WWII Italy had a kind of musical chair system- for over 40 years.
But, as Henry Kissinger wrote, most of the people in government were the same- just swapping chairs.
Corruption had been so pervasive, that I remember reading on trade magazines for the information technology industry a discussion about the percentage of the value of each contract in a certain state-owned infrastructural company that went in bribes, to get a signature at every level.
In the early 1990s, the “Clean hands” investigation produced some immediate results- e.g. a reduction in the cost-per-mile of the new Underground line in Milan (i.e. a less-pervasive corruption).
The founding of the “Second Republic” (the first having started after WWII, with a referendum offering the choice between keeping the monarchy or becoming a republic) included accelerating the shift from a proportional electoral system to a first-past-the-post, bipolar system.
After the initial hopes, Italy went through a constant political instability, with political parties and alliances sometimes lasting barely more than the time needed to hold an election, and alternating between a centre-right and a centre-left coalition (with some migrations between the two).
Corruption and tax evasion are still endemic: the last time that the Italian government allowed to re-import money that had been exported illegally, in exchange of a nominal tax and de facto “no questions asked”, the amount received fairly exceeded the expectations.
Beside Mr.Berlusconi, other industrialists are currently rumoured to be thinking about running for office- including to lead an alternative coalition.
To compound the issue, since the 1990s a political party that was subsidized to “defuse” some local racist parties with a more “soft” approach became a mainstay of the political arena, but represented almost exclusively in the North.
The name? Northern League. The political position? Well, beside “North first” and few slogans, if you study the political background of its leaders and elected representatives you can find people coming from the left as well as the centre or the right. Not really that much to go along.
Therefore, the Northern League pushed for something uniting its electoral base, coming to the point of declaring the “Repubblica Padana”, a kind of rump-state composed of regions of the North (roughly: from the border with France to the border with Austria, and going down to the Po valley or slightly below- depends who you ask to).
Meanwhile, it obtained a change in the structure of the country, devolving power to the regions, including limited direct local taxation, local Presidents directly elected by the citizens, and local mini-parliaments (the Regional Councils).
The Northern League in recent elections won the leading positions in most Northern Italian regions (see a short what-if story that I posted on April 25th).
What few outside Italy know is that the Northern League has its own “military arm”, the “Camice Verdi” (Green Shirts), repeatedly active in vigilante activities, often with racist overtones.
Why this is relevant? Because a political party that in some areas has over 20% of the vote, and controls the local levers of power, is also since early 1990s the official or unofficial partner of whoever is at the helm of the government in the imperfect Italian bipolar system.
At the same time, with all the politicking and chair-swapping, the country did not have a real economic development policy, and entering into the Euro with unfavourable terms negatively affected the main engine of the Italian economy- exports.
The crisis was so deep, that few years ago I read on local newspapers that the police in my own home town had to bring to the police station somebody who they had arrested… by bus.
And you can read on Facebook that citizens reported donating A4-paper to the local police station.
As for the labour market, the trade union shrinking membership base resulted in a weakened negotiating position, to the point were some industrialists started worrying about the morale and motivation of their employees, affecting consumption and long-term investment.
The banking sector weathered the current crisis better than others- simply because it has been historically under a stricter supervision, and Italian banks were reported to be 30% overstaffed in official statistics few years ago- two elements that reduced the incentive to assume more risks.
If you read Italian newspapers, the top news item is the usual discussion about yet another corruption-and-conspiracy scheme, called P3 (P2, or “Propaganda 2” was a prior one, disclosed in 1990s).
The constant state of crisis and lack of a sound economic policy (see this interview with a leading investigative journalist) is certainly not in the best interest of anybody involved in an economic activity.
How do you express your frustration in Italy? If you have the economic means- you run for office.
Recently, there have been discussions to bring about a reconciliation between the two main political blocks in Italy, shifting from being for or against Mr. Berlusconi, to building a future for the country.
Maybe also due to the recent announce that France and Germany pushed to add some “weight” to the usual requests for improved fiscal responsibility.
Thread 2: Balkan development The ICJ pronouncement on Kosovo and its immediate (e.g. FIAT announcement on the Serbian production facility) and potential future developments
While in other countries the decision (formally just an advisory opinion, i.e. non-binding) from the ICJ was still being discussed on newspapers, in Italy another item was on the front page: the FIAT car group announced that a new minivan/SUV will be produced in Serbia- and not in Italy.
