Some argue that the elections to be held in Italy are the most important for that country in three decades, since the fate of the euro could be at stake. Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Guy Dinmore, Rome bureau chief, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the election. Read more
I have just spent a few days traveling across Veneto, Italy’s industrial heartland in the north east of the peninsula. One of the tasks I had set myself for this trip was to understand whether Italy’s economic crisis is fuelling euroscepticism.
Italy has traditionally been among the continent’s most europhilic countries. To the astonishment of outside observers – particularly those from the Anglo-Saxon world – Italians have seemed relatively at ease with the idea of handing more and more powers over to Brussels.
After the wave of austerity which has recently hit Italy, and which Brussels was at least partially responsible for, I expected this attitude to have become somewhat less positive. Veneto was an excellent testing ground for its resilience. This wealthy region is governed by Luca Zaia, from the Northern League, the most eurosceptic among Italy’s mainstream parties. Veneto has a strong export-oriented manufacturing sector, which can no longer rely on competitive devaluations as it did in the 1980s and 1990s, before Italy entered the euro.
This point was made to me by Roberto Brazzale, a food entrepreneur from the province of the city of Vicenza, who has off-shored much of his production of parmesan cheese and mozzarella to the Czech Republic. “We must exit the euro,” Mr Brazzale said. “And do it before our industrial base is completely wiped out”. Read more
He is not quite kissing babies yet but Mario Monti is throwing off his image as a fusty economics professor and former EU bureaucrat with his first election campaign spot.
The one-minute spot – released today on social network sites and local television stations – shows the human side of the 69-year-old, playing on the carpet with his grandchildren and promising a “together we can do it” better future.
Hammering home the message that the “old parties are not capable of reforming Italy”, the ad skips over the issue that Mr Monti’s centrist alliance includes two of parliament’s most veteran politicians.
If the campaign carries echoes of Barack Obama, could that be because Italy’s technocrat prime minister has hired two consultants from the old team led by David Axelrod, strategist for the US president?
The spot cleverly splices images of wads of cash changing hands and lines of official limousines as Mr Monti promises to crack down on corruption and wasteful government spending while promising economic growth, jobs and “responsible” tax cuts. Read more
But electoral considerations have trumped solidarity with France over Mali, forcing an embarrassing u-turn.
Mario Monti’s foreign and defence ministers last month pledged logistical help in the form of transport planes and refuelling for the French. “We are beside you, Paris,” newspapers proclaimed. But on Sunday, in Paris, Italy’s technocrat prime minister had to explain to François Hollande that no such support would be forthcoming after all.
Franco Frattini, former foreign minister and member of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right party, is particularly disappointed, having passed a resolution in parliament on January 22 – with support from members of the centre-left Democrats and the centrist UDC – that backed Italian logistical intervention.
“Because of the election campaign we run the risk of not fulfilling our European duties of solidarity,” Mr Frattini told the FT. Read more
A few weeks ago I was in Oxford for the screening of Girlfriend in a Coma, the film on Italy’s decline written by Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist, and Annalisa Piras, an Italian journalist and filmmaker. The audience – consisting mainly of British Italophiles and young Italian researchers who had left the country’s decaying universities to find shelter in British academia – gave the documentary a warm reception. During the discussion I chaired after the screening, Emmott conceded that taking the movie to Italy would pose a far greater challenge. He joked that he and Piras would need bodyguards. Their movie is in fact a brutal exercise in truth-telling, aimed at holding to account those who have run Italy over the past two decades.
Italy’s first reaction has, indeed, proved rather unwelcoming. The Italian premiere of Girlfriend in a Coma, scheduled for February 13 at MAXXI, a museum of contemporary art in Rome, was suddenly cancelled on Friday. Read more
For those used to a democratic system with an established political dynamic – Democrats v Republicans in the US, or Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats in Britain – Italy can seem strange. Some of the parties and alliances running in this year’s general election did not even exist in previous contests.
Mr Monti, long-time economics professor and former EU commissioner who was appointed technocrat prime minister in late 2011, has never run for elective office in his life, and it shows.
Enter David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s two-time campaign strategist, who responding to a report in Turin’s La Stampa, confirms to my FT Washington colleague Richard McGregor that his old firm AKPD Message and Media has been hired by Mr Monti. Mr Axelrod says he had been retained “to take a look and come in for a day to meet with Monti and his team, which I did.” He adds for transparency’s sake: “I no longer have an interest in AKPD.” Read more
With six and a half weeks to go, the situation is still too fluid to make a call on who will win. But, for those not versed in the art of Italian politics, we thought it would be helpful to explain the main players involved, and outline the chances of the two very different men who have held the most influence over Italy in the past few years – Mario Monti and Silvio Berlusconi.
A centre-left coalition dominated by the Democratic Party, in alliance with the more left-wing Left, Ecology, Freedom party
Berlusconi’s right-wing alliance between his People of Freedom and the Northern League
A centrist coalition led by Italy’s technocratic prime minister, now turned politician, Mario Monti. This includes the PM’s own list, Civic choice for Monti,the Christian Democrats and a smaller centre-right party, Future and Freedom for Italy
The Five Star Movement, brainchild of the comedian-cum-blogger, Beppe Grillo
A left-wing group, Civil Revolution, set up by the former anti-mafia judge Antonio Ingroia
Italy’s cumbersome electoral law, which is different for the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, makes the lives of the phsephologists even harder. Here’s what we know about the situation in each house. Read more
The looming political showdown in Italy
Italian prime minister Mario Monti has said he’ll resign, making elections likely to occur next February. But who is likely to win, or even who will run, remains unclear. Both Mr Monti and Silvio Berlusconi are possible candidates. Guy Dinmore, FT bureau chief in Rome, Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Ferdinando Giugliano, leader writer, join Gideon Rachman. Read more
Silvio Berlusconi attends the presentation of the book "The big cheat" by Renato Brunetta (FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GettyImages)
Following a Berlusconi trial is like going to the theatre — it is your civic right to enjoy a spectacle even though you know perfectly well the act bears no relation to reality.
Very little about Silvio Berlusconi, or about the Italian legal system, is quite what it seems. The four-year prison term to which the former prime minister was sentenced on Friday for tax fraud is a good example. There is next to no chance that he will go to jail. The likelihood that he will ever be definitively convicted of this particular offence is not much higher.
Contrary to what he and his devotees might think, the reason is not that he is a paragon of virtue. Nor is it that the Italian courts always uncover the truth in the end. It is rather that the three-tier judicial system operates so slowly that, even if a defendant is eventually found guilty in the highest appeals court, the case has been going on for so long that a statute of limitations kicks in.Read more
Gideon became chief foreign affairs columnist for the Financial Times in July 2006. He joined the FT after a 15-year career at The Economist, which included spells as a foreign correspondent in Brussels, Washington and Bangkok. He also edited The Economist’s business and Asia sections.
His particular interests include American foreign policy, the European Union and globalisation