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Italy’s political crisis after Prime Minister Renzi’s resignation

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] A [/yt_dropcap] fter the start of the famous so-called “Second Republic” the thirteen governments, which succeeded one another in Italy, have lasted approximately three years at the maximum. Like Matteo Renzi’s, indeed the longest government in the “Second Republic.”

Obviously assuming that the goal of the Italian Second Republic was to have “governments which could last a whole legislature”, it was certainly not reached.

Not even the goal of avoiding the multiplication and increasing power of the political parties represented in Parliament was achieved, considering that from nine, on average, they decreased to eight – not a great success for those who wanted a British-style bipartisan system?

But why a British-style bipartisan system? Our political history is much more complex than the history of a country, which only assassinated a king in 1642.

Not to mention the countless electoral lists.

It is worth recalling that the collapse of the First Republic occurred between 1992 and 1993, but its seeds had been sown long before, precisely in 1987.

At that time, the dissolution of Parliament led to a sort of “institutional gridlock” due to the coincidence of the election of the President of the Republic and Parliamentary election.

Finally, at the time, a representative of the Lombard League was elected to the Senate, while the Mafia in Palermo channelled its votes to radicals and socialists with a view to sending a signal to the Christian Democratic Party (DC).

It was the phase of the “maxi-trial” against Sicilian Mafia bosses, resulting from judge Giovanni Falcone’s investigations.

Later Italy recorded corruption, as well as the fragmentation and regionalization of political parties, the fall of the Communist Party – an unsaid pillar of the system – the metamorphosis of the judiciary power due to globalization and the increase in extra legem law sources.

Hence a new international Lex Mercatoria expressed directly by the markets and not focused on Parliament and courts.

Italy was collapsing as a result of corruption, of the ante litteram scrapping of political parties, of media-style cheap leaderism, of increased autonomy of markets and civil society. It was the Italy “born out of the Resistance movement” or, more exactly, of the political parties: the Christian Democratic Party (DC), which had been created in 1943, shortly after the “Camaldoli Code”; the Communist Party (PCI), which during Fascism remained underground, with all its leaders hidden in Moscow; the Socialist Party (PSI), which survived during the Fascist period; the Social Democratic Party (PSDI), which was created as a result of an anti-PSI split in 1947; the old Republican Party (PRI), which went into hiding during the Fascist period; the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a national right party which was founded in 1946, and other political groupings generated by Italy’s history, social struggles and life.

Matteo Renzi knows nothing about these parties and their history – not even about the history of the Christian Democrats, his party of origin.

Renzi, like his predecessors, is the result of the Italian structural crisis, but he is the result and not the solution.

As to the labour market and employment policy, Renzi implemented the Jobs Act and, with a provincial and narrow-minded mentality, he used English to define it – as if it were a law by Barack Obama, the true patron of Renzi’s naive Americanism.

The Jobs Act assumes that there is a matching between labour supply and demand, as if the two markets were potentially equal, but it is mostly based on a reduction of the tax burden for employers, with a view to shifting from fixed-term contracts to open-ended contracts.

Obviously the system will create new jobs as long as the tax relief lasts.

In early 2016, hirings with open-ended contracts fell by 33%, while the turning of fixed-term contracts into open-ended contracts decreased by 30.5%.

Once finished the doping of the tax rebate, everything will go on as before.

Last November, Minister Madia’s Public Administration reform was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. Certainly it is a specific law on the relationship between the Ministry and the State-Regions Conference, but it is anyway a reform drafted by a former TV professional.

Moreover, civil servants will be obliged to return from holiday if the staff is missing. And this is only one facet of the problem.

Youth unemployment, Renzi’s real propaganda obsession, is equal to 44.2%, the highest level since 1977.

The increase of taxes, which were already so high as to block economic development even before the Florentine leader’s government, was evident, albeit hypocritically and surreptitiously hidden in wider-scope laws.

First and foremost, the VAT increase which, with the so-called regime dei minimi – a sort of facilitated tax system – will rise from 5% to 15%.

Moreover, before falling as a result of the mad and reckless constitutional referendum, Renzi’s government planned to increase the usual petrol excise duties, over and above increasing the regional tax on productive activities (IRAP) retroactively.

Not to forget the increased taxation on pension funds, raised from 11.5% to 20%, in addition to the duty on the many classic and antique cars.

On the spending side, the same holds true for the endless forms of “pocket money” that Renzi offered as a gift to voters: 80 euros to everybody; 160 euros to low-income families with at least two children; a 500 euro bonus to the pensioners who had been subjected to unlawful deductions; a 500 euro bonus for the young people aged at least 18.

An indiscriminate all-round distribution of taxpayers’ money to all social groups that the former Prime Minister wanted to “buy”, with the disco-style habit of appearing youthful no matter what (500 euro to teenagers) and the buying of the elderly people’s votes with pension increases, rather remote indeed. Let us wait for them to die but, in the meantime, let us make them vote in “the right way”.

Two voting areas which, as is worth recalling, are more unstable than the others.

Hence we had a “child” in power, such as those described by Roger Vitrac in his 1928 surrealist play Victor, or Power to Children.

But, at least, in Vitrac’s play we were saved by the children.

Hence a group of Ministers cobbled together in a makeshift manner, yes-men or yes-women who only had to obey the orders of the leader or his Florentine coterie known as “Il Giglio Magico”.

Young Ministers of a children’s government, as in the 1938 movie Boys Town with Spencer Tracy.

A bunch of provincial and narrow-minded young people, who were so lucky to come to power, because in fact no one wanted that power or had the right stuff to gain it.