The ICJ decision was immediately criticized by Serbia, but, at the same time, all the former components of Yugoslavia are on the path toward membership of the EU.
The decision is worth reading: the original question was “Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?”
The court decided to refocus the question, and added that, in previous cases, “the illegality attached to the declarations of independence thus stemmed not from the unilateral character of these declarations as such, but from the fact that they were, or would have been, connected with the unlawful use of force or other egregious violations of norms of general international law” (pag. 31).
And this implies that “For the reasons already given, the Court considers that general international law contains no applicable prohibition of declarations of independence. Accordingly, it concludes that the declaration of independence of 17 February 2008 did not violate general international law.” (pag. 32).
But then, the ICJ introduced a line of reasoning with potentially more interesting and wide-ranging consequences: “The Court thus arrives at the conclusion that, taking all factors together, the authors of the declaration of independence of 17 February 2008 did not act as one of the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government within the Constitutional Framework, but rather as persons who acted together in their capacity as representatives of the people of Kosovo outside the framework of the interim administration.” (pag. 39).
In plain English: it was adopted by the Assembly of Kosovo, but was not produced by it (as this would have been “outside the powers of the Assembly of Kosovo”, pag. 39).
Immediately after the decision was announced, there were press releases from other institutions and governments stating that the decision is unique- and applies only to Kosovo.
Actually, if you read the document, you will see that most of the decision is set on the interpretation of precedents, and balances between the right to self-determination and territorial integrity.
How many countries you know that, over the last few years, gave some degree of autonomy to stamp out secessionist temptations?
If the litmus test to consider a declaration non-illegal is that is non-violent, produced by a third party, and then adopted by a local parliament democratically elected… Italy already had the declaration of “Repubblica Padana”, done outside the institutions.
What if the local mini-parliaments of the regions headed by a member of the Northern League were to adopt the resolution?
The only redeeming factor: in European Union we have already two members who used to be a united country- the Czech and the Slovakian republics.
Somebody could joke and say: if you are a small country, before joining the EU, split- this way, you will multiply the number of positions at the EU table…
Moving from the political to economic side, keeping together the Balkans could pass through business.
If you think that the choice by FIAT of Serbia is puzzling, as the country has less than 7.5 million inhabitants, think again.
Historically, FIAT has been working not just with Poland, but also with Russia (see Togliattigrad) and other countries: FIAT has operations in Turkey, Poland, Italy, including a large production facility at Melfi, in Italy, nearby the Adriatic sea (not too far from Bari, a coastal town).
I remember when I was 14, spending time in the Biblioteca Universitaria (I could not borrow books, as I wasn’t a University student and you needed to be 18), applying the usual method: serendipity.
One of the books that I searched after finding a reference in a book on ancient Roman roads was the “Itinerarium Provinciarum Antonini Augusti” (I think that their copy was published in 1519 in Venice), a description of all the Roman roads.
When I read about the expansion plans in Serbia, I remembered a map I had read, and started researching online: interesting to look how the Roman roads could actually be a blueprint for further integration, from Turkey via former Yugoslavia, up to Italy.
Specifically, the Via Egnatia used to run from Turkey to Albania (Dyrrachium, the modern Durres/Durazzo), while the Via
Militaris from Turkey goes to Serbia and up to Bulgaria, and other roads went up through the Adriatic, to the Postumia (Slovenia).
Why Serbia? Well, if you are to expand production, you look for the best option- and Yugoslavia had an industrial base and research&development, while most of the infrastructure has been damaged by the post-Yugoslavia wars.
And, considering that Serbia has also mining facilities, while the costs in Poland increased after the EU membership, it makes sense to use Serbia, as this would allow to have a foothold in the new infrastructural projects in the region, maybe also using Durres as a shipping port- a short ride from Bari/Melfi (certainly shorter than going up to Slovenia, and then on to another one of the Italian plants).
Anyway, this would fit also the announced (April 2010) increases in production efficiency in Turkey and Serbia at FIAT.
Yugoslavia had an atomic program, and this requires an advanced industrial infrastructure, whose human component, also if you remove the “bomb” material (reportedly over 800 kg of weapons-grade material was removed by Russians and Americans in the early 2000s), can still be instrumental in peaceful advanced research.
Add to this the SEElight project, a fibre optic network connecting hundreds of universities and research centres across the Balkans.
