Italian Elections 2006 (6)
[Updated 11:45 PM]
I — Perhaps Martin Kettle is right when he argues in The Guardian that
[i]t would not be hard to capture the worldview of the British political class in one of those celebrated Saul Steinberg New Yorker magazine covers that depict the world as seen from 9th Avenue in Manhattan. That’s because so many of the people who practise politics and government in this country – and certainly those who write about it – have such a limited and solipsistic view of the rest of the planet.
It is […] depressing that so few of our politicians and commentators address today’s European scene with any generosity of spirit or intellect. British attention to the French crisis offers little more than condescension. Chirac? A pompous scoundrel. Riots in the streets? That’s the French for you. Good news from Germany – real signs of an economic upturn, strong showings for the Merkel coalition in the regional elections – stir no imaginative response. Italy’s election has been little more than an opportunity to mock or denounce Berlusconi, however understandably.
As a matter of fact, in my surfing the net in search of newspaper articles, analysis, etc, related to the general election campaign, I didn’t happen to come across something very different from what Kettle was talking about. None of the major national daily US newspapers, however, has done better, IMHO. This is also why it was surprising for me to read in English, a couple of days ago, a “guest column” in which I could recognize my country, at last, and not a caricature of it. But what was most surprising to me was that the author and the newspaper were both Korean, respectively Pio Song and The Korea Herald!
Here is, for instance, what he writes about the pessimistic comments on Italy’s economy:
At the end of 2005 two important and authoritative magazines published very crude articles about the state of the Italian economy. The Economist wrote an article entitled "Addio, Dolce Vita" (or "Farewell, Sweet Life"). The diagnosis sounded like a declaration of imminent death, and "very difficult" the prognosis to recover the situation. The obituary seems ready to be printed. Time Asia edition put on its cover an emblematic title "Italy vs. China" with in background the images of Michelangelo`s David sculpture and one Xian Chinese clay soldier. The reportage inside was a necrology of the Italian chair manufacturing district defeated by Chinese producers.
These pessimistic comments are not new. In the last few years many foreign and some Italian commentators expressed similar worries. The list of the problems Italy has to face is very long.
Also 30 years ago some European newspapers declared the Italian economy defunct. In 1974 the international press described Italy with dramatic tones. Frankfurter Zeitung: "Italy on the brink of abyss"; Die Welt: "Dance on the brink of abyss," "Five minutes before twelve"; Le Monde: "Italy on the brink of bankruptcy"; Le Figaro: "Autopsy of the Italian failure". At that time, after the oil shocks, there were deep concerns not only about Italian economy as a whole, but in particular regarding her fragile financial system.
Well, says Pio Song,
[i]n the 1970s, Italian political and social issues were strongly debated and argued. Today in my opinion the situation seems difficult, but not so desperate as it was depicted at that time or it has been described recently. Italy and Italians have experienced more difficult times than the actual moment. The agenda of the new government should be long and complex. Problems to face and solutions to implement are hugely unpopular but even more necessary. Now that monetary policy has been handed over to the European Central Bank, Italy can rely only on fiscal policy in tuning its economy by itself.
What do we infer from that?
Surely a sort of Rooseveltian New Deal is needed. Italian infrastructure system should be modernized and renovated. The ailing national air company Alitalia, railways, highways, schools and hospitals need a remodeling.
I was told that in Chinese ideograms the word crisis has two signs: one meaning danger and another one meaning opportunity. Italy`s economy is in danger as well as many other countries. Global competition is becoming more and more fierce with resources getting more and more scarce. Maybe Italy has remained unprepared to cope with those new challenges and has been left behind by other countries.
But Italy has also many opportunities and abilities. One example of those is the recovery operated by Fiat, the most important national car maker that owns also Ferrari, Maserati and Alfa Romeo brands. After losing market shares to other European competitors, ending an agreement with GM and downsizing its productive capacity, Fiat focused again on its core business and produced a new line up of cars. One of her models is now the best selling car in Europe.
