Friday, December 28, 2012

BBC News: "Mario Monti to lead Italy centrist coalition"

The piece of news made it to the headlines of the BBC website: Mario Monti, althought not as a candidate, is willing to lead a centrist coalition after the next election.
Here the link to the BBC page with all the details, including links to Monti's and Berlusconi's profiles:


Mario Monti to lead Italy centrist coalition

Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti (28 Dec 2012) 
 Mario Monti could return as prime minister if a centrist coalition were successful at the polls
Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Mario Monti is to lead a coalition of centre parties going into a parliamentary election in February.
Speaking to reporters after four hours of talks with centrist politicians, he said he was willing to be "named leader of the coalition".
He resigned after 13 months as prime minister when predecessor Silvio Berlusconi withdrew his support.
The Vatican newspaper backs Mr Monti's bid to return as prime minister.
The BBC's David Willey, in Rome, says that Mr Monti clearly threw his hat into the political ring at a news conference on Friday evening.
"A new political formation has been born," Mr Monti said.
A single reform list, grouping together centrist parties, would stand for election to the Senate under the provisional title "Monti's agenda for Italy", he said.
But in the lower house, the chamber of deputies, there would be a coalition of centrist parties, including the Christian Democrat UDC.
As senator for life, Mr Monti cannot stand for election, but he is able to take part in the campaign and could return to the post of prime minister if a centrist coalition were successful.
He was brought in to form a technocratic government last year after the government of Silvio Berlusconi collapsed under pressure from the financial markets.
Mr Monti, a former economics professor and European Union Commissioner, was chosen to impose financial rigour on the economy.

Economic austerity
In power, he made some progress early on, including raising the retirement age and structural reforms.
But later policies were watered down and Mr Berlusconi and his centre-right People of Freedom (PDL) party increasingly attacked Mr Monti's economic austerity.
Mr Monti has described his 13 months in office as "difficult but fascinating".
"The work we did... has made the country more trustworthy... more competitive and attractive to foreign investors," he said.
However ordinary Italians have been hard hit by the combination of tax rises and spending cuts Mr Monti has imposed to repair Italy's public finances and it is uncertain how well he will fare in the election on 24-25 February.
The left-wing Democratic Party is currently leading the opinion polls, while Silvio Berlusconi will lead the challenge from the right as head of his PDL party.
Mr Monti was optimistic that the electorate will stick with him. He told an impromptu news conference that he expected his supporters could win a "significant result" in the election.
"The traditional split between left and right has historic and symbolic value," he said, "but does not highlight the real alliance that Italy needs - one that focuses on Europe, and on reforms".

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mario Monti "ascends to politics"

It should be official now: Mario Monti is going into politics, and he announced it himself on the Twitter. Indeed, yesterday, Monti wrote: "Together we have saved Italy from disaster. Now we have to renovate politics. Complaints are not needed, efforts are. Let's "ascend to" politics!".

                                              Mario Monti's tweets
I should probably explain where the phrase "ascend to politics" is coming from.
You should know that in Italy we are not used to discuss about the heart of matters: that is why, out of habit, we talk for the sake of talking, especially our representatives. Now we are turning the huge news of Monti running in the next election in a matter of pure semantics.
In Italian, the expression "to go into politics" is translated as "scendere in campo", where "scendere" literally means "to descend". But Monti recently said that the right expression should be "salire in campo", where "salire" means "to ascend". So, if I want to translate it in a literal way, Mario Monti is not merely going into politics, but he is "ascending to politics". Well, that really changes everything, doesn't it?
So far, the only effect of the new phrase has been a reaction from Berlusconi, who commented: "Monti is 'ascending' to politics because he comes from a lower rank; when I got into politics, I came from a higher rank, so I 'descended'". The man is getting more and more pleasant.
Apart from pointless debates about what verb to use, Monti's candidacy could have serious implications for the main parties. He might take away a large portion of votes from Berlusconi's party "People of Freedom", but, probably, most of all from the leftwing "Democratic Party". Its leader Pierluigi Bersani (recently reconfirmed with a primary election) stated that they are not worried at all about Monti, but you can bet that they are, and they'd better be.
Now Monti has to decide if he wants to run with a unique list together with the centrist parties, or with a combination of different joint lists; this should be decided by the end of the year.
I am really, really anxious to find out where Monti's "ascent" will lead the country...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Mario Monti resigned. Now, will he run for premiership?

I have been away for a week, and I didn't even have a wi-fi connection, so I have been almost completely isolated from what happened in the world. In the evening sometimes I turned on the TV on an Italian news channel, but if I didn't want to ruin my holiday I had to switch it off immediately.
I can summarise the current Italian situation in three words: A REAL MESS.
It's becoming more and more difficult to keep track of everything.
In my last post I wrote that Berlusconi withdraw his support for Monti's government, and that it implied that Monti had to resign. Well, Monti did resign. He went to the Quirinale, the residence of the President of the Republic, and presented his resignation on the 21st of December. The following day, the President summoned the representatives of all parties, and then dissolved the Parliament. However, Monti will formally remain in charge until the election, which will be held (now we know for sure) on the 24th and 25th of February. So, exactly two months from now.

