Redde rationem – #reforming #Italy

Yes, accounting time 🙂 (see

Today, a Sunday post on Italian political and social reforms.

Why? Because, as I wrote often when sharing commentary or ideas about Italy, in my birth country a week is worth as many twists and turns as few years in other countries.

European Union reforms sometimes remind me the way (the only way) in which reforms are really feasible in Italy, by leaps and bounds: nothing happens for a while, and then suddenly there is more a blizzard than a flurry of changes.

The reason is exactly the same: there are so many overlapping interests and games, that only an external crisis can push us to accept a solution that would be considered logical elsewhere.

Unfortunately, most reforms deriving from such short-tempered hyperactivity in Italy do not go the “Lisbon Treaty” way, being gradually enforced.

In Italy, way too often since the late 1970s (when I started being politically active- also without necessarily being linked or associated with any political party) we had grand-standing about reforms, just to be followed by… more reforms while we didn’t even tried to make the previous one working.

Not because they did not make sense anymore- as it would be reasonable to alter the means to implement a strategy, if those that were relevant in a different time under different circumstances cease to be so.

But just to make the mark of a transition to a new leadership.

Luckily, since (now former) President Napolitano was elected President of the Italian Republic, beside the obvious differences in choices between governments supported by different political coalitions, we had a continuity in reforms.

Which doesn’t necessarily imply that I support all of them- as I disagree with some (and my long-term readers know e.g. my differences with half a dozen governments on some privatizations, or some electoral and constitutional reforms), but I think that you can agree to disagree: just vote for somebody else the next time.

Still, having at the helm somebody issuing a constant reminder of the difference between politics (medium- to long-term) and politicking (short-term) was quite useful over the last 9 years (incidentally: when I decided to go into self-exile in Belgium, after considering for a couple of years to return to Italy, and to that end working both in the private and public sector, including start-ups, to better understand my birth country).

Few days ago, along with my previous post (#Leadership and #floating – lessons from the #presidential #elections in #Italy, I shared a link to an interview with an American political analyst, Mr. La Palombara (I should say an “Italianist”, on the same line as a “Cremlinologist”- i.e. a political “tea leaves reader”), published by the main newspaper of my birthplace (Turin), “La Stampa”:

The concept: after President Napolitano, in the USA three candidates were considered the best options available between those rumored, Amato, Mattarella, and Padoan.

You know my preference for the first- but, in the current political climate, neither somebody considered “technical” (Mr. Padoan) nor somebody associated with past politics (Mr. Amato) and foreign institutions (both Mr. Amato and Mr. Padoan) would have been politically “digestible” for the Italian people- moreover, the personal history of President-elect Mattarella resonates with the Italian people.

Moreover, in common with former President Napolitano is that he had been at odds with the political party he has been associated with at the beginning (respectively, the Italian Communist Party and the Christian Democratic Party)- a kind of insider/outsider.

President-elect Mattarella has strong anti-mafia credentials (including through tragic family events) as well as deep knowledge (university professor) and experience (former Member of the Parliament, former Minister of Defense, member of the Italian equivalent of the US Supreme Court) of Italian bureacracy, institutions, and laws.

In a country where over 10% of the GDP is acknowledged to be under the influence or even outright control of cash-rich organized crime during the longest-running recession in over a century, the soon-to-be kick-starting of the economy is at a dire risk of expanding that influence.

Therefore, having both as President of the Republic (highest office in Italy role in Italy) and President of the Senate (second highest) into the hands of two Sicilians with impeccable anti-mafia credentials is a tremendous opportunity for a massive “smoke ’em out”- with a chance that they will inspire others.

Moreover, a small detail: President of the Republic Mattarella, President of the Senate Grasso (former national anti-mafia prosecutor), the Mayor of Palermo (Sicily’s main town) are linked by the day when the brother of President Mattarella was killed by a terrorist attack from the mafia, in Sicily (Mayor Orlando was legislative assistant of President of the Region of Sicily Piersanti Mattarella, President Grasso was the magistrate on duty that day).

Thirty five years later (at the time organized crime was still considered almost a side-show and a minor, localized nuisance), it could be feasible to do what had not be done more than twenty years ago (at a time when around 1/3 of the Members of the Italian Parliament was under investigation for corruption, “Mani Pulite”, when reforms and the kickstarting of what was then called “Second Republic” started.

It actually reminds me an episode from a book I think from Alexander Stille, telling the story of a meeting between a mafia boss and Judge Falcone, centered around a… cigarette.

I shared the episode long ago, but it is worth repeating.

The mafia boss turned witness asked a cigarette.

Judge Falcone opened a new pack, picked a cigarette for himself, then extended the pack to the former boss, and offered him a cigarette.

The reply: you know, this shows why I wanted to talk with a Sicilian judge- you didn’t just gave me the pack, as that would have been insulting, you first opened it up, picked one for you, and turned a potential insult into just an act of courtesy- small actions that a non-Sicilian would not have instinctively done.

It might be apocryphal, maybe my memory “embellished and expanded” the episode (by expanding on the explanation side- the book I am referring to is still in storage in Brussels :D), but you get the gist.

