For the past 15 years, there has been little good to say about Italy’s economic performance, and even less about the quality of Italian political life.
Yet one Italian institution emerges with its reputation unscathed – and even strengthened – from this long spell of incompetence, corruption and decline.
I am speaking of the presidency. Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, who served as head of state from 1999-2006, and Giorgio Napolitano, his successor and the current president, have exemplified everything that is dignified, decent and honourable about their country. Their behaviour in office has put the squabbling and self-serving political classes to shame – and it has preserved respect for Italy among its allies and partners abroad. Read more
Just when it seemed that European politics could get no harder for Angela Merkel, a new complication has emerged in the tangled world of the EU.
The German chancellor is already involved in a head-splitting row over the probable appointment of Jean Claude Juncker as the next European Commission president. This week while Ms Merkel was in Brazil watching Germany’s opening victory of the World Cup, the first big split emerged in her ruling coalition.
Sigmar Gabriel, her deputy, pounced on Ms Merkel’s absence to challenge her eurozone economic policy, in an intervention that has the potential to sour relations long after the original dispute is forgotten. Read more
Now that most of the results have come in from the European parliament elections, let’s take a family photograph of Europe’s presidents, chancellors and prime ministers. Who have the broadest smiles on their faces, and who are sobbing into their handkerchiefs?
Among the European Union’s six biggest states – France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the UK – the happiest leader must surely be Matteo Renzi, Italy’s premier. He won, and won big. Mr Renzi (above) demolished the notion that Beppe Grillo’s anti-establishment Five-Star Movement is on an unstoppable roll. He also inflicted an emphatic defeat on Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party.
Even though it was not a national election, the youthful Mr Renzi can now claim to have a mandate of sorts for the political, economic and social reforms that he knows are necessary to modernise Italy. This is not to say that he will succeed – the power of entrenched anti-reform interests in Italy is formidable. But maybe he has a better chance than he did 48 hours ago. Read more
According to the old saying, if you knew how a sausage was made, you’d never eat one. It is no easier on the stomach to watch the political intrigues that lie behind the formation of Italian governments.
A new government is on its way in Rome because Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, has decided to pull the plug on Enrico Letta’s premiership. It is difficult to see who other than the youthful, super-ambitious Renzi will replace Letta.
For Italy’s eurozone partners, this is a fateful moment. If Renzi, as prime minister, fails to deliver the reforms that European policy makers know are essential to keeping Italy in the eurozone, the likelihood that some other Italian politician will do so are exceedingly small.
But Renzi’s very public political assassination of Letta, his party comrade, was a kind of theatrical “stab in the front” that may one day return to haunt him. For if these are the methods he deems suitable to clear his path to national office, it is reasonable to assume that they will sooner or later be used against him. Read more
Matteo Renzi (Getty)
Outside Italy there is an understandable enthusiasm for the constitutional and electoral reform proposals of Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party. Italy unblocked – at last! Inside the nation itself, there is more caution and scepticism. This reflects the experience of Italians, who have travelled such roads in the past without being rewarded with better government and a better class of political leaders.
Renzi, 39, and Silvio Berlusconi, 77, leader of the revived conservative Forza Italia party, struck a deal this month which is beguiling in its simplicity. Read more
(OLIVIER MORIN/AFP/Getty Images)
An optimist would draw much inspiration from Matteo Renzi’s convincing victory in Sunday’s primary elections for the leadership of Italy’s ruling centre-left Democratic party (PD). Doesn’t the success of the 38-year-old Florence mayor prove that a new generation of vigorous, reform-minded politicians is, at long last, replacing the squabbling, incompetent and sometimes corrupt oldsters who have presided over the nation’s decline over the past 20 years? Read more
(FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images)
As the FT’s former man in Rome, I find it poignant to see Silvio Berlusconi battling this week to hold together the political movement he launched 20 years ago. The billionaire Milanese entrepreneur did not seriously contemplate a political career until 1993, when he realised it would be the most effective way to protect his business interests. In fact, one of his closest associates once confided – perhaps only half-jokingly – that, if Berlusconi had not formed Forza Italia, the boss and his loyalists would have ended up either in prison or hanging lifeless à la Roberto Calvi under a London bridge.
In its various incarnations Forza Italia is sometimes depicted as one of the most formidable vote-gathering and coalition-building political machines of modern Europe. Read more
By Catherine Contiguglia
It seemed an era of Italian politics came to an end with the announcement that Italy’s supreme court had upheld a four-year sentence against Silvio Berlusconi for tax fraud.
Though the 76-year-old centre-right politician will not be going to jail due to his age, he could be placed under house arrest for a year, will not be able to hold public office for as long as five years, will not be able to run for elected office for six years and could be voted out of his current position as a senator.
Emerging from the ashes has been a major part of Berlusconi’s public career and, since the ruling, Berlusconi has assured his supporters he still has more plans up his sleeve. However, many believe this most recent ruling could be the definitive end of Berlusconi in politics. Read more
Beppe Grillo on the campaign trail
Two months ago Beppe Grillo came out as the big winner of Italy’s general elections. His Five Star Movement, which was created only in 2009, came within a whisker of becoming Italy’s single largest political force. His vote tally in the Lower House was an extraordinary 8.7m, more than Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Liberty party and only a few hundred thousand votes less than the centre-left Democratic Party. Read more
Situation vacant? Mario Monti (Getty)
There were two big job vacancies in Rome last month. The Catholic Church began looking for a new pope after the shock resignation of Benedict XVI. Meanwhile, Italians went about the business of picking a new head of government who would end Mario Monti’s technocratic interlude.