Mario Monti during yesterday's press conference

Nevertheless, many things are still unclear. First of all, we do not know if Monti will run or not. Yesterday, 23rd of December, he held a press conference during which he said that his programme does not belong to any specific political area, and therefore he did not want to take a side which, translated, I would interpret as "I will not run". However, he seems willing to accept the premiership if he is called for the job after the election is held. In other words, he could candidate not his person and not even his name, but his programme for government. This "agenda" is now online. It focuses mainly on Europe, taxes and growth, but it also touches important points such as conflict of interest (currently almost nonexistent in Italy) and a tougher law to prevent people involved in trials from running as candidates. These topics are, you can probably guess, absolutely taboo for Berlusconi, media magnate and protagonist of endless judicial controversies.
Berlusconi: we always end up talking about him. This man is the most incoherent person ever. I actually think that he is losing his mind for real this time. He should be treated, not mocked. It was because of him that Monti lost his parliamentary majority, but shortly after Berlusconi started to say that he wanted Monti to run as PM for a "big coalition of moderates". When Monti did not comment on that, he started to blackmail him by saying that if Monti does not run, he will. Then, he said that if Monti runs as a political candidate, in the future Berlusconi's party "People of Freedom" will never sustain Monti if he runs to become President of the Republic.
The man is clearly delirious, but, God knows why, everyone lets him talk freely. As Monti very cleverly put it: "I find it hard to follow Berlusconi's linearity of thought".
Everything is so confused and worrying right now, that the only way to have a merry Christmas is to try to forget about the outside world for one night. So, I will now turn my self to merrier thoughts, pretend that I live in a normal democracy, and enjoy the company of my family. I wish everyone a very happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mario Monti said he will stand down- and it’s already chaos

Last week, Silvio Berlusconi did not only declare that he will run again to be Prime Minister. He also withdrew his support for Mario Monti’s technocrat government.
The two things combined have already caused chaos in Italy.

Mario Monti and Silvio Berlusconi

After losing the support of Berlusconi’s party, Monti does not have a majority in Parliament anymore. So, he has announced that he will resign as soon as the 2013 budget is approved, which could be already this month. 
Unheard paradox: the technocratic government, appointed because the previous PM resigned, has to resign as well. The ones called to fix the situation are being kicked out. This could happen only in Italy. 
As soon as Monti announced his intention to leave, the Italian stock market crashed and the Italy- Germany spread skyrocketed again. It brings back the good old memories of the last days of the Berlusconi government, just before Monti came into power. 
According to experts’ forecast, Parliament might be dissolved on 21st of December. There you go, that’s the Mayan forecast coming true: it is not the end of the world, but it certainly is a catastrophe for Italy. 
The most absurd thing of all, as hard as it is to find something that is not absurd in this whole story, is that Berlusconi’s party has always fully supported Monti, and that nobody thought about pointing it out to Berlusconi.  
As the Italian journalist Marco Travaglio rightly observed, Berlusconi, just like in the past, will run “an electoral campaign relying entirely on television, with only some alterations for what concerns his targets: instead of the Communists, Merkel and the Euro; instead of the “red judges” (magistrates who persecute him solely because, he claims, they are “Communists”), Monti and his taxes. The fact that the Euro came into place in 2002 under the second Berlusconi government, everyone forgot it. The fact that “People of Freedom” is part of the “European People’s party” together with Merkel’s “Christian Democratic Union”, is a detail for amateurs.  The fact that “People of Freedom” has voted in favour of every bill of the technocratic government, who even remembers that?” 
That’s the biggest fault of the Italian people: short memory.  
According to the latest news, centrist party leaders are now encouraging Monti to run (with them or on his own, it’s still unclear) in the next election. Also Merkel and Hollande seem to wish that Monti will still play a part in Italian politics. 
We don’t know if Monti will run or not, but apparently he is leaving a “memorandum”, a to-do-list for whoever will be his successor, in order to continue the series of reforms he started to steer Italy out of the economic crisis. Good thinking, Monti, write it down: otherwise, we would forget about your memorandum in no time at all.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Berlusconi to run again to be Prime Minister

Our biggest fear has come true. Today Angelino Alfano, who technically is the “leader” of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party (as if we did not know who the real leader is), announced that the party will not hold a primary election because Berlusconi is going to run. The reason? A few days ago, Berlusconi himself claimed that he might run “because Italy needs change”.

Does he really need an introduction?

Please let’s take a moment to fully appreciate this statement. Italy needs change. Ergo, the guy that has run for premiership already six times and has dominated Italian politics for almost two decades will run again. This is the funniest joke I have ever heard.
Over the last months, Berlusconi changed his mind about a million times. “I will run for Italy”, “I will take a step back”, “Italy needs me”, “I will leave the party in Alfano’s hands”.
Then, the jail sentence for tax fraud came (see one of my older posts). Back then, he said “I will now retire from politics”.
Shortly after, he changed his mind again: “I will run so that I can change Italian justice”. Thank you Silvio, but what you still seem to forget is that you and “justice” simply cannot appear in the same sentence.  
And now it seems official. Alfano said that if Berlusconi runs, there is no need for a primary election. He simply is the undisputed boss.
I could write pages and pages about the outrageous fact that everywhere else in a democracy a politician who has a jail sentence and another bunch of trials going on would be banned by every party, let alone run for premiership.  Unfortunately, it does not even surprise me anymore that such a thing is allowed in Italy. I simply use a double standard. In the UK, Andrew Mitchell resigned because he insulted a policeman; in Italy, Berlusconi will run because he was found guilty of a crime and he wants to take revenge.
Two parallel universes.
One more hilarious thing about the need of change in Italy: also for the main left-wing party, the Democratic Party, the candidate will be again the current party leader, Pier Luigi Bersani. But at least, he will run because he won the primary election against Matteo Renzi, mayor of Florence.
I will discuss the outstanding Democratic Party primary election in my next post, so stay tuned. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