This is exactly the structural crisis of the Second Republic, much more severe and faster that the First Republic’s, which has been fully exposed by Renzi’s government.

Foreign Minister Gentiloni, born as the Former Minister and Rome Mayor Rutelli’s dogsbody or lackey, as indeed his Prime Minister, received with admirable handshakes all the Premiers of Third World countries, but he was superlative and unrivalled in his “political statements”.

He called for a war in Syria to rescue the Christians (on April 7, 2015); he made no assumptions about the Italians kidnapped in Libya (on July 20, 2015); he was severely ambiguous about Italian troops in Libya, initially described as at war there and later just entrusted with the task of “training Libyan forces” (which ones?) (on May 16, 2015); he ridiculously proclaimed Italy to be a “superpower ” (on April 4, 2016).

Not to mention the indescribable former Foreign Minister Mogherini, later hastily sent to Brussels as EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the worthy successor to the equally ineffable Lady CFSP, Baroness Catherine Ashton, who went to Al Sisi immediately after the coup that had ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power in Egypt and asked him to “respect the election results” and restore the ousted President Morsi in power.

Federica Mogherini urged the political Islam to enter Europe, considering that “the radical Islam is a legitimate force of European politics”, and went on with many other pleasantries and nonsense (on July 7, 2015).

Fortunately, in Islam, there are no women who can rise to certain levels of power.

When I think of Federica Mogherini, I almost feel like appreciating the sharia.

With reference to the persecution of Christians by Isis, with her mere degree in Political Science, Mogherini said that “the issue needs to be clarified and tackled” (on January 20, 2016).

Not to forget her note according to which Turkey could enter the EU if only it abolished death penalty.

And what about the rest? Yet another concession to Chancellor Merkel’s diktats, considering that Angela Merkel had brilliantly stated the same. However, at least Chancellor Merkel is materially interested in Turkey’s EU membership, whereas this is not Italy’s case.

In short: a government made up of young people who, like all children, can also be extremely bad, with a Prime Minister who used the intelligence services to “blacklist” his enemies (Renzi’s enemies, not those of the intelligence services), with a former all-around basketball coach, Luca Lotti, and other Ministers, aides and associates literally found by chance in the street.

Therefore, like all the other governments of the Second Republic, Renzi’s was another step – probably final – towards Italy’s economic and social decline.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs "La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa", he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d'Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: "A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of "Honorable" of the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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Bureaucrats’ Crusade: The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans

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The European Commission set a target date of 2025 for some of the Balkan countries to join. However, Brussels sees only Serbia and Montenegro as actual candidates. The door formally remains open to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, but these countries have been put into a grey zone with no time frames and road maps. They have been put on hold with no tangible prospects for membership, left without any explanation of what makes them less valid candidates than Serbia and Montenegro, with these two being as poor, illiberal and undemocratic as the remaining four.

With a dose of instant cynicism, one might conclude that Serbia and Montenegro have been rewarded for their military aggressions on Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia’s permanent pressures on Macedonia, whereas the latter ones have been punished for being the former’s victims. However, a more careful look at the population structure of the four non-rewarded countries reveals that these, unlike Serbia and Montenegro, have a relative excess of Muslim population. So far, there have been dilemmas whether the European Union is to be regarded as an exclusive Christian club, bearing in mind the prolonged discriminatory treatment of Turkey as an unwanted candidate. After the European Commission’s new strategy for the Balkans, there can be no such dilemmas: the countries perceived by Brussels bureaucrats as Muslim ones – regardless of the actual percentage of their Muslim population – are not to be treated as European.

The resurrection of this logic, now embodied in the actual strategy, takes Europe back to its pre-Westphalian roots, to the faraway times of the Crusades or the times of the Siege of Vienna. It also signals the ultimate triumph of the most reactionary populist ideologies in the contemporary Europe, based on exclusion of all who are perceived as „others“. It signals the ultimate triumph of the European ineradicable xenophobia. Or – to put it in terms more familiar to the likely author of the strategy, the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn – the triumph of Ausländerfeindlichkeit.

Now, what options are left to the practically excluded Balkan countries, after so many efforts to present themselves as valid candidates for EU membership? There is a point in claims that some of their oligarchies, particularly the tripartite one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have never actually wanted to join the EU, because their arbitrary rule would be significantly undermined by the EU’s rule of law. It is logical, then, that the tripartite oligarchy welcomes the strategy that keeps the country away from the EU membership, while at the same time deceiving the population that the strategy is a certain path to the EU. Yet, what about these people, separated into three ethnic quarantines, who believe that joining the EU would simply solve all their political and economic problems, and who refuse to accept the idea that the EU might be an exclusive club, not open to them? What are the remaining options for them?

They cannot launch a comprehensive revolution and completely replace the tripartite oligarchy by their democratic representatives. Still, they can press it to adopt and conduct a multi-optional foreign policy, oriented towards several geopolitical centers: one of them may remain Brussels, but  Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, and others, should also be taken into account. For, a no-alternative policy, as the one which only repeats its devotion to the EU integrations without any other geopolitical options, is no policy at all. In this sense, the presented EU strategy has clearly demonstrated the futility of such a no-alternative approach: regardless of how many times you repeat your devotion to the EU values, principles and integrations, the EU bureaucrats can simply tell you that you will never play in the same team with them. However, such an arbitrary but definite rejection logically pushes the country to look for geopolitical alternatives. And it is high time for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people and intellectual and political elites to understand that Brussels is not the only option on the table, and that there are other geopolitical centers whose interests might be identified as convergent with the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, all of them should first demonstrate the ability to identify the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which means that they should first recognize it as a sovereign state with its own interests, rather than someone else’s proxy.

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