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Italy: Still in Limbo

Italy is still without a new government. Time is passing and the nation’s economy is worsening, but the weather is nice.

While Italy’s political classes could attempt to form some kind of new government, they appear instead to have opted for twiddling their thumbs, a fact which has not escaped the attention of arch-critic of Italy’s mainstream political classes, Beppe Grillo.

As well as twiddling their collective thumbs, the so called experienced political parties, and as also noted by Grillo, are lining up comfy well-paid positions for all their dodgy friends – business as usual, really. The same dysfunctional business which has got and kept Italy in a virtually perpetual mess and is preventing the Boot from developing its vast potential.

Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement would like to get cracking and at least try to solve some of Italy’s problems, but the impasse created by the February elections means Italy is, and as usual, getting nowhere very fast. Actually, the situation is worse than getting nowhere, for Italy is going downhill at an ever increasing rate.

Others are worried too, and there are fears that Italy’s instability could spread the other countries in the Euro zone. Acting Prime Minister Mario Monti attempted nip such preoccupations in the bud claiming Italy’s ills are not contagious. The IMF will be hoping he is right.

Even more worryingly, it’s looking as if Italy may run out of the cash it needs to keep its cassa integrazione unemployment benefit payments going. If this happens, then those who are receiving the payments may end up in very serious financial straits, which, of course, will depress Italy’s already falling consumer spending yet further.

What’s Going to Happen?

Who knows. The situation is far from unclear, although it may become clearer once a new president has been appointed. The new president should be known by the end of April, although lots of bickering is going on over who should be proposed for the job. Lot’s of names have come to the fore, from novelist Dario Fò, to ex-politicians such as Romano Prodi and Massimo D’Alema, to name but a few.

The Berlusconi Factor

Former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi wants to have his say too, probably because wants a friendly face in the position of president. Berlusconi does not want Romano Prodi who he appears to view as an arch-enemy. On the other hand, left-leaning wheeler and dealer Massimo D’Alema would be someone Berlusconi would go for – mainly because D’Alema is, if not openly pro-Berlusconi, known to be Berlusconi friendly.

Italians would be right to be highly suspicious of any presidential candidate which meets with Silvio Berlusconi’s approval. Oh, and by the way, Berlusconi may well be facing fresh charges of having sex with a minor. Through her agent, Berlusconi babe Noemi Letizia has claimed she had sex with Berlusconi when she was under the age of consent. Berlusconi’s lawyers have labelled Letizia’s claim as a ‘falsity’ and so far, there are no reports of Berlusconi being investigated for sex-crimes.

Yes, it’s Berlusconi as usual in Italy, and the tanned man has said that in view of the current mess, either Italy sorts out a government fast or the nation should hold elections. Berlusconi would like yet another crack as becoming Italy’s prime minister once more, although that may not happen if one of his other cases does eventually result in a conviction which may render him ineligible for holding public office.

Berlusconi Party United, Center-Left Splintering

Italy’s pseudo right-wing, Berlusconi led fan club PdL party is, if nothing else appearing to be a united force. That is more than can be said of the election winning center-left PD party which is in the midst of a leadership battle. Bersani, the man who didn’t quite win the February elections, or rather, fluffed them, may be kicked into touch by pretender Matteo Renzi who did challenge Bersani’s leadership before, but lost a primary.

Renzi has been cuddling up to Massimo D’Alema who is regarded as being the power-monger who more or less dictates the line Italy’s center-left PD party takes. Massimo D’Alema, remember, is quite Berlusconi friendly, so Renzi’s advances are a little worrying and Italy could end up in one of its usual everything changes so everything stays the same modes.

A while back, Renzi had dinner with Silvio Berlusconi, so it sounds almost as if D’Alema, Renzi and Berlusconi could form a kind of unholy love triangle.  Berlusconi did say he’d back away from Italian politics if Renzi became leader of Italy’s center-left PD party. Renzi did not become leader, so Berlusconi decided to stay on, and on, and on.

Coincidentally, D’Alema would be quite happy for the Bersani led, for the moment, center-left PD party to jump into bed with the Berlusconi fan club PdL party in the name of forming an uncomfortable coalition. D’Alema would be happy, but D’Alema is a wee bit dodgy. Bersani knows that by jumping into bed with Berlusconi, he may well kill his political party. It is also likely that Bersani does not trust Berlusconi one bit.