My journalistic efforts at university: read "The Chronicle of Economic Affairs"

Spam alert. This does not really have to do with Italy, but the magazine I write for at my university, "The Chronicle of Economic Affairs" has been published and, needless to say, we are very proud :)

If you have a look at the second issue you will find some great articles about current affairs, included Obama re-election and the economic crisis, including two articles written by me. One is about the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU; the other one is about the latest political scandal here in the UK, the so called "plebgate", involving former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, who had a row with the policemen outside Downing Street and then resigned because of it. In that article I actually draw an amusing parallel with Italy and Roberto Maroni, now leader of the Northern League. He too had a "misunderstanding" with a policeman, but things ended a little differently in Italy...


Link to the magazine:

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Reuters: "Italy cuts number of provinces in cost-saving drive"

As the matter of the province cut is fairly technical, I preferred to report an article by Reuters instead of writing it myself. I would just like to point out that I have been hearing about the plan to cut, or even to abolish, provinces coming from the most diverse political points of view since I was a kid. But now that it took the technocrat government to finally do it, everyone is complaining, simply because parties will have less employers in powerful positions. 

"Italy cuts number of provinces in cost-saving drive"
ROME | Wed Oct 31, 2012 2:49pm EDT
(Reuters) - The Italian government approved a law on Wednesday that will almost halve the number of provinces as part of a drive to cut the heavy cost of regional administrations.
The decree, which will cut the number of provinces to 51 from 86 at present, is part of a broader effort to attack the bloated cost of Italy's local and regional governments, a notorious source of waste and inefficiency.
Prime Minister Mario Monti has been conducting a wide ranging review of public spending to try to eliminate waste and help control Italy's mammoth public debt which amounts to some 126 percent of gross domestic product.
The government gave no estimate of the savings it expected from the reform but said it would have a clearer idea once a wider reorganization of local and regional administrations was complete.
Approved at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, the decree includes large cities such as Milan, which will incorporate the province of Monza, but does not include semi-autonomous regions such as Sicily.
The provinces, which are responsible for functions including motor vehicle registries and some schools are part of a complex, overlapping web of local administrations that includes municipal, provincial and regional governments.
Under the decree, the provincial governments will be abolished from 2013. It also include measures to prevent local officials from holding several offices at once.
The cabinet also approved a separate package of measures intended to cut 40 million euros a year from the cost of regional governments, by reducing waste and inefficiency.
(Reporting By James Mackenzie; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

President of the Chamber of Deputies Gianfranco Fini called "a traitor" for moving away from Fascism during Neo-fascist exponent's funeral

A few days ago, Italian politician Pino Rauti passed away.
Rauti was one of the most famous leaders of the far right in Italy. He was a leading member of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), a party founded by Mussolini’s supporters in 1946. Among the party members, there was Gianfranco Fini, current President of the Chamber of Deputies. Rauti was the party leader for a while, but afterwards he was defeated by Fini. In 1995, the MSI was dissolved and replaced by National Alliance (AN), still guided by Fini. Rauti thought that the new party was too far from the original fascist ideology, and he founded “Fiamma Tricolore” to continue the path of Fascism. He eventually founded another party called “Social Idea Movement” in 2004.

Pino Rauti and Gianfranco Fini

If you read so far, you might think that Rauti and Fini must have been pretty much alike. They were in the old days. But here is the big difference: Fini moved away from Fascism, renouncing his “faith” in it in 2003. Rauti never did. Rauti was always a Fascist.
Fini attended Rauti’s funeral in Rome yesterday. He probably shouldn't have. When Fini arrived, he was booed by the whole crowd, people yelled “Traitor” and spat on him. Some fanatics even tried to physically assault him. Only because he is not a Fascist anymore.
Fini is not perfect, that’s for sure. But if there is one thing that he undoubtedly did right in his life was abandoning Fascism. You could dislike him for many reasons, such as the anti-immigration law he wrote a few years ago, not to mention all the years that he spent defending Berlusconi’s ridiculous deeds, but you have to give him credit for giving up Fascism. But he is called a “traitor” instead.
After the terrible history of Fascism in Italy, I don’t even understand how someone can talk about it in a positive light. And yet, when Rauti’s coffin was taken into the church, the crowd gave him the Roman salute.  And then tried to attack Fini.
Personally, I find all of this not only really uncivil, but a little scary too.
Here is the video. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Berlusconi sentenced to jail for major tax fraud

How nice. You open the BBC website, and what is the main headline? “Berlusconi sentenced in tax case”. I just love the fact that our former PM is so versatile that his name suddenly pops up in the most diverse occasions.
This is an historical day for Italy. Berlusconi has been involved in a lot of trials, but this is actually the first time that he has been convicted. Most of the cases had to be dropped because they had gone on beyond the judicial time limit.  But this time, Berlusconi was found guilty of major tax fraud. The Milan court sentenced him to four years, but later cut it to one year because of an amnesty law (an amnesty law that, ironically, was wanted by the 2006 left-wing coalition. As it turned out, they did Berlusconi a huge favour). 

