We need to be more cautious with our caution. Peter Singer

Just How Stable Is Mr. Renzi?

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is bringing stability to Italy with his grand coalition and electoral reforms. But how long will it last?

The one big innovation introduced by Mr. Silvio Berlusconi in Italian politics, besides a new set of words to define evening entertainment stunts (e.g. “Bunga Bunga”), is the stability of governments. Since the end of WWII there have been 18 elections in Italy, for a total of 63 governments—each one averaging one year in power. Berlusconi tops the list with a government that lasted some three years and eight months (2001-2005). In 2008-2011 he reigned for three and a half years.

Current premier Matteo Renzi is thought to be able to—at least—equal the record set by Berlusconi. His government is a kind of Italian-style Große Koalition, gathering ministers from what is left of the right and what is left of the left. Although the definition of Große Koalition is a German one, the governmental pact has not been officially negotiated in some villa in a quiet rural area (like in Germany), but at the Roman headquarters of Renzi’s Democratic Party. It also saw limited participation by party representatives, as it was just a discussion between Berlusconi and Renzi. They agreed to reform the electoral law, the organization of local autonomies, and the Senate—set to become a sort of Italian Bundesrat, whose members represent local administrative levels.

These three reforms are pivotal for the future of the country. Yet, the constant supply of Italian skeptics claims that the “Nazareno” pact (the common name for the Democrats’ HQ) is nothing but a covert agreement to grant some immunity to Berlusconi in exchange for reforms.

Long-Awaited Reforms

For better or for worse, we shall nevertheless forget how, in times of Realpolitik (just to stick with German inspiration), the Berlusconi immunity twist is secondary. At the end of the story, what matters is that Italy was finally able to introduce long-awaited reforms. As these lines are written, the discussion is on to change the electoral law—that is currently reminiscent of a pre-industrial African country: parties decide the lists of candidates, and citizens can cast their vote only for the list as a whole—not for single candidates. If you are asking yourself how could Italians vote for a various collection of unskilled former models, this is the reason: they were part of a “bundle” of candidates, together with more dignified personalities.

The Nazareno pact seems to work properly. Renzi has proven to be a very talented performer, balancing between the claims of the right and his own left. He secured power at home by centralizing power structures in the party (Louis XIV style), and relied on the already-unstructured right on the other side. After a period of factual anarchy, some form of assertive system of power (Bertrand Russell would say “dictatorship”) is necessary to reestablish that structure of rules and values, so that democracy can flourish again.

But how long will it last?

The pace of governmental changes in Italy has never been the consequence of some sort of opposition vs. majority fight, but rather the natural outcome of internal struggles within the government. The work of the last two decades in Italy has been towards the erosion of “internal currents” within parties. For this reason, since the mid-2000s Italy has experienced a boom in the foundation of “think-tanks”, with nice offices in the city centers of Rome and Milan, and a wide set of publications ranging from “plain unreadable” to “very interesting”. The former are usually composed by paid university professors, and the latter by their students (and for free).

It is still not clear how the right will change, as many of its votes are now being intercepted by up-and-coming populist parties. The left is the thing. Three former left premiers—Massimo d’Alema, Enrico Letta and Massimo d’Alema—are regrouping their ranks and have made public their dissatisfaction towards Renzi. Former Democratic Party leader Pierluigi Bersani is also criticizing Renzi. The common trait of the claims? That all the reforms are leading to a reduction in participative spaces for citizens.

And this may also be true. Yet, it may also be necessary. The “one-government-per-year” pace is unsustainable in the uncertain times we live in. A certain increase in the freedom of the government to introduce reforms and lead the country is unavoidable. But this very confrontation between opinions within the party is what will keep the political discussion alive—and Renzi shall prove to be willing enough to intercept it.

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