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What’s Happening in Italy at the Moment

Lots is going on in Italy at the moment.  I’ve been following it, if not writing about it.

Well, to make up for that, here’s a round up of what has caught this Italy watcher’s eye recently.

The Lazio Scandal

After it was discovered that politicians in Italy’s Lazio region had been appropriating public funds for personal projects, sparks flew.

Eventually, the president of the Lazio region one Renata Polverini resigned over the affair, or almost.  It seems that Polverini has not yet officially resigned.  In the meantime she is trying to exonerate herself of all responsibility for the theft of public funds.

Really though, as the president of the region, she is the one responsible for keeping an eye on how taxpayers’ money is spent.  She is, in her own eyes, merely a victim.

More or less all of the political parties involved in running the Lazio region had been on the take.

More Scandals in the Offing

Lazio is not the only Italian region to be in the spotlight.  Sicily, Lombardy, Sardinia and Campania are also in the midst of investigations into suspected misuse of public money.

This is what Italy’s honourable local councillors have been spending tax payers’ money on:

  • BMWs,
  • the odd house or two
  • extravagant parties
  • Christmas presents from Gucci for friends

In the face of what appears to be the widespread misuse of taxpayers’ money in Italy, the Monti led government is talking about new legislation to make local government explain just what public money is being spent on.

All well and good, but Italy’s politicians have been misusing public money for decades, which begs the question: Why was legislation not introduced decades ago?  Maybe because thieves are unlikely to send themselves to prison?  One wonders.

Incidentally, the regions in Italy where politicians line their own pockets the most tend have the highest levels of unemployment as demonstrated by figures published by online newspaper Linkesta:

The IlVA steelworks affair

Italy’s biggest steelworks is an environmental disaster.

Production at the huge plant in Taranto in Italy’s south has been slowly but surely killing the local population. Incidences of tumours and other illnesses in the area around the steelworks are at record levels.

Allegedly, reports on emission levels and health threats had been falsified in collaboration with local health officials.  On the basis of the, false, reports, the owners of the plant had been putting off works designed to cut pollution levels.  The complaints of local residents were simply ignored.

Eventually, local magistrates, after reading how life threatening the plant was, issued an ultimatum: either clean up the plant, or it will be shut down.

A plan for the clean up operations was recently rejected by local authorities, so it is looking as it the plant may be shut down.  If this happens, the plant may well close for good and many thousands of jobs will be lost.

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Corruption is rumoured to be one of the reasons why ILVA owners managed to operate the plant despite it being a major health hazard.

Anti-Corruption Legislation

Corruption is a big problem in Italy, as the ILVA case illustrates.  Italy’s local and national government is also riddled with corruption.

Even the Roman Catholic church has said corruption in Italy has got well out of hand.

The EU and the OECD have told Italy to put its house in order, although Italy really should have clamped down on the corruption issue decades ago.

Italy probably did not do so because those who are behind much of the corruption just happen to be the same people who make laws.

There is also the issue that many Italians think corruption is perfectly normal and acceptable business practice.  Accepting luxury holidays, cars and other expensive presents in exchange for business contracts is no big deal in Italy’s politicians eyes.

What is normal in Italy has been putting off foreign direct investment and the creation of jobs.  Widespread cronyism has left Italy in the hands of incompetent and dishonest managers.

Mario Monti is trying to push through new anti-corruption laws but is facing major resistance from most of Italy’s politicians and political parties.  Berlusconi’s PdL party has been vociferously opposing the corruption legislation.

Berlusconi is Back

Silvio Berlusconi has come out of  the shadows.  He’s recently given an interview to the new Italian edition of the Huffington post and is attempting to brush up his image, presumably because he intends to stand for re-election.  Whether Italians will swallow what looks very much like the strategy Berlusconi used to have himself elected in the early 1990s, remains to be seen.

Berlusconi is trying to make out that he is the good guy.  He appears to have ordered his PdL party to embrace anti-corruption law proposals and has personally condemned politicians who abuse public money.  But he has kept quiet on who paid for the police escorts for the, er, escorts who turned up in droves for his infamous bunga bunga parties.

Oh, by the way, there were no bunga bunga sex parties, they are merely an invention of Berlusconi’s enemies, or that’s what he told the Huffington Post.

The rest of the news from Italy, in common with most of the above, is mainly doom and gloom.


A few Italy facts:

  • 50% fewer mortgages are being granted, and house values have tumbled.
  • Consumer spending is falling.
  • The south of Italy has an unemployment rate of 25%.
  • Fiat is, probably, not going to leave Italy.  Italy’s largest car maker appears to be fishing for government subsidies.
  • Businesses, and shops, are closing down all over Italy.
  • The Italian government is worried that unemployment may lead to civil unrest, as in Greece and Spain.
  • Business confidence is at its lowest level since 2009.

Depressing, isn’t it?

As well as being depressing, it is also frustrating.  Many of Italy’s problems today probably would not exist – if the Boot had acted decades ago instead of sweeping all its problems under the carpet.  Such is Italy.

Finally, electoral reform, which might kick a few thieves out of Italy parliament is getting nowhere fast.  Hopefully, the EU, the UN, the IMF, the OECD and others will tell Italy to get its act together.

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