A desperate Silvio Berlusconi

The trial about Mediaset rights, Berlusconi’s mass media company, has been going on for six years. Berlusconi and other managers were accused of buying US film rights at inflated prices, in order to create illegal funds and reduce Mediaset tax liabilities.  
Besides the prison terms, Berlusconi was condemned to pay 10m euro in damages. Other people involved, such as Mediaset chairman Fedele Confalonieri, were acquitted.
As usual, Berlusconi said the sentence was an "intolerable judicial harassment". He could have said much worse. In the past, he referred to himself as “the most persecuted person ever, after Jesus Christ”. 
It is impressive to see that, after all the years Berlusconi spent passing legislation designed to ensure his impunity in his various trials, someone actually managed to convict him. 
Now we can expect him to appeal to a higher court that could completely reverse the sentence. 
I cannot know what will happen, but I am quite confident about a thing: I am almost 100% sure that Berlusconi could be as guilty as hell, but will never enter a prison in his life.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Italian Labour Minister: "Young people cannot be choosy when looking for a job"

Italian Labour Minister Elsa Fornero is under fire these days, after she said that young people cannot be too “choosy” (yes, she actually used the English word, nobody really knows why) if they wish to enter the labour market.

Labour Minister Elsa Fornero

Speaking during a conference held by the industrial association “Assolombarda”, Fornero said that you need to take the first job you get offered, and then look for a better one from the inside.
She then replied to criticisms by stating that she had never said that young Italians today are choosy, since they are even willing to accept any temporary job (a phenomenon known in Italian as “precariato”).
I will not comment on her remarks and let you decide whether she should have kept her mouth shut or whether she was right. Here is the video with the English transcript.

Minister Fornero: “This is one of the parameters for the dynamism of the labour market: young people graduate and they must find a job. They cannot be too “choosy”, to use the English term. I used to tell my students: accept the first offer, then from the inside you can start to look around. But you have to enter the market immediately, you cannot think that there will always be a better offer later. Today it is not like this anymore, with such a difficult and weak market, but we all have seen some graduates holding back for the “perfect job”.  That is not how it works. In the market you need to be active, you need to enter it and then maybe you can do better”

Journalist: “Minister Fornero, are young Italians too choosy when looking for a job?”

Fornero: “No, I have never said that. Young Italians today are willing to accept any job, indeed today many of them are on a temporary job. I said that in the past it could happen, when the labour market allowed different attitudes. Today young people in Italy are not in the condition to be choosy.”

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Economist: "Who will be Italy’s next prime minister?"

Interesting article by The Economist, about the future of Italy after the next general election.

Link to the on-line version:

Who will be Italy's next prime minister?

As Silvio Berlusconi seems to be standing aside, the spotlight is on Mario Monti and the candidates of the Left