Few commentators have said that it seems that Italy is directly moving from the “Second Republic” to the “Third Republic”.

For all the suggestions of getting foreigners to lead Italy so that they sort things out (not necessarily the EU-ECB-IMF trio), you need to be “into the thick of it”, to be able to do something that is sustainable, long-term, and not just a “fig leaf” taped over “business as usual” (as I remember that I have in my personal library books from the 1990s that showed as alarming that organized crime in Italy controlled barely a fraction of the current GDP).

So, maybe sensible and sustainable structural reforms will be continued sooner than expected.

E.g. to streamline bureaucracy while taming corruption, or to privatize what makes sense to privatize and without doing a “Eltsin privatization”- see Freeland’s “Sale of the century: the inside story of the second Russian revolution” and Larrabee’s “Foreign and Security Policy Decisionmaking Under Yeltsin”

Actually, a short-list of reforms (covering not just institutions, but also citizens) was delivered by an old cartoon from Bruno Bozzetto “Europe vs. Italy”, still worth watching

Meanwhile, today and yesterday I jokingly shared my “feelings” on all this election charade, as, in the end, beside the bullying element (overdone), it was an interesting role-playing.

Let’s look at the process:
1. Mr. Renzi corralled his own political party (as most of those sitting in Parliament are actually associated with the “previous management of the Firm”, to paraphrase the former Secretary, Mr. Bersani) into a vote- some representatives interviewed sounded as if they were on the verge of a nerve crisis just thinking at the idea that the official candidate of the Partito Democratico (former Italian Communist Party) was a former Christian Democrat
2. Mr. Berlusconi paved the way for a potential transition to another centre-right political party (more about this later), by bringing back into the fold (or re-building a link) with the more institutionally-sound (whatever they say about him) Mr. Alfano and most of his NCD representatives (elected actually with Mr. Berlusconi’s Forza Italia)
3. despite ludicrous attempts to “metterci il cappello” (i.e. claim a stake in the victory- a bandwagon effect that is traditional in Italy- see the above mentioned cartoon), Cinquestelle elected representatives were basically all across the bases- voting for, against, not voting, supporting, criticizing…
4. the game started after the 2013 elections (three main political parties trying to remove from the game one if not two of the contenders) seems to have resulted in disposing of… all three of them, while creating few key “clusters” that can be covered by two main political parties, and few splinter parties covering the left and the right of the political spectrum- do not look at the current labels, they are all transitional, work-in-process structures with a political shelf-life that, in the present form, will not last until the nominal end of the current legislature (2018)
5. the new electoral law will manage the small detail that, having multiple parties, it will not be possible to do what in other countries is done by having just two political parties, i.e. having one party that has a clear majority of the elected representatives (and I still hold my own distaste for some elements within the new electoral law and the associated Constitutional reforms, weakening representation for the sake of a supposed stability)
6. upon confirmation of the new President of the Italian Republic, Mr. Passera (a former banker, manager, industrialist, member of government) launched officially a new political party (ItaliaUnica that de facto aspires to cover the domain originally identified for the first Forza Italia in the early 1990s (centre-right pro-business and pro-reforms)- and some more.

Former Prime Minister Monti, after being appointed by the then-President Mr. Napolitano member of Senate for life (a prerogative of the Italian President of the Republic, who can appoint 5 of them), and becoming the presumed best candidate for the Quirinale (the official residency of the Italian President of the Republic), forfeited his chances by creating his own political party (eventually hijacked by others, so he left it)- joining the fray, instead of staying above it.

When I read the news about the current organization of the new political party (about 2,500 members with around 150 “clubs” around the country, i.e. more or less a dozen or more members for each), it reminded me of… the organizational structure of the first Forza Italia, in the early 1990s.

Probably as soon as the new President of the Republic will be officially in office (early next week), some “house cleaning” will start within the three main political parties, to restructure for the new political cycle- the real “redde rationem”.

This could actually lead to new political parties, such as a leftist splinter group aiming to be a new Syriza or Podemos (conveniently ignoring that both are actually somewhat closer to cover the cross-society role that Cinquestelle aspired to have, than just a political party of the left, as shown by the “results-oriented alliance” done by Syriza in Greece to form a government), a rightist union party built around Northern League and Fratelli d’Italia, a centre-right party built around Mr. Fitto and his 40-plus former Forza Italia representatives, a new centrist union, a re-arranging of the representatives elected with Cinquestelle, etc.

Interesting times? Well, ordinary (political) times in Italy.

Still, there are chances that, this time, all the right pieces will fall into place, and instead of just changing electoral laws or tweaking with the Italian Constitution and then finding ways around it, the inability to use the traditional ways out of a crisis (competitive devaluation, enlarging the payroll of local authorities, massive transfers to the public coffers of debts of the private sector, etc.), plus the generational shift within the government and other institutions, along with guidance from wise elements from older generations (been there, done that, plus antennas on potential consequences of well-meaning hurried-up reforms), will generate changes that last.

Alternatives? Well, Italy will just keep its descent into turning again what had become few centuries ago, when we were exporting diplomats: a playground for other countries…

Have a nice week!


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