Italy in political turmoil

Centre-left claims election win, but knife-edge victory will create instability

"Mr Berlusconi, a 69-year-old media mogul who is Italy's longest-serving prime minister since the second world war, was aiming for his third premiership with an often squabling coalition of his Forza Italia party, the former neo-fascist National Alliance, pro-Vatican forces and the anti-immigrant Northern League.

"The 66-year-old Mr Prodi, a former prime minister and one-time president of the European Commission, was making his comeback bid with a potentially unwieldy coalition of moderate Christian Democrats, Greens, Liberals, communists and former communists...

"...the rancorous campaign has split the country as never before.

"It may have been amusing at the start of the campaign for Mr Berlusconi to have compared himself to Napoleon and vowed to give up sex until polling day. But many of Italy's practising Roman Catholics began to lose their sense of humour when he likened himself to Jesus Christ" (John Hooper and Barbara McMahon. "Italy in political turmoil." Guardian Weekly, April 14, 2006: 1).

"If ever a new government faced an unenviable prospect, it is the one that emerges with immense difficulty from Italy's turbulent general election. Under Silvio Berlusconi, the economy has ground to a virtual standstill...

"...there is no guarantee that Italy will benefit from the expected recovery more than minimally. Over recent years it has repeatedly failed to exploit upswings fully.

"Italy is in dire need of structural reforms: that calls for a united government with an ample majority. But with initial projections showing the country split down the middle, a united stance and a convincing majority appeared further away than ever" ("Pressing need for reform makes leadership a touch proposition." Guardian Weekly, April 14, 2006: 1).

"Italy's overwhelming problem is a lack of competitiveness that has resulted in the lowest average growth rate in the EU over the past 15 years. With a declining birthrate and a contracting economy, somethin in Italy has to give. One of the many failings of Silvio Berlusconi was that he squandered his opportunity to lead his country towards reform" ("Europe: Turning away from reform." Guardian Weekly, April 21, 2006: 3).

"Under a party called Forza Italia, its named derived from the football chant "Go Italy!", the country has gone nowhere at all. Last year it had zero economic growth. Its total growth over the five years that Berlusconi has been in power is 3.2%, the worst of any EU member state. Youth unemployment is close to 25%. Gross public debt is more than 100% of the country's gross domestic product. Productivity and competitiveness have either stalled or declined. Every Italian consumer will tell you that shopkeepers exploited the conversion to the Euro to hike prices for a beer, a pizza or that incomparable expresso.

"The country has tumbled down the competitiveness tables, coping badly both with the demands of the one-size-fits-all eurozone and with the challenge of globalisation. The things it excels in making--textiles, leather goods--China and India can export for a fraction of the price. An ageing native-born population, underfunded pensions, ill-integrated immigrants... you name it, Italy has it. All the glories of old Europe are here--and all the problems...

"...the incoming government is unlikely to be able to make the kind of deep reforms that Italy so obviously needs. It's unlikely to succeed, for example, in the liberalisation of Italy's labour markets, either by the Nordic route--through consensus--or by the British route--through Margaret Thatcher's use of a British prime minister's powers of "elective dictatorship." Italy therefore seems likely tos tay with France and Germany in the slow-coach club" (Timothy Garton Ash. "A nation of improvisers." Guardian Weekly, April 21, 2006: 5).

Colby Glass, MLIS