Things that make one think ‘wtf?’
Farewell Berlusconi. Hello Monti
Berlusconi was not a victim of Eurocrats but of Italian disillusionment with his populist style of government.
21 November 2011, 12:00am
In reality it was the democratically elected Italian parliament, which made it impossible for Berlusconi for Berlusconi to remain in power after depriving him of a majority.
The loss of parliament's support came in the wake of a series of electoral defeats for Berlusconi in strategic cities like Milan and Naples and a referendum which stripped him of the legitimo impedimento-a legal tool designed to delay the corruption trails he is facing.
For the past year Berlusconi held to power with the votes of a motley crew of defectors from the opposition called the 'responsibili', which included Domenico Scilipoti a colourful personality who in the space of a week changed allegiance from an extreme anti Berlusconi party (Di Pietro's Italy of Values) to become Berslusconi's staunchest defenders.
Moreover the new government led by Mario Monti was given the support of all political forces, except the separatist and xenophobic Lega Nord, Alessandra Mussolini (Benito Mussolini's niece) and the crazy Scilipoti.
Moreover Italy's history is full of examples of governments owing their existence to changing majorities in parliament rather than elections.
On the positive side former EU commissioner Mario Monti has already distinguished himself and represents a qualitative leap in terms of statesmanship. Unlike Berlusconi he does not dumb down political discourse. Rather than talking down to the masses he addresses a nation composed of intelligent citizens who prefer being told the bad news and be asked to do something about it than living in an illusion that all is good and well.
Monti speaks of sacrifices to be made rather than inflating expectations through empty promises or projecting people's fears in a xenophobic direction.
Monti rightly speaks of the liberalisation of the professions, which the right had opposed, easier access to labour market for the young and wants to clamp down on tax evasion. He is the best thing Italy could have in a parliament still dominated by the centre-right.
I do share the concern of those on the left who think Monti's government which includes Corrado Passeri, former CEO of Intesa San Paolo is too associated with the banks which share the blame for the financial mess we are in now.
But unlike Berlusconi who never divested himself of his business interests while in power, Passeri has already resigned and intends to appoint a blind trust to administer his wealth.
Monti is clearly an establishment figure but as commissioner he earned the reputation of the Saddam Hussien of the corporate world after blocking the merger of two American groups cannot be lightly dismissed as a bank
One serious obstacle to Monti's promise of fiscal equity is that Berlusconi has already threatened to bring Monti down if he introduces the patrimoniale-a tax on wealth favoured not just by the left but also by leading Italian industrialist Luca Cordero di Montezemolo. Such a tax would make pension reforms which affecting privileged sectors of the working class easier to stomach.
Despite these problems, the fact that in a moment of crisis Monti can appeal to the good sense of the centre right and the centre left is a triumph for the politics of mediation and reflexivity.
Opinion polls give Monti a high 80% approval rate.
The greatest risk Italy faces is that, as the only opposition force in parliament the separatist Lega Nord will exploit any discontentment to drive a wedge between north and south.
Some elements in the Lega Nord in Italy are not so different from those forces, which brought about war in former Yugoslavia. But probably Italians including many legisti have enough self-respect to avoid such a fate.
While one has to concede that in normal circumstances Italy should have elected a responsible government through elections, one lesson of Italian politics is that the artificial attempt to contain all political views in two rival camps has failed. In some ways Monti represents a more continental way of doing politics through a coalition.
Moreover Italy was not a normal democracy under Berlusconi and restoring faith in the institutions was a priority after the end of the pornographic carnival, which characterised the Berlusconi era.
Berlusconi who befriended autocrats like Vladmir Putin and Muamar Gaddafi held a vision of politics, which was more similar to a televoting competition than democratic engagement.
Like other populists he thrived in an environment where people were insulated from the world. In fact while cosmopolitan Italians felt constantly humiliated by his antics a vast segment of the electorate ignored the news in the international press and believed his hype. Berlusconi appealed to those who think that the world revolves around the few square meters surrounding them.
Ultimately Italy's saviour was a statesman called Giorgio Napolitano, a relic from an era whose politicians gave Europe peace and prosperity. Napolitano a former partisan represented the reformist wing and pro European wing of the Italian Communist Party.
In fact what Europe requires now is the kind of reflexivity, which inspired post world war II Christian Democratic, liberal and social democratic politicians to build a European social model, which gave us peace and prosperity for half a century.
At that time Europe had people with vision like Alcide De Gasperi, Konrad Adenuer and Altiero Spinelli.
Technocrats like Monti may fill a gap in an emergency but Europe needs politicians of the calibre of post war generation to recover.
What is sure is that national governments face problems, which they can no longer control in isolation. Supranational institutions like the EU is the only way through which globalisation can be governed and regulated according to social and ecological standards. Otherwise what we will have is a race to the bottom, in which Europe will become more like China and the United States both in terms of social inequalities and political freedoms.
The problem is that the current generation of centre right governments, which govern most nation states including France and Germany, are far from the most enthusiastic supporters of European integration. Politicians like Sarkozy have often pandered to national egoism especially when dealing with problems like immigration.
This generation of politicians has failed in creating democratic institutions to regulate a common economic and fiscal policy, which became an imperative after the introduction of a common currency.
This would represent a shifting of economic powers from the nation state to a federal state legitimised by new democratic institutions, which make European citizenship a reality.
As Joschka Fischer, Germany's Green foreign minister and vice-chancellor from 1998 to 2005,observes 'unless political power in Europe is Europeanized, with the current confederation evolving into a federation, the eurozone - and the EU as a whole - will disintegrate'.
That would simply mean the end of a period of peace and prosperity, which characterised our Europe since the end of the second world war, a calamity which would probably signify the end of the European social model as individual states rush forward in a race towards the bottom.
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
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