The Vatican is not exactly known for its speedy decision-making. Yet it only took the conclave of cardinals a couple of days to elect Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new head of the church. Pope Francis – as he is now – is already making headlines with his new message centred on the need for a humbler and more austere church.
On the other side of the Tiber, Italian politicians are still struggling to choose a new prime minister. Today and tomorrow, President Giorgio Napolitano is meeting party leaders and other institutional figures to talk about what to do next. But Italy-watchers do not expect white smoke to come out of the presidential palace any time soon.
Last month’s inconclusive elections have produced a three-way deadlock in the Senate between Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left coalition, Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right alliance, and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. The only solution to the impasse is a government that is backed by at least two of these forces. But this trilemma has no easy solution. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Some months ago, I was discussing the euro crisis with a high-ranking US diplomat. “It’s back to the 1930s, isn’t it?” said my companion with a mixture of gloom and relish. “The extremists are on the rise.”
Instability rules in Italy
Italian national elections have ended in chaos and the voters’ message is that they are tired of austerity and the political elite. The country faces a hung parliament after votes were split between a former comedian, an ex-prime minister who faces corruption charges, and the centre-left, who won narrowly in the lower house. Mario Monti, the technocratic prime minister who was appointed 15 months ago, came a distant fourth place. In this podcast, Guy Dinmore, Rome correspondent, Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief, and Ferdinando Giugliano, leader writer, join world news editor Shawn Donnan to discuss the unfolding drama, which could take weeks to resolve.
Beppe Grillo, the big winner of Italy’s 2013 election, first rose to fame in the 1970s as an irreverent, foul-mouthed comedian with corruption of all kinds in his sights. Read more
Two interesting trends that have shown up in the data from Italy’s election today.
1) The preliminary election results among the nearly 3.5 million Italian voters living abroad show a very different picture from the results within Italy.
The austerity measures and market-friendly stance of the ex-Prime Minister Mario Monti managed to convinced over 27 per cent of the votes of Italians living in Europe and in North and Central America, where his movement came in second after Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party (PD). Within Italy, fewer than one in ten Italians voted for him.
Meanwhile, the comedian-turned-political leader Beppe Grillo successfully won over Italians in the plazas where he held numerous rallies, but it appears that his anti-establishment message was not heard so sympathetically by Italians around the world. Read more
Making sure the world gets the message – Graffiti on a wall in Livorno, Italy
Political deadlock and impending chaos, a rejection of EU-driven austerity, and market uncertainty are the main three themes in the media commentary on the Italian election that had yet to be declared on Tuesday morning.
“The reality is that Italy today is almost ungovernable,” writes Fabrizio Goria on Linkiesta, a news website. “And it will not take long for the markets to react.”
The headline in La Repubblica , the leading centre-left daily, doesn’t really need translating:
Italia ingovernabile: Senato spaccato, Grillo primo partito
“An ungovernable country,” concludes Massimo Razzi inside. “Politically, but also technically. With few ways out given the almost unworkable or numerically insufficient alliances.” Read more
Mario Monti exits a voting booth on February 24 (AFP/Getty)
Paul Krugman has got in early to comment on the political demise of Mario Monti – who now seems certain to trail in fourth in the Italian elections. According to Krugman, Monti’s reputation for wisdom is wildly overblown. On the contrary, he more or less deserves his fate because he was “in effect, the proconsul installed by Germany.”
Worse, according to Krugman, Monti’s policies did not even work. As in the rest of southern Europe, the economy has shrunk and so debt-to-GDP ratios have risen. There was only one “piece of good news” in the Monti era – that “bond markets have calmed down.” However, Monti cannot claim the credit even for this, because it is “largely thanks to the stated willingness of the ECB to step in and buy government debt when necessary.”
As ever, with Krugman, the argument is forcefully made. But it misses out a crucial stage in the argument and therefore unfairly denigrates the role of Monti in stabilising the Italian economy. Remember, when Monti came to power, the steady rise in the interest rates that Italy was having to pay to finance its debt was eating up more and more of the Italian budget. There was a real prospect that Italy might simply be unable to finance itself through the bond markets – and that might have sparked a terminal crisis in the euro. Read more
Italians cast their ballots in a tight election, with Brussels, Berlin and the markets looking on. By Tom Burgis, Lina Saigol, Ben Fenton and Shannon Bond with contributions from FT correspondents across Italy and beyond. All times are GMT.
On this, the final day of polling in Italy’s 2013 election, we thought it would be worth highlighting five blog posts from the FT that will help provide the context you need to understand the results when they eventually emerge…
As Italy’s increasingly surreal election campaign draws to a close, it is still hard to believe that Silvio Berlusconi, who exited government so ignominiously 18 months ago, may well garner enough votes with his coalition partners next weekend to deny the centre-left and Mario Monti an outright win.
Should that happen, as is probable, Italians are destined for more political instability. They may be back at the polls within a year or 18 months.
In that context alone, understanding the enduring appeal of Berlusconi – who failed to stem a decline of Italian economic competitiveness during his time in office and remains mired in corruption trials – can be baffling for an outsider. But go out on the stump with Italy’s veteran showman, as I did on Monday night, and it all becomes a little clearer. Read more
The most important Italian election for 30 years?
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.