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Renzi, So Far, Not So Good

Despite having sold himself  as the “scrapper” of Italian politics, new Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi presented Italy with a government which was far from full of new faces. Not only are the faces not new, some are also under investigations for abusing expenses and for abuse of office. Renzi did a few favours for legally entangled ex prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi.

Matteo Renzi rose to power on promises that he’d remove the old from Italian politics and replace it with the new if he ever became leader of Italy’s PD, democratic party. Well, he is now the leader of the PD party but his scrapping activities have so far proven questionable. As reported by Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano, 5 of the parliamentarians on Renzi’s team are under investigation and 24 are merely former staff of ousted by Renzi former Italian prime minister, Enrico Letta. Not so much scrapping as recycling – a traditional practice in Italian politics. So much for Renzi being anything new.

When selecting his cabinet team, Renzi appointed a justice minister of dubious competence. At the same time, he appointed two other ministers who have been accused of conflicts of interest. Italy’s new minister for economic development, Federica Guidi is facing accusations of conflicts of interests and is suspected of being close to Silvio Berlusconi.

On top of this, Renzi’s minister for regional affairs and autonomy, Graziano Delrio, is facing accusations of that old Italian bugbear – cronyism. While mayor of Reggio Emilia, Delrio awarded a €140,000 contract to a company owned by a cousin. Delrio denies any wrongdoing, but handing out contracts to friends and family is not something one would expect from those on a team  designed to create the impression Italy is making a break from its old cronyistic past. Quite the opposite.

So much for Renzi departing from the traditionally dysfunctional ways of Italian politics. There was more to come.

After the appointment of his ministers, the next stage was handing out jobs as vice ministers and under secretaries. Of those appointed, or re-appointed, some have been in Italy’s parliament for decades. In other words, they are the very same people who have landed Italy with all the problems it faces now. Scrapper Renzi should have replaced these people, but he did not. Why?

The Gentile Case

The appointment of Antonio Gentile, a former Berlusconi PdL party member an infrastructure ministry under-secretary, has sparked much criticism. Gentile reputedly put pressure on a local newspaper editor to prevent the publication of an article which placed his son in a bad light. In addition, Gentile’s brother, Pino Gentile, is a councillor responsible for public works in his native region of Calabria. Seeing as infrastructure work is closely related to public works, Antonio Gentile could also be accused of conflicts of interest. He shouldn’t really have been appointed. Whether or not he will continue to hold his government appointment is still under discussion. Gentile was not a good choice for Renzi.

Justice for Berlusconi

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Another two contraversial appointments made by Renzi concerned two Berlusconi people to, of all places, Italy’s justice ministry. One of the people was

Renzi has not done as he’d promised.

The same Italians would have felt further deluded to have heard that Berlusconi people have been placed in Italy’s justice ministry – a coup for Berlusconi who wasted no time at all in calling for justice system reforms. Berlusconi, incidentally, was convicted of tax fraud in August last year but has yet to serve his sentence. There’s speculation that Renzi, as part of agreement to push through electoral law reforms, may have given Berlusconi a “keep out of jail” card. Certainly for reasons which are unclear, the tanned bunga bunga man seems to be exceedingly happy Renzi has landed the top job.

Renzi’s start, in the words of The Economist has got off to a ropy start. Others wonder just where Renzi will find the cash to carry out his reforms. Italy’s prime minister has promised a reform a month though he’s already missed one deadline – electoral law reform was supposed to have been signed and sealed by the end of February. Now we are in March and the reform is still in the discussion stage.

Renzi has set himself an ambitious reform agenda, probably too ambitious for a man with no direct experience of parliamentary politics in Italy.

Sadly for Italy’s economic and social health, early indications are that Renzi is no more than the new face of Italy’s old guard. He’s been appointing people who appear to be corrupt or cronies to key positions. This is exactly the same as the old guard politicians operated and is one of the key reasons why Italy never moves forward.



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