TWO questions have dominated Italian politics since early summer and hung like long, dark shadows over the markets’ assessment of a country that has done much to extricate itself from the euro crisis, but is still far from safe.
The first question is: “Will he, or won’t he?”. And so is the second.
One concerns Silvio Berlusconi. In June the former prime minister and founder of the conservative People of Freedom (PdL) movement hinted heavily that he would return as his party’s candidate in the general election next spring. Since Mr Berlusconi’s years in government coincided with an almost total absence of economic growth and structural reform, investors were horrified. So were many Italians who had not enjoyed their government becoming something of a laughing stock abroad, thanks to Mr Berlusconi’s antics.
On October 9th Mr Berlusconi all but said he had thought better of the idea. Interviewed on one of his three television channels, the media billionaire declared himself “ready to stand aside”.
The wily tactician left some wriggle room: his renunciation was to facilitate a grand alliance of the right; if it does not happen, he could make another U-turn. Some commentators and rival politicians suspected a ruse.
But there are good reasons for Mr Berlusconi to have reconsidered. Four months ago, he felt his undoubted charisma could revive the fortunes of the PdL, which has seen its poll ratings decline ever since he handed the candidate’s mantle to Angelino Alfano, a former minister. More recently, however, they have continued to fall, as the PdL has been immersed in a flood of corruption and other scandals involving its regional and local leaders. These reflect badly on Mr Berlusconi as they show what sort of men and women acquired positions of influence under his long leadership.
Antonio Piazza, a regional PdL leader, is accused of slashing the tyres of a disabled driver who had the effrontery to use a parking bay, reserved for the disabled, in which the PdL dignitary liked to leave his Jaguar. Another PdL apparatchik was arrested on October 10th, accused of buying votes from the Calabrian mafia—the most worrying evidence yet of its penetration of northern Italian politics. According to a poll commissioned by RAI, Italy’s state broadcaster, Mr Berlusconi would lose to Mr Alfano if a primary election were held among right-wing voters.
Much of Mr Berlusconi’s success in politics has been down to his ability to depict himself as a political outsider: someone far removed in speech and habits from the finagling party hacks whom most voters regard as venal and self-interested.
Ironically, the arrival in office last November of a technocratic government of authentic outsiders headed by Mario Monti has been lethal to Mr Berlusconi’s image. Compared with the prime minister, an economics professor, Mr Berlusconi looks every inch the professional Roman power-broker. And the very disenchantment with Italy’s political class that helped launch Mr Berlusconi into a new career 19 years ago is now working to sustain Mr Monti’s popularity.
RAI’s poll found Mr Monti was by far Italians’ first choice for prime minister, ahead of Mr Berlusconi and Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the biggest left-wing movement, the Democratic Party (PD). That is remarkable considering the pain the prime minister has heaped on the electorate since taking office. This week brought another €11.6 billion ($15 billion) of budgetary adjustments, including further cuts to Italy’s already hard-pressed health services and a one percentage point increase in VAT albeit offset by reductions in the two lowest rates of income tax.
Will he or won’t he?
That is the second question hanging over Italy. Mr Monti has repeatedly said no to suggestions that he run for executive office next spring. On September 27th he finessed his reply, saying he hoped the election would produce a clear result in favour of one side. But, if not, “I will be there”.
A descent from Olympus, or rather, the seats in parliament reserved for life senators like Mr Monti, would be an ideal solution for a man who does not exactly relish campaigning (though he has a nice line in dry humour, his rhetoric style is more suited to the lecture hall than hustings). But will his intervention be required?
As the PdL implodes, the odds shorten on a left-wing victory. A primary election next month will decide if the PD is led to the polls by Mr Bersani, an ex-Communist, or Matteo Renzi, the young, centrist mayor of Florence. Mr Renzi admires Mr Monti, and might want him in a future government, which would almost certainly need the votes of parties to the left of the PD. That would be a problem for the prime minister, a declared anti-Keynesian.
Hence Mr Berlusconi’s suggestion in the television interview that Mr Monti should lead a reunited centre-right embracing the PdL, the conservative Christian Democrat Union of the Centre (UDC), and even the party founded by his former lieutenant, Gianfranco Fini, after he defected two years ago.
There are snags. The sober professor is not a natural fit with the party of a man on trial on juvenile prostitution charges in connection with a young Moroccan runaway and her alleged participation in notorious Bunga Bunga parties at Mr Berlusconi’s home. And Mr Monti is committed to free markets whereas few in the PdL have done more than pay them lip-service.
Given the circles to be squared, Mr Monti might be aiming instead for the presidency, also up for grabs in 2013. Someone who has worked closely with him, argues, however, he is too “hands-on” for a post that offers more influence than control.
A member of Mr Monti’s government admitted that, barring a hung parliament, it was impossible for the moment to see how Mr Monti could be shoehorned into politics after next spring. Even so, he added, “It is just as hard to believe he will not be around.”

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Famous Italian hand gestures

Unfortunately I'm having a very busy week, and I can't find the time to write a proper post. 
However, I found this nice picture explaining some Italian hand gestures. It is true that we Italians use them a lot, anyway as you can see there are plenty of them, not only the most famous one, which is the first one in this picture, "What?/Where?/Why?". I have some foreign friends who always greet me that way when they see me, as if I did nothing but that gesture all day long... We are more creative than that! So if you want to learn how to speak Italian, be aware that it's not enough to go "What?" all the time... you might want to learn some other gestures as well :)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Berlusconi: "No tragedy if Germany leaves the Euro"

Mr. B. isn't even back yet, but he is already causing damage to the whole country.
A few days ago Renato Brunetta, Minister during the last Berlusconi government, presented his new book “The Big Swindle”. Speaking at the event, Silvio Berlusconi said that “the big swindle” is actually the Euro, because it was introduced without the proper support of a central bank.
He also claimed that the austerity plans introduced by many European governments are not the answer to solve the economic crisis. I have to admit that so far I might even agree with him (and believe me, this is the first time in my life I have agreed with Berlusconi).

If only he knew when to stop talking… No, he couldn't just stop there. He had to say something more. And what did he say? He said that Germany is imposing her “hegemony” in Europe, and that there are two possibilities to end the crisis: either the ECB has to act as a lender of last resort, or Germany must leave the Euro zone  He concluded splendidly by adding that if Germany left the Euro it wouldn't be a tragedy.
Thank you, Mr. B. I myself couldn't think of a better way to make Germany angry.
Indeed, Angela Merkel’s spokesman promptly replied that only the idea of Germany leaving the Euro is absurd.
I guess that by now I should be used to Berlusconi’s absurd statements, but somehow he always surprises me.
Meanwhile, the possibility of a “Monti bis” (a second mandate for Mario Monti) is becoming real. While he was in New York, Monti indicated that, if the political parties wanted him to, he might run in the next general election, to be held in 2013.
Personally, I really don’t want to think about the next election: I simply don’t have a clue about a candidate I might want to vote for. Thinking about the options makes me want to cry… 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Corruption scandal in Lazio: Governor Renata Polverini resigns

Necessary update about the corruption scandal in Lazio: Governor Renata Polverini resigned, following the loss of support from the UDC (Union of Centre) party. UDC leader Pier Ferdinando Casini, who had been on the side of her party “People of Freedom” so far, suddenly claimed that, according to him, she had to go. Later on, all the UDC councillors resigned.