And you can see that, beside the obvious development (tourism), expanding car production, along with the required infrastructure, could de facto improve the long-term integration from the Bosphorus to Postumia.
A nice investment and near-shoring opportunity.
But it would require massive capitals- and, with the current economic crisis, Italy, despite being the obvious candidate, lacks the financial resources to benefit from the opportunity. Really?
Read the next thread- and, then, think again.
Thread 3: Rebuilding legality The constant stream of announces about the “final victory” against organized crime in Italy (actually- this impacts on both EU and other regions, e.g. Southern America and Australia), and the renewal for a further 6 months of the Italian army patrols in Italy
If you are over 40 year old, and have been in Italy in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, you certainly remember seeing soldiers in town.
My foreign friends were shocked, but it used to be a common sight- at the time, it was due to terrorism, but the Army has been sent also to Sicily and other areas, allowing the police to do something better than manning street corners.
It was recently announced that the military presence in towns has been extended until the end of the year.
The difference between now and then?
The current Italian Army is not anymore a conscription army, and they are increasingly used to patrolling urban centers in combat zones, after Iraq and Afganistan.
You could think that using the Army for organized crime is an overkill- but, in Italy, the criminal organizations more than once went the Colombian way, with bombings and assaults as part of their “negotiating strategy”- i.e. working on a political agenda.
In the 1970s, organized crime, notably the mafia (Sicily), ‘ndrangheta (Calabria), camorra (Naples), was said to be just a local issue- or an invention of the Communist Party to attract voters.
It was only later than organized crime was (again, after an initial attempt in the 1920s/1930s) considered a serious threat to the institutional stability of the country.
Reading the Italian history of the XX century is like reading a B-movie script: too many overlapping conspiracy theories- and I will not even consider trying to make sense of it all.
But it is relevant to any discussion about the institutional impact of organized crime (if you are curious, read a short book from an English journalist living in Italy: “The Dark Heart of Italy”).
It is not just the endemic corruption, that extends from large contracts (commonplace worldwide) to almost any kind of authorization or document you can think about.
I heard an attempt to extract a bribe to allow an immigrant to be joined by his wife- interesting to see how this is said without saying it- so that also any witness would be worthless, allowing, if caught, to say that you have been offered a bribe, and never asked one.
I have been working since the late 1980s with multinational companies- and I am used to work on data.
Do you like pizza? Read this article about the Pasta connection: 20% of the restaurants in Rome and Milan are reported to belong to organized crime, more than 5000 restaurants for over 1 bln EUR/year.
It is not just the restaurants: it involves all the logistics linked to provisioning the restaurants, and other cash-based activities.
Long ago an Italian newspaper published a map of the various organized crime “families” active in my home town, Turin (North-West Italy)- and none were local.
In the 1920s/1930s, Italy had a system called “confino”, compulsory residence, that lasted almost until the end of the XX century, allowing to scatter around the country, and away from their supposed power base, convicted criminals.
Ironically, this allowed the spreading across the country of the criminal organizations, as eventually being free allowed them to become part of the local community.
Also because the industrial development in the North was at first based on internal migration, mainly from the South, the same areas where most of those under the “confino” conditions were originally coming from.
And when you migrate entire villages, you don’t migrate just the workers, but also their social system.
It is the typical conundrum of any war of attrition, moreover one where the counterparts had seemingly unlimited funds- buying entire territories in far flung countries to develop hotels, resorts, and so on, as the ‘ndrangheta is reported to have been doing.
The longer the war lasts, the less the cohesion is kept within the military and police forces, while the counterparts become more and more entrenched in the territory.
And, of course, the longer it lasts, the more chances for corruption to become widespread.
Since “Clean hands”, Italians got used to public announces of “victory on organized crime”, with highly visible arrests- and then a continuation of the old activities.
The terrorist bombings on Florence few years ago were said to be part of a “strategy” from the mafia to force a negotiation with the state.
The current waves of arrests look like prior attempts at solving the issue.
This time, the target is the richest and most pervasive one- the Calabrian mafia, called ‘ndrangheta.
The numbers are staggering, as they had been in the early 1990, when an emissary of the ‘ndrangheta had been reported on foreign newspapers to have over 2000 billion Liras (1 billion Euros, with inflation it is about 1.6 billion) to invest in DDR companies in the Treuhandstalt that nobody wanted to buy.
1 billion Euros- cash.
