Opinions - 17.11.2011 - 00:00 

Italy on the move

After 17 years of Berlusconi, Italy seems to have to reinvent itself. How will the country develop? Is it possible for the entrenched political situation to be changed? An assessment by Professor Renato Martinoni.


16 November 2011. Many political experts believe that the Berlusconi era is now over. After 17 years under the influence of the controversial media mogul, Italy appears to be facing a new scenario. But what kind of scenario? The debate now focuses on both old and new problems: the weakness of the political system, the unreliability of the institutions, the exaggerated costs of the government machine. In addition, they cannot postpone the responsibility to find a speedy and concrete solution to the problem of government debt.

Berlusconi’s legacy
Berlusconi’s political programme was allegedly based on liberal values, though in reality had little to do with liberalism. In fact, he only pursued one goal: not, as he always asserted, to combat the spectre of communism, but to cultivate his own individual interests and contain his personal conflicts with the judiciary. The inevitable consequences of this strategy included strong personalisation and continuous mediatisation, even a “spectacularisation” of politics. Berlusconi often portrayed himself as a victim of harassment by politicised judges and public prosecutors. He relied on the populists’ optimism in order to go easy on reality while hiding or put off real problems rather than solving them.  This has fostered a negative global image of Italy which in the present-day is a country riddled with social and political problems – even more so than before.

Politics on three fragile pillars

Three pillars support the political system: centre-right, centre and centre-left coalitions. However, each pillar is in turn divided up. The nationally oriented Party of Freedoms founded by Berlusconi cooperates with the regionalist-autonomous Lega Nord (but only in the name of realpolitik). The post-communist Democratic Party would be unable to govern without the radicalised Italy of Values. The centre is made up of “post”-catholics, “post”-communists and “post”-liberals, who do not share a programme. The lack of political exchange and of credible people in politics virtually deprives the whole thing of any practicability.

The new government’s opportunities

Three scenarios were now open. A new government headed by an heir of Berlusconi’s whose regular term of office would come to an end in 2013, calling early elections in about two to three months, or the immediate formation of a “technical” government. The third solution is welcomed least by politicians, yet two thirds of the Italian population were in favour of this variant. The President of the Republic, who has the obligation and the right to set the most politically reasonable course in a crisis, has opted for this third variant. He has called on economics professor Mario Monti, who was formerly Rector and then President of Bocconi University, as well as an EU Commissioner (1994-2004). As an independent, liberally oriented academic, he enjoys the trust of many Italians. Nonetheless, his political task appears to be rather difficult, and the risk that the political class will not let him work looms large. But Mario Monti appears to show great resolve and purposefulness. It is to be desired that no one will put obstacles in his way and that he will master this difficult challenge.

Hopes of Italian society
Today, many Italians look at the political world with scepticism, and for good reasons. In Italy, the state has traditionally been regarded as an enemy rather than a friend. But Italy is more than just the political Italy. There is also the Italy of the Italians. A radical renewal of the political world would undoubtedly be necessary. But how should this be done? Italy appears simply to be a “case” rather than a “special case” – an interesting research laboratory for a better understanding of the dynamics of European politics.

Photo: Photocase / Leonard

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