It is not only in tourism, gastronomy, design and art, where Italy can excel. There are many Italian entrepreneurs and companies that are world leaders in small and niche markets. There is an humus of creative ideas that only need to be finalized in market products or services.
It does not matter who or which party will win the next elections, provided the new government is committed to address the real problems and capable to design a long term strategy to win the challenges for the next years.
I must say that I am amazed at the quality and profundity of that analysis. My compliments, Mr Song.
II — While the second and last U.S.-style TV confrontation between Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his rival Romano Prodi is approaching (it will take place on Monday night), and just over a week before the vote, many undecided voters are becoming increasingly angry and increasingly disenchanted with the Union. As a matter of fact a row over the centre-left’s tax plans is dominating the campaign. Commentators are warning confusing messages by Prodi and other Union’s leaders may cost them dearly:
Prodi has been under pressure to clarify how he would fund a proposed 5 percentage point cut in labor costs — a pillar of his manifesto worth some 10 billion euros ($12 billion).
He has said 2.5 billion euros would come from a plan to raise taxes on income from bonds and stock market capital gains.
Prodi insists the change in the rate of taxation to 19-20 percent from 12.5 percent would only affect newly issued bonds, not those already held by investors.
But Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti says that means the policy would deliver no more than 200 million euros.
Prodi also plans to restore inheritance tax, abolished by the Berlusconi government, but said it would only affect a few hundred very rich people.
While he has not specified at what level the tax would be set, he and his allies have made a series of confusing remarks that have played into the center right’s hands, putting the center left on the defensive ahead of the April 9-10 ballot.
According to the latest surveys, Prodi has a lead of between 3.5 and 5 percentage points over Berlusconi, a gap which remained stable in the two months until a poll black-out came into force 15 days before the vote.
But commentators said on Friday the tax row was damaging the left and might threaten its expected victory.
"The leaders (of Prodi’s alliance) have scared voters with contradictory announcements," the Corriere della Sera daily wrote in a front-page editorial.
"Taxes risk becoming the last-minute trap for the athlete who has led the race all the way," it said.
Even left-leaning La Repubblica said Prodi’s bloc had been inconsistent in explaining its tax plans, warning it risked dissipating its capital of credibility with voters. Several newspapers said there was growing unease within the center left over Prodi’s focus on taxes. [Reuters]
Of course Berlusconi is playing his part to the end:
“For five years this government has never put its hand in the pockets of the Italians. In fact, we have reduced fiscal pressures and 80pct of those contributing pay less than they paid before. I am reading with concern what the left candidate is saying and that is that it is necessary to correct the retreat “in a radical fashion.” This means unequivocally that the left is planning to tax BOTs and CCTs, houses and inheritance of Italians. Italians have understood and studies of notaries and business consultants are filled with those who feel threatened by an eventual, although unlikely, left-wing government. The picture of the last week of the electoral campaign is becoming more and more clear: the 281 pages of the left’s programme announce an assault on the pockets of Italians that will strike for the most part the middle classes, small businesses, the vast majority of families. Many Italians have already understood. We are trying to make the rest understand in the days that remain before April 9.” [AGI]
As a result of the pressure from both Berlusconi and commentators. Prodi said his rivals were "political criminals" for claiming he would raise taxes on shopkeepers and the self-employed. Such a harsh language prompted indignant reactions from the centre-right. "Prodi has lost his nerve … he’s having a full-blown hysterical crisis," said Foreign Minister and The National Alliance (AN) leader Gianfranco Fini.
Even in the light of this new context Roberto Weber, of SWG (a polling company), believes that Italy "is not a country that makes up its mind at the last minute who to vote for. What counts more is what is created over a period of months, not some extraordinary coup at the last moment." But Corriere della Sera is not of the same opinion, as its Saturday’s warning shows: "Tax could become the snare in which the feet of the athlete who has led all the way the way risk becoming trapped." [The Independent]
Categorie:somewhere in italy