The new numbers? Each wave of arrests over the last few weeks was coupled with hundreds of millions of Euros of seized assets.
If you consider just the cash that they had to invest in Germany, the reported acquisition of state-sized patches of land in Southern America, and that they supposedly took over the drug traffic, the amounts currently reported seem almost like “pocket money”.
In Italy, everybody was focused on the Sicilian mafia insertion into the planned construction of the bridge between Sicily and Calabria.
But the re-development of Yugoslavia could create a much more complex situation- and potentially far more dangerous.
The ‘ndrangheta is reported (unfortunately, all the material is available only in Italian; e.g. see the book and documentary “La santa”) to be developing tourism activities in Southern America, and of being involved in the Gioia Tauro harbour complex in Calabria, while also managing drug trafficking worldwide.
The perception of the current arrests? Well, it started with a first announce, that was also front-page news worldwide, about the dismantling of the ‘ndrangheta, by arresting its boss and others, while seizing few hundred of millions of Euros in assets.
Few days later, more arrests. But, again, still relatively small amounts.
From the face of it- it seems the usual arrest of low-level “soldiers”, more to “retire” the fighting part, than to solve the issue.
The current discussions about yet another corruption conspiracy is intertwined with ideas on how to really win the war.
One of the enterprises that the ‘ndrangheta was looking for in former DDR was a chain of shops.
Why? Because, by entering the market with no need to make a profit, working at a loss will allow to push outside the market competitors, and then take over their activities, and shift from criminal to legitimate activities.
And all this at a loss that was reported at the time to be less than the cost to “wash the cash” through the usual channels.
If you want: the influx of undocumented cash into legal activities would allow to distort the market.
Just imagine what would happen if Yugoslavia were allowed to become as Albania was long ago, when cigarettes “smuggling” became simply ludicrous.
With large quantities of cigarettes shipped to Albania for “local consumption”, but actually re-routed to Italy and other locations.
I still remember when the Italian smugglers in Naples protested, asking to be… hired by the Italian State, as they had been put out of business by the increased police controls.
If the current waves of arrests are a preparation for a kind of “cease fire”, or “legalization” of the ‘ndrangheta, increased and enforced transparency on financial flow to and from Italy would be the only way to avoid a Colombian solution, in Italy or in neighbouring countries, as the one that was so eloquently described in the book “Killing Pablo”.
Italy had already its own fair share of bosses behind bars who used the prison system as a retirement home, while keeping to do business as usual.
And you cannot keep a democracy forever in a state of emergency, with troops patrolling streets, and limitations on civil rights justified by the need to “defeat an elusive enemy”.
The alternatives proposed to an outright, decisive win?
A business-as-usual, eternal fight, that would just spread more corruption.
Or what was proposed few years ago, by the former P2 head: to de-facto give up control to part of the territory, in exchange for an end to the violence and the illegal activities in other areas of the country.
Sovereignty does not mean just flying the flag: it implies that the rule of law is applied across the territory.
And creating a “free zone” would just create a trouble not only for Italy, but for all of Europe, building what could be described as a narco state in the middle of the Mediterranean sea.
Organized crime thrives on the lack of transparency that is commonplace in Italy- as this allows to constantly create an osmotic exchange between legal and illegal activities, as shown by the number of businesses belonging to organized crime.
Is there a chance of an outright, definitive defeat in a short time? I am quite skeptical. It is too entrenched.
Just imagine managing the assets: the prior attempt, on a much lesser scale, with properties requisitioned from other criminal organizations entrenched in their own territory, did not produce the desired effects.
In this case, we are talking potentially about multi-billion amounts.
The only realistic short- to medium-term solution? Remove the violence and illegality, add transparency, and do what has been done in other countries to go past a civil war- reintegrate into society.
Transparency is the key issue: and it goes hand-in-hand with reducing the number of opportunities for corruption.
Such as the number of meaningless permits that require the intervention of somebody applying a discretionary stamp or signature, as if we were still in the XIX century.
“Transparency” does not imply the obsessive snooping that converted a security activity, done by the main Italian telecom company, into a supermarket selling to the highest bidder copies of conversations, messages and so on (over 100.000 dossiers).
If you consider all the initiatives on e-government, integration and exchange of information between EU countries, as well as the new organizational structures that are being created at the EU level (e.g. the new EMF, that will follow the joint EU+IMF missions to Greece and other EU members), probably there has never been a better time to force the introduction of transparency.