The 5 Star Movement Wants to Move Ahead

While the mainstream parties in Italy bicker and play their little power games, and Italy suffers. Beppe Grillo’s 5 Star Movement is trying to move ahead, although it is not getting too far.

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The 5 Star Movement is still resolutely refusing to form alliances with any other political party and rejected the advances of the center-left. Some believe the 5 Star Movement’s stance is not good for Italy, though Beppe Grillo has been quick to remind those who voted for the party he leads that one of the election promises of the 5 Star Movement was no alliances with anyone. Grillo is sticking to this promise, as are his new MPs, five of whom I heard speaking in a meet the constituents session yesterday in Milan.

The 5 Star Movement would, as mentioned at the start of this roundup of Italy’s stalled political situation, quite like to start doing some work. At least they have been given the time to become used to the idiosyncrasies of Italian parliamentary bureaucracy.

Italy’s parties, as one might expect, need support teams, although in Italy, these teams are more often than not, according to the 5 Star Movement MPs, made up of friends and family who are paid handsomely for whatever it is they are supposed to be doing. One of the 5 Star Movement MPs mentioned that potential collaborators did not even need to present resumes!

As with much of Italy, its parliament is riddled with cronyism, nepotism and conflicts of interest – all aspects of Italy the 5 Star Movement would like to stamp out. Good luck to them on this, as it will not be easy to change the way pre and post unification Italy has been run for centuries.

Italy’s Zombie Parliament

One observation made by a Grillo MP was that Italy’s parliament is virtually devoid of life. The other politicians seem to be going through the motions. People speak, but nobody appears to bother listening.  The impression one gets is that everything is pre-determined, so debate in Italy’s Parliament is not much more than an ineffectual formality.

Massimo De Rossi, a 5 Star Movement MP present at the Milan meeting, commented that very little time is given for Italy’s parliamentarians to look over and think about the texts of legislative proposals – this would confirm that everything is more or less pre-decided and also helps explain why some Italian laws are so badly written.

It was interesting to hear from the 5 Star Movement MPs just how Italy’s parliament works, or rather, how it doesn’t. No wonder Italy is in a more or less permanent mess when it cannot even manage its parliament efficiently.

The 5 Star Movement is not Divided

Reports in Italy’s media that the 5 Star Movement is on the point of breaking up are false. Italy’s publicly funded and often political party friendly media is doing its level best to discredit the 5 Star Movement.

There are some signs their attempts may be working which is not a huge surprise to this Italy watcher. Italians gain most of their news from Italian television which is geared towards very political party friendly and has been painting the 5 Star Movement in a negative light. Italian television has, though, been giving the impression that the 5 Star Movement is the only political party in Italy which is eager to get on with governing Italy. This is something that should raise opinions in Italy of the 5 Star Movement.

What Happened to The Sages?

Italy’s present president’s troubleshooting team of 10 wise men presented their report last week, but it does not look as of Italy’s political parties are paying much heed to their recommendations, but they are not bound to. The whole 10 wise men thing seemed to be an unwise waste of time. It’s almost as if outgoing President Napolitano has run out of ideas and, for that matter, enthusiasm. Well, he is old and is probably looking forward to retirement.

Among other things, the sages decided that cutting public funding to Italy’s political parties was not a good idea, decided that Italy really does need better electoral laws and want Italy to have a lower house which has law making powers instead of the current two layer chamber and senate system.

One of the wise men’s ideas was to have an independent judge decide whether or not someone can stand for election. Not a bad idea, even though knowing Italy, such a judge would be unlikely to be independent and, poor chap or lady, would face enormous amounts of flack every time he or she decided someone should not, or even should, be allowed to stand for election. Not a job many would want.

It’s almost as if the 10 wise men don’t seem to know how Italy works!

Chaos As Usual

So, there you have it. Chaos which is becoming every more chaotic as each day passes. After a new president has been elected, he, or she, will probably decide to call elections, though hopefully, not before having sorted out Italy’s electoral laws. Sorting out these laws could take a year or so.

Meanwhile, businesses will continue to close, and Italy’s economy is likely to continue to nose dive. Still, the weather’s jolly nice, as is the wine and the food.

Italy is in limbo, but appears to be edging ever closer to the abyss which leads straight to hell. What a country!

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