Opinions - 23.11.2011 - 00:00 

Can experts rescue Italy?

When things get serious Italy hands over the country to technocrats. Unelected experts are called to fix what elected politicians have broken. A comment by Professor Daniele Caramani about the political future of Italy.


23 November 2011. Italy faces its worse crisis since 1992−94 and perhaps even since World War II. How fast the reins of the country were taken out of the hands of politician has been impressive. Without bothering to check for the possibility to create an alternative centre-left government, Giorgio Napolitano, the president of the republic, gave mandate to Mario Monti, an economist, President of Bocconi University in Milan (Italy's HSG) and former member of the European Commission (initially appointed by Berlusconi and subsequently confirmed by a left-wing cabinete). Politicians in parliament accepted without a sound and passed a new austerity package first in the Senate and then in the Chamber within three days (!). Like kids who know they are in trouble, they did what they were told.

Last time Italy faced such a situation was when the so-called "first republic" collapsed in 1992−94 under the corruption scandals that involved the main governing parties (at the time Christian Democrats and Socialists) and under the the threat that Italy would not qualify for entering the common currency. Three technocratic governments followed between 1992 and 1996, first by central bankers Azeglio Ciampi and Lamberto Dini, and then by a university professor, economist and lawyer Giuliano Amato.

First Republic collapse of 1992

Like today, the Amato government took over from the breakdown of a Berlusconi cabinet. Like today, in 1992−94 the pressure from Europe was strong. Italy could then not afford an exclusion from the Euro. Today, however, it is reversed with Europe not being able to afford an Italian default. Consequently the decision to appoint Mario Monti was strongly supported by the new governor of the European Central Bank Mario Draghi and by the leaders of France and Germany. Like today, in 1992 large, small and medium companies in Italy know an Italian exclusion from the Euro would be catastrophic for them. Hence, the pressure from the association of industrialists, Confindustria, for a change of government.

Today's crisis is the same crisis of 1992−94 which over eight years of right-wing governments under Berlusconi and Bossi (the leader of Lega Nord, the populist separatist party of the North of Italy), and over six years of left-wing governments were unable to solve. As a consequence technocrats step in once again.

Technocrats step in

With respect to political governments, technocratic governments have the disadvantage of not having a popular mandate. However, and even if the Monti cabinet does not have the quality of the one led by Ciampi in 1992, it is not subject to electoral calculus and clientelism, by which policies are passed only if they bring a gain in terms of votes.

Can they help?
So will technocrats be able to fix the country? Probably only temporarily in order to survive the current crisis, They will put debt under control, increase the country's credibility vis-à-vis the markets and the European partners and, at the end of the day, keep Italy in the Euro.

But the Italian society and economy need much more than that. Italy needs deep reforms in the labour market (more flexibility), fiscal system (less corruption), education system (more resources), public administration (less red tape), industrial relations (more competitiveness), institutions (less waste). It needs to attract foreign investments by making the judicial system more efficient. It needs to abolish privilege of certain professional categories and age groups. It needs to reduce the influence from the Catholic church, and give more chances to women and youngsters. Italy needs, ultimately, to be modernised − economically, socially and culturally. These are not the tasks for a technocratic government.

The government Italy needs
These are on the contrary tasks for a authoritative political government with a strong popular mandate and a true leadership. The government Italy badly needs is one with a vision for the future and the capability of bringing the Italian population on board to make the necessary choices to put the vision in practice. It must be a government with a project, and with the courage to talk straight to Italian voters and explain, first, how serious the crisis is and, second, what really needs to be done. This must be done without the fear that hard choices will not pay off electorally.

Technocratic governments are by definition short-lived and cannot indicate a route for the future of a nation. The present government will last no longer than the natural end of the legislature, that is until April 2013. It will be therefore the political elite who must step up to the gravity of the moment and must be able to assume responsibility instead of delegating it to technocrats.

Picture: Photocase / Marqs

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