As well as to avoid, on a larger scale and with more long-term impacts, some issues that happened with the last enlargement.
And now, a short story set in 2015.
Why 2015? Well, because I already posted a story about 2015, and I needed to leave few years between now and when the story is set.
To make it simple, the story is written as a fake article from 2015. If you know Italian history, my judgement on the scenario represented by the story is written at the beginning.
5th Anniversary of the New Coalition
September 8, 2015 – Rome (European News Network) – A joint session of the Italian Parliament will celebrate this morning the 5th anniversary of the “New Coalition” government.
It is expected that the event will be attended by representatives of the EU, as Italy over the last five years moved from being a constant puzzle, to having a new “miracolo economico”, founded on what they call “Transparent Society” (in English).
There is still some skepticism about reintegrating into society former members of criminal organizations, but over the last three years each inspection of the European Monetary Fund (EMF) confirmed that all the criminal financial activities have ceased.
The most expected decisions is the withdrawal of the Italian Army, that has been patrolling towns since the last decade, as the civilian police forces managed to re-assert control over all the territory.
Yet another sign that Italy is on the path of becoming “un paese normale” (an ordinary country).
The establishment of the national unity government was preceded by yet another announce of a “final win” again organized crime, in early 2010, coupled with the release of information about the real economic power of organized crime, and further arrests.
It all started with a reconciliation between the main political parties, inspired by the Italian President’s request to jointly solve few issues, from economic development to organized crime.
Tackling with organized crime was converted from a security issue to a social and economic development one, as the number of people arrested and the amounts involved in the initial waves of arrests were just the tip of the iceberg.
Beside the increasing number of new prison inmates, the real problem was: what to do with all the businesses and the investments? And all the communities that had become dependent on them?
Eventually, claiming humanitarian concerns after repeated suicides in Italian jails in 2010, the prison system was changed to introduce more humane conditions, adopting reforms introduced in Northern Europe.
All the inmates convicted of organized crime-related activities were moved back to territory of origin, to further their re-integration into society.
Only those convicted of the most heinous crimes were excluded by the de-facto gradual amnesty, called “programma di reinserimento” (re-integration programme).
One of the first decisions of the new national unity government was to transfer the ownership of all the properties seized from organized crime to a new government branch, mimicking the German Treuhandstalt, with a temporary mission, called the “Ente per la Conversione delle Attivita’ Criminali” (ECAC; Organization for the Conversion of Criminal Activities).
Businesses whose real ownership was declared had only to get the ECAC on as a minority shareholder, in order to be subject to the same level of transparency applied to the management of seized assets.
And this included not only activities belonging to criminals- tax dodging and hiding ownership was a national sport for small businesses and shops.
In a trend-setting experiment, all the accounting information from each of the seized or disclosed businesses was published online, allowing citizens and other businesses to ensure transparency and avoid assets misuse or diversion.
This was coupled in 2011 with a last repeat of the usual Italian “condono”, a kind of financial amnesty for funds that were held abroad, in exchange for a nominal tax.
When it had been first applied, it was almost embarrassing, as the amounts received in the state coffers fairly exceeded the expectations.
For this last run, the amounts were in the billions (again, an underestimation), and anybody applying for this “condono” was required to submit to enforced transparency of any use of the amounts declared.
Through gradual extensions of the scope of the law, this transparency was extended to any business across the country, with the added benefit of streamlining the accounting requirements of all the companies involved.
At the same time, the presence of communities of migrants from the former Yugoslav countries allowed first companies such as FIAT, then infrastructure companies to benefit from the increased cooperation between those states and the EU.
The profits from the ECAC have been used to both support new activities in Italy, and to jointly finance with private and international investors new activities across the Mediterranean, including in the Balkans.
Italians, never too far away from claiming the Moon (beside, as usual, the Americas and China via their sailors and traders), this time are stating that they want to be a bridge between the Northern African countries, the Balkans, and Northern Europe.
It is still a work-in-progress, but Italy adopted few further measures also to reassure its EU partners, as they were worrying about the potential destabilizing effect of the formerly criminal funds.
These measures included voluntarily extending to any public contract, or private contract for companies working also in other countries, the disclosure and publication requirements previously reserved only to larger contracts.
For the time being, the general consensus is that, in barely five years, the country managed to jump forward into the XXI century, and become a “transparent society”.