What’s going on in Italy? But especially, what’s going to happen? Many Italians, dazed and confused, ponder this question – which has, actually, been an evergreen of the past decades. But for the first time since the 1990s, the outcome is really not predictable. Why? Because the things we considered certain now all seem to belong to “the past.”
Since 1994, all elections (national and local) saw Silvio Berlusconi and his followers triumph over the other parties or lose by just a few votes. In this scenario, “the others” were everyone else: moderate Christian democrats as well as new-Trotskyist anti-capitalists, conservative clericals and pro gay-marriage radicals. All united together against Berlusconi. When he won – his final victory came in 2008 – he promised a lot without doing almost anything, although he enjoyed a huge majority and, at least theoretically, a clear consensus-block. On the other side, the Italian centre-left was too large and not united, and, even when it managed to win the elections, it turned out unable to govern and was even less able to fulfill the Italian need for reforms.
The political scenario could now improve, but, unfortunately, there are no guarantees that the future will be clearer and better. At least there’s hope now – with Berlusconi gone – that things could potentially get better. For Italy, that is always great news.
In fact, since Silvio Berlusconi stepped down as prime minister, the government headed by Mario Monti has reintroduced the idea of serious politics. He has given back to Italy the minimal credibility which a European country needs when it engages in diplomacy with its partners. And Mr. Monti has provided the country with the guidelines we need to follow for the future: reducing Italian debt, implementing a spending review, sorting out our chronic diseases. For the time being, Mr. Monti cannot say that he has saved the country (the pension reform is an exception). But he has provided us with a sense of direction.
For the first time in 20 years, it seems uncertain whether Berlusconi can stage a political comeback. It would be a success for his party if they gathered as little as 20 percent of the votes. Berlusconi is still saying that he is considering another run for prime minister, but he probably knows that he could at most hope to influence the future government’s policies. He wouldn’t be leading the government himself.
But while we might be excited about the potential for new politics and new political power, there are also reasons to be scared of the realistic possibility of an unmanageable situation in the aftermath of the elections: it is possible that without a change in current electoral rules, no party will gather enough votes to form a stable majority. This is at the moment the most realistic scenario, and it is the reason why all Italian analysts are reluctant to give forecasts. It’s easy to be wrong these days.
Some argue that it is even possible for Berlusconi’s party, the center-left Democratic Party and the M5S movement of the comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo to gain about 20 percent each. New parties on both sides of the political spectrum could try to reach ten percent, whereas old leftist parties and the scandal-plagued Northern league will merely try to survive.
What is missing? First, strong political leadership. None of the current leaders are capable to embody a clear discontinuity with the past. Second, a reform-oriented coalition able to represent the issues of a new generation. The generational gap in Italy remains strong: workers, entrepreneurs, and researchers under the age of 45 are clearly under-represented in political and social institutions. They (we) need a country with less red tape and a more efficient spending system instead of focusing on the nonsense on North/South differences. We need a lighter tax code (especially for start-ups and innovative entrepreneurs), we need investments in high-tech industries. We have lost several decades on that front – not only because of Berlusconi, but also (to put it bluntly) because of the whole ruling class of lobbies, trade unions, and political parties. We now see the real risks of it: we stand to miss the last train, and thus the connection to a European and global economic future.
Who can help us? First of all, we must help ourselves. We must take the opportunity for reforms seriously – there are no excuses left. But Europe could also provide huge help. The European community has to speak clearly: without reforms, Italy has no future. But a lack of growth in Italy is also bad for the rest of Europe. The Old World must demand change, and the current prime minister Mario Monti, at some point, will have to say whether he wants to remain at the helm. He has repeated several times that he doesn’t see himself as a politician after 2013. It’s a shame: the long way to Italian freedom and prosperity has just begun. It will have to be enforced through democratic struggle.
Read more in this column Jacopo Tondelli: The Italian Job