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What’s Italy’s Matteo Renzi Up To? 160,000 Italians Would Like to Know.

Heading in a better direction?

In certain quarters, the indecent haste with which Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi wants to rush through reforms to Italy’s constitution is ringing alarm bells. ‘Authoritarianism’ is a word being bandied around in Italy at the moment.

Over 160,000 Italians have now signed an anti ‘theft of democracy’ petition on the website of Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano. The fear is that Renzi’s constitutional reforms are being piloted by the likes of convict Silvio Berlusconi and his organised crime-linked political party Forza Italia.

Now that Berlusconi has been acquitted of wrongdoing in the infamous and sordid Ruby bunga bunga case, he will be able to exert greater influence on Renzi and ensure he ends up with senate and electoral system reforms which he and his questionable partners find acceptable. Such reforms though, and this is the fear of Il Fatto Quotidiano, may not actually reform a thing. So far, it does not look as if the changes to Italy’s constitution proposed by Premier Renzi will serve to extinguish Italy’s clientelistic political system; if anything, quite the opposite – they may well preserve it.

Everything Changes so Nothing Does

The direction in which Renzi is heading reform-wise is starting to stink of the classic ‘everything changes so nothing does’ approach to reform in Italy. This is happening because the very same people who have always run Italy are still running the shop. This does not bode too well for democracy in Italy – hence the concern of Il Fatto Quotidiano and 160,000 of the Italian daily’s readers – a number which is growing by the hour (It was 130,000 when this article was written yesterday).

Il Fatto Quotidiano has published a list of 10 alternatives to the reforms the vast majority of Italy’s politicians, including Renzi and Berlusconi, are angling for; proposals which it believes would help protect and strengthen democracy in Italy.

For Il Fatto Quotidiano and its readership what smells distinctly unpleasant is that the electoral law and senate reforms are being conditioned by convict Berlusconi and his cohorts, including one Denis Verdini who is under investigation for a whole host of alleged offences such as corruption and involvement with actions of Italy’s shadowy P2, then, P3 and now P4, organisations. Just what kind of reforms both these gentlemen will help cook up is sparking worries.

Premier Renzi does not appear to consider the involvement of Berlusconi and Co in the reform process to be a problem which is in itself is a cause of worry to many.

Renzi’s Forgotten Promises

Renzi’s promises to scrap Italy’s old political guard and bring in a new one have only really been partially realised, if, indeed, they have been fulfilled at all. In addition to Berlusconi, other old guard names keep cropping up. Names such as that of veteran left leaning Italian politician and former prime minister of Italy, the friendly Massimo d’Alema, whose name has been put forward as a possible alternative candidate for the position of High Representative for EU Foreign Policy. Not that the preferred Italian candidate for the High Representative for EU Foreign Policy position, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, inspires much confidence anyway. She appears to lack leadership qualities and is rather too Russia-friendly for some tastes.

If appointed, will Ms. Mogherini resign her position as Italy’s foreign minister? Knowing Italy, this is highly unlikely.

So much for Renzi’s promises of out with the old ways and in with a genuine new direction.

Heightening concerns are question marks hang over the competence of Renzi and his youthful ministers. As well as Federica Mogherini’s questionable leadership capacities and signs of immaturity, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, there are two other pretty young ladies who hold key positions in Italy’s government and who are intimately involved with the supposedly Renzi propelled reform process.

Maria Elena Boschi 

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33 year old Maria Elena Boschi is Italy’s Minister of Constitutional Reforms and Relations with Parliament; like Matteo Renzi, she hails from Tuscany. Whether someone of such a young age and of very limited experience should be charged with overseeing issues as complex as constitutional reform is questionable.

Academically though, Boschi’s performance was strong – full marks at high school and at degree level. A qualified civil lawyer, Boschi holds a degree in jurisprudence. What she lacks is political experience and this might mean that she ends up being manipulated by older, more experienced, Italian political sea dogs. She is, though, a new face and Italian politics has been in need of new blood for quite a while in the opinion of this Italy watcher. Early signs, including the worries of authoritarian reform raised by Il Fatto Quotidiano are not good though and suggest that Boschi is indeed being conditioned by Italy’s political old guard.

Marianna Madia

The next pretty young Renzi lady is one Marianna Madia who is playing a major role in the reform of Italy’s red tape riddled public sector,.

The daughter of a politician, it is suspected Italy’s present Minister of Public Administration and Simplification Madia is a “raccomandata“, in other words, someone who obtained a position not so much for competence as for connections. Madia is also known to have been in a relationship with Giulio Napolitano the son of Italy’s President Giorgio Napolitano. She also has connections to old guard politician Walter Veltroni and to former Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta who was ousted by none other than Matteo Renzi. Enrico Letta, in turn, is related to Gainni Letta who just happened to be one of Silvio Berlusconi’s closest advisors. Oh, the Machiavellian, incestuous, world of Italian politics.

As with her colleague Maria Elena Boschi, Marianna Madia lacks political experience and aside from her connections, nobody really understands why she ended up where she is today.

One explanation could be, and this is pure theory, that, and similarly to Boschi, Madia can be easily pointed in the right direction by Italy’s political old guard of which she seems to have been very much a pupil. Publicly, Madia lacks presence and charisma, something which further calls into question the motives which lie behind her appointment.

The New Faces of the Old Guard?

Suspicious minds may consider Renzi and his cohorts to be little more than the new faces of Italy’s political old guard. Indeed, an editorial in today’s print edition of Il Fatto Quotidiano suggests this. In his article  Il Fatto Quotidiano journalist Ferrucio Sansa commented that if Berlusconi had attempted to push though the reforms Renzi is thrusting ahead with, such as effectively cancelling Italy’s Senate, everyone in Italy would have been up in arms. But because Renzi has managed to convince enough people that he is ‘new’, he is getting away with what Berlusconi would never have managed to.

It is, perhaps, no wonder that Berlusconi remains so supportive of Renzi and will continue to be so – provided, that is, he and his cronies can keep pointing Renzi in an acceptable direction. The direction was established in the so-called Pact of Nazareno between Berlusconi and Renzi. That the direction is acceptable would appear to be confirmed by the Il Fatto Quotidiano editorial.

The details of this ‘pact’; made in the Rome headquarters of Renzi’s Partito Democratico – hence the name; have never been made public, though some suspect one of the terms was to lessen Berlusconi’s legal woes in return for the support of his party and other allied factions for Renzi’s parcel of reforms. Berlusconi’s surprise acquittal at appeal in the Ruby Bunga Bunga case could be a product of the Nazareno pact. This is Machiavellian Italy, after all.

What will Emerge?

As to the form of the reforms which will eventually emerge from the Renzi-Berlusconi alliance, it looks increasingly as if everything will change so it can stay the same, at an institutional level, anyway.

If this does turn out to be the case, the reforms will weaken democracy in Italy. The outcome may depend on who will out manipulate whom, if, that is, someone genuinely does want to out manoeuvre someone else.

Or are Berlusconi and Renzi in league with one another? That’s what 130,000 Italians suspect.

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