Picture: former Lazio governor Renata Polverini

Councillors from opposition “Democratic Party” and “Left, Ecology and Freedom” had already hand in their resignations altogether.
Circumstances clearly made it impossible for Polverini to hold on to her seat; anyways, she still denies her involvement in the scandal, which led to the investigation for embezzlement of former councillor Franco Fiorito.
Polverini stated: “I had to resign because of other people’s mistakes”.
However, two documents have been found, which seem to nail the ex-governor. Those two documents allowed the use of party funds for the various MPs’ dinners and parties, and they were both signed by Luca Fegatelli, Polverini’s right hand man. According to accusers, if he signed the documents, Polverini was clearly aware of the situation.
Investigations are still going on. Meanwhile, elections will be held, possibly in November, to elect the new regional administration. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Fiat: waiting for the “right time” to invest in Italy

Yesterday the Italian government (represented among the others by PM Mario Monti and Labour Minister Elsa Fornero) held a long-awaited meeting with Fiat bosses (chief executive Sergio Marchionne and President Lapo Elkann).
The debate about the Italian carmaker company has been going on in Italy for years now. The issue is that Fiat chief executive Marchionne (now chief of Chrysler too) is taking more and more production abroad, leaving many Italian factories on the edge of shutdown. Many workers have lost their job, many more have been put on cassa integrazione (something like a unemployment insurance).

Picture: Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne

Workers and trade unions were all waiting for yesterday’s meeting, hoping that the government would somehow force Fiat to invest more in Italy.
But after a five hour meeting, absolutely nothing was achieved. As we say in Italian, tutto fumo e niente arrosto (literally: all smoke, but no roast).
The official result of the meeting is that Fiat ought to invest more resources in Italy, but that they are waiting for the right time, so that they can take advantage of the European recovery. Translated: maybe they will invest in Italy, but only when the economic crisis magically solves itself.
Pierluigi Bersani, Democratic Party leader, stated that the meeting was worthless, as it did nothing to solve the main issue: employment. I agree with him, for a change.
Meanwhile, trade unions are also calling for a meeting with the government. Unfortunately, I guess, it will take more than a couple of meetings and some empty words to solve the problem. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Corruption scandal in Lazio: former councillor under investigation for embezzlement

The latest scandal in Italy brings us to Rome, and involves the whole region Lazio. Main characters of the scandal: Governor Renata Polverini and former regional councillor Franco Fiorito, both from “People of Freedom” (Berlusconi’s party).

Picture: Franco Fiorito and Renata Polverini

Franco Fiorito is under investigation for inappropriate use and embezzlement of electoral funds. As party councillor, he had easy access to party accounts, and he abused his power. The money, according to Fiorito himself, was used to pay for cars, parties and various expenses refunds (included gasoil and cash withdrawals) for several party members. Although admitting using money to pay various colleagues, Fiorito denies having taken any himself. From 2010 up until now, the Lazio region spent almost 6 million euro (all coming from the taxpayers, worth noticing).
The role played by Governor Renata Polverini is still unclear. She claims she had no idea how the party money was spent, but that’s really hard to believe. She apologised, and she announced a spending review and a cuts plan (which were approved today) to redeem the image of the administration.
Yet, she hasn’t resigned; she actually stated that she wants to go on. Berlusconi backed her decision not to resign.
The case is quite similar to a corruption case in Lombardia, involving again the region Governor Roberto Formigoni. He is under investigation for basically the same charges, and he hasn’t resigned yet. Probably he never will.
That’s an Italian classic: it doesn’t matter what you have done or what you are accused of, you just won’t resign.
It’s hilarious to see that, here in the UK, they want Minister Andrew Mitchell to resign only because of his outburst at a police officer.
In Italy there was a moment of panic when it seemed that Renata Polverini was actually going to resign. It would create an extremely dangerous precedent.
To quote Hacker, from my beloved sit-com “Yes Minister”:  “If we do the right thing this time, we might have to do the right thing again next time”.  
God forbid that happens in Italy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

So, the Queen is naked. Can I get a "Who cares"?

Yesterday morning, when I turned on the BBC news channel, all they were talking about was the publication of Kate’s topless pictures.
Besides the fact that I really couldn’t care less about what Kate Middleton does when she’s on holiday, I once again felt ashamed. So far, the magazines that published the pictures are the “Irish Daily Star”, the French “Closer”, and the Italian “Chi”.
“Chi”, which is usually released on Wednesdays, printed a special edition on Monday. The front page showed some of the incriminated photos under the (extremely original) headline “The Queen is naked”. According to the editor Alfonso Signorini, they published them “to give Kate an element of modernity”, “because the royals are human beings who do not sunbath wearing a burka” (see the English subbed video at the link below for Signorini’s words).

