How would you describe the political situation in Italy?
Well, it was easier to elect Pope Francis I. than a new Italian Prime Minister. The word “fog” was used by the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano, during a recent conference. One of the other conference speakers referred to Giorgio Napolitano as, “A sort of lighthouse that is shedding its light on the country”, and he answered “I might be a light, but in the fog, I myself, am not enough.” So the future is still open.
What options do you see going forward?
The first option is that Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of our party, tries to form a government. After all, our coalition has the majority of the seats in the lower chamber and is also the biggest group in the senate where there is no majority. Therefore, he will try. His efforts, at the moment, are concentrated on convincing the Five Star Movement, or at least parts of it, to give him their vote of confidence after taking note of the fact that his platform accepts most of their main political and electoral commitments. Basically, there are eight points in the political platform of Bersani, that, in his view, should be accepted by the Five Star Movement. At the moment, it doesn’t look like their reaction is positive though. The leader of the Movement, Beppe Grillo, has repeatedly said “We will never give our confidence to a Cabinet different from our own.” So we are ready to give a government to the country, and if the others want to give us their confidence, fine. But we won’t be allied to anybody.
So given this situation, we don’t know whether the President of the Republic will allow Bersani to try to form a government without the certainty that he has a majority in both chambers. Or whether Napolitano will tell him, “No, you can’t have, from me, permission to form the new Cabinet unless you demonstrate in advance that you have a majority in both chambers.” Should Napolitano take this second position, of course, Bersani should withdraw.
At this point, a second option could take shape. The option being that the President tries to form a Cabinet based on his own authority; more or less the kind of thing he did with Monti. He should of course think of another Prime Minister, not Monti himself, who has now become a political leader. I don’t know who this personality could be; maybe somebody from the Bank of Italy, maybe somebody else. But the President himself should have some reasonable expectations from the main political groups in the Parliament, that they are ready to give their confidence. A government could be put into place using the Byzantine Italian rules of “technical confidence”. This basically means: “I’m not giving you my political confidence; therefore I don’t identify myself with you. But for technical reasons, in order for the country to have a Cabinet, I vote yes.”
But the parties voting yes are not a political majority. It was similar with Monti. Several doubts exist about the readiness of the main political groups to give this technical confidence because the Five Star Movement quite likely would say no. And for the PD to give technical confidence together with the PDL would be considered politically dangerous because the Five Star Movement could say “You call it technical, but again, you, the two main parties, are together supporting a Cabinet, and the only opposition is us.” This would be political fodder for them.
Therefore, a final option emerges as the one that perhaps could become the most likely should Bersani fail. The most likely option being new elections, scheduled not by Napolitano but by his successor. Napolitano, at the end of his mandate, can no longer dissolve Parliament. So his successor needs to dissolve it in two or three months, and until that point, Monti remains where he is as caretaker Prime Minister.
How do you interpret the rise of Beppe Grillo and the Five Star Movement? What do you think are the underlying causes for this?
Well, clearly it’s the increasing dissatisfaction of a wider and wider segment of our public opinion, of different social classes, with the political elite. Both, because of the privileges deriving from corruption that have emerged in the ruling political elite lately and of course because of uneasiness and anxiety related to the economic recession in Italy. Unemployment on the one side, taxes on the other side – all of the social groups in the country, or at least several social groups in the country, feel bad because of recession. The youth, because they don’t find jobs, or if they find jobs, they are badly paid, temporary jobs, this sort of thing. Small businessmen and small entrepreneurs are overburdened with taxes. There are taxes that they are supposed to pay even if their business is losing money. And the middle class is also losing its purchasing power.
In the meantime you have the symbolic case of the head of the parliamentary group of the PDL in the region Lazio, who could use the money of taxpayers to buy, one morning, when there was a little bit of snow in Rome, a huge BMW, just to feel safer in the snow. So if something like this happens, you can understand the widespread effects that such cases produce. This of course also damages others who are honest politicians. But of course, as you well know, the reaction is “You politicians; all of you are like this.”
Additionally, of course, there is the great personal ability of Beppe Grillo, who has been an extraordinary comedian, using the stages that the country offered to him – the squares, TV, the internet – for succeeding in somehow collecting all of these reasons to protest.
Has the rise of the Five Star Movement changed Italian politics for good? Is this a watershed moment, or how do you interpret recent events?
This is difficult to say. Because sometimes, these protest movements are the embryos of future political groups, ready to run the country. On the other hand they could also just be temporary peaks of a protest and the Five Star Movement might even be frightened by the amount of votes they collected. In other words, I can’t understand at the moment – if the third option I was referring to becomes reality, and therefore we have new elections very soon – whether this Movement will grow or go down. There might be a further increase of support on the one side, but voters might also be frightened by the instability that has been generated by their votes. They might also go back to where they were before. I don’t know. Really, I don’t know.
It’s very interesting times for Italian politics…
Very interesting, very interesting. As long as the markets are patient. As long as they see Monti there, they feel reassured. Plus, and even more importantly, in the last months several important funds and financial institutions bought Italian bonds, and therefore at the moment, they don’t want to lose money on these bonds so they don’t sell. But of course, should our uncertainty last significantly longer, there might be reactions and we might find ourselves in quite turbulent times. Let’s see.
Giuliano Amato is a former Prime Minister of Italy.