Who could “Chi” possibly belong to? Maybe to the same guy who practically owns the whole country? Yes, “Chi” is part of the Mondadori group, owned by Silvio Berlusconi. The English media indeed talked about a “betrayal” by Berlusconi.
The fact that the pictures were taken in the first place is wrong, of course. A privacy violation which certainly gives the royal couple all the reasons to press charge.
Also the publication is despicable. But after all, the tabloids were just doing their job. That’s what they are supposed to do: supply people with scandals involving famous people.
The thing that disgusts me most is that people actually buy that stuff. If it were for me, those tabloids could starve. And I also don’t like that the English media are making such a big deal about it. I understand their pride and their respect for the Crown, but now they are just exaggerating. I actually feel sorry for Kate, because I can’t even image what her royal relatives will do to her, now that she got caught topless by the paparazzi.
Anyway, if you ask me, as famous and beautiful as Kate is, her bosom still doesn’t deserve all this noise.  There are other things going on in the world, people. You know, silly things such as wars, riots, various crises. Can you leave those royal breasts alone?

Guardian interview to Alfonso Signorini, editor of "Chi" magazine:

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sardinia: aluminium maker Alcoa on the edge of shut-down

First the Ilva case, now the Alcoa case.
Aluminium maker Alcoa is a massive source of employment in the region Sardinia.
Unfortunately, the factory is to be shut down unless a new buyer steps up. Workers are on strike; three of them also climbed on a silo as a sign of protest and spent a few days there, despite the rain (one of them had to get down because he was feeling sick).
Today Corrado Passera, Minister of Economic Development, met the executives of the factory and the unions in Rome, but the situation is still really problematic. Many Alcoa workers travelled to Rome, and fighting with the police has been going on all day. So far, 14 people between protesters and policemen have been injured, and the meeting had to be suspended for two hours.
It is still unclear whether there any buyers interested in buying Alcoa or not. According to the Italian government Alcoa will have to deal with Klesch, which seems to be the bidder for now, but the factory denies to have received any offers so far.
Our only hope is that an agreement with the Swiss group Klesch is actually possible. Sardinia is one of the most troubled regions of Italy in terms of employment, and the shutdown of Alcoa would be disastrous for the economy of the area.
Ironically, Sardinia is, like Puglia, a treasure in Italy: the landscapes and the beaches are stunning, it really is a beautiful land. And it breaks your heart to see it sinking instead of flourishing. 

Source (in Italian):

Picture of the sign shown by the workers on the silo saying "Willing to do anything"

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Electoral reform: could the "Porcellum" law be even worse?

In Italy, politicians are discussing an electoral reform. Nobody can deny that we need one.
Consider this: Roberto Calderoli, member of the Northern League and Minister during the last Berlusconi’s government, was the author of the actual electoral law. And he himself calls it “porcata”, that more or less could be translated as crap, junk. Indeed that law is now called “Porcellum” (pig in Latin).

Right now, the Italian electoral system is a variant of the proportional representation system, usually known as “Party-list proportional representation”. The main feature of the Italian system is that it offers a “reward for the majority” for the party, or coalition of parties, which gets the greatest number of votes. In other words, many seats are ensured for the first winning party (or coalition). 
Another feature is that lists are closed: voters cannot express their preferences for candidates, all the choices are made by the parties.
Last week Fabrizio Cicchito, leader of “People of Freedom” in the Chamber of Deputies, admitted that many well-known MPs were elected in Parliament only because of closed lists, otherwise they wouldn't even be there.
So, how is the new law going to be? I think I can claim very frankly that nobody has the faintest idea. Nobody understood a thing.  Translating an Italian expression: everything has been said, so as the opposite of everything. One day they say the law is done, the day after that they are working on it. Impossible to follow. 
What seems sure, for now, is that the leftist parties push for the reintroduction of preferences. While some parties from the right want to make it for possible for coalitions to be announced only after the election. This last feature would make the law, according to Antonio Di Pietro, former magistrate and leader of the party “Italy of Values”, a “super porcata”. Let’s give them some credit: if they have to do something, they do it well. Apparently, this law didn’t suck enough, so they want to make it worse. 
For now, let’s watch one of the highest moments of Italian politics: Minister Roberto Calderoli calling his own law a “porcata” and then explaining it by making no sense at all. Enjoy.  

“Mentana (host): Do you agree, even if you are the author of the (actual) law, that preferences should be reintroduced, otherwise it becomes a proportional in a majoritarian system with nominees…

Minister Calderoli: But see, I knew that this law here is “una porcata” (crap), I’ll tell you frankly.

Mentana: … Have I heard it right? It’s crap? You wrote it and it’s crap?

Calderoli: Yes, yes. When someone does “una porcata” without realising it, it’s another thing, (compared to) when someone does it deliberately to give troubles to both the left and the right, which now have to take into account not how they handle power, but the (Italian) people, the one that votes. Now they will have to answer to the people.”

Yes, please: somebody answer us and explain us why we are still paying this guy. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The New York Times: "Where the mob keeps its money" by Roberto Saviano

Today the Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, author of the bestseller “Gomorrah”, wrote an article for The New York Times where he discusses how criminal organisations took advantage of the economic crisis. They flourished while making things worse for anyone else. It’s particularly appalling to find out that banks admitted how quite often they could get liquidity exclusively from groups involved in illegal activities.
Here’s the whole article.

Where The Mob Keeps Its Money

THE global financial crisis has been a blessing for organized crime. A series of recent scandals have exposed the connection between some of the biggest global banks and the seamy underworld of mobsters, smugglers, drug traffickers and arms dealers. American banks have profited from money laundering by Latin American drug cartels, while the European debt crisis has strengthened the grip of the loan sharks and speculators who control the vast underground economies in countries like Spain and Greece.

Mutually beneficial relationships between bankers and gangsters aren’t new, but what’s remarkable is their reach at the highest levels of global finance. In 2010, Wachovia admitted that it had essentially helped finance the murderous drug war in Mexico by failing to identify and stop illicit transactions. The bank, which was acquired by Wells Fargo during the financial crisis, agreed to pay $160 million in fines and penalties for tolerating the laundering, which occurred between 2004 and 2007.

Last month, Senate investigators found that HSBC had for a decade improperly facilitated transactions by Mexican drug traffickers, Saudi financiers with ties to Al Qaeda and Iranian bankers trying to circumvent United States sanctions. The bank set aside $700 million to cover fines, settlements and other expenses related to the inquiry, and its chief of compliance resigned.

ABN Amro, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Lloyds and ING have reached expensive settlements with regulators after admitting to executing the transactions of clients in disreputable countries like Cuba, Iran, Libya, Myanmar and Sudan.

Many of the illicit transactions preceded the 2008 crisis, but continuing turmoil in the banking industry created an opening for organized crime groups, enabling them to enrich themselves and grow in strength. In 2009, Antonio Maria Costa, an Italian economist who then led the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, told the British newspaper The Observer that “in many instances, the money from drugs was the only liquid investment capital” available to some banks at the height of the crisis. “Interbank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities,” he said. “There were signs that some banks were rescued that way.” The United Nations estimated that $1.6 trillion was laundered globally in 2009, of which about $580 billion was related to drug trafficking and other forms of organized crime.

A study last year by the Colombian economists Alejandro Gaviria and Daniel Mejía concluded that the vast majority of profits from drug trafficking in Colombia were reaped by criminal syndicates in rich countries and laundered by banks in global financial centers like New York and London. They found that bank secrecy and privacy laws in Western countries often impeded transparency and made it easier for criminals to launder their money.

At a Congressional hearing in February, Jennifer Shasky Calvery, a Justice Department official in charge of monitoring money laundering, said that “banks in the U.S. are used to funnel massive amounts of illicit funds.” The laundering, she explained, typically occurs in three stages. First, illicit funds are directly deposited in banks or deposited after being smuggled out of the United States and then back in. Then comes “layering,” the process of separating criminal profits from their origin. Finally comes “integration,” the use of seemingly legitimate transactions to hide ill-gotten gains. Unfortunately, investigators too often focus on the cultivation, production and trafficking of narcotics while missing the bigger, more sophisticated financial activities of crime rings.

Mob financing via banks has ebbed and flowed over the years. In the late 1970s and early 1980s organized crime, which had previously dealt mainly in cash, started working its way into the banking system. This led authorities in Europe and America to take measures to slow international money laundering, prompting a temporary return to cash.

Then the flow reversed again, partly because of the fall of the Soviet Union and the ensuing Russian financial crisis. As early as the mid-1980s, the K.G.B., with help from the Russian mafia, had started hiding Communist Party assets abroad, as the journalist Robert I. Friedman has documented. Perhaps $600 billion had left Russia by the mid-1990s, contributing to the country’s impoverishment. Russian mafia leaders also took advantage of post-Soviet privatization to buy up state property. Then, in 1998, the ruble sharply depreciated, prompting a default on Russia’s public debt.

Although the United States cracked down on terrorist financing after the 9/11 attacks, instability in the financial system, like the Argentine debt default in 2001, continued to give banks an incentive to look the other way. My reporting on the ’Ndrangheta, the powerful criminal syndicate based in Southern Italy, found that much of the money laundering over the last decade simply shifted from America to Europe. The European debt crisis, now three years old, has further emboldened the mob.

IN Greece, as conventional bank lending has gotten tighter, more and more Greeks are relying on usurers. A variety of sources told Reuters last year that the illegal lending business in Greece involved between 5 billion and 10 billion euros each year. The loan-shark business has perhaps quadrupled since 2009 — some of the extortionists charge annualized interest rates starting at 60 percent. In Thessaloniki, the second largest city, the police broke up a criminal ring that was lending money at a weekly interest rate of 5 percent to 15 percent, with punishments for whoever didn’t pay up. According to the Greek Ministry of Finance, much of the illegal loan activity in Greece is connected to gangs from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Organized crime also dominates the black market for oil in Greece; perhaps three billion euros (about $3.8 billion) a year of contraband fuel courses through the country. Shipping is Greece’s premier industry, and the price of shipping fuel is set by law at one-third the price of fuel for cars and homes. So traffickers turn shipping fuel into more expensive home and automobile fuel. It is estimated that 20 percent of the gasoline sold in Greece is from the black market. The trafficking not only results in higher prices but also deprives the government of desperately needed revenue.
Greece’s political system is a “parliamentary mafiocracy,” the political expert Panos Kostakos told the energy news agency earlier this year. “Greece has one of the largest black markets in Europe and the highest corruption levels in Europe,” he said. “There is a sovereign debt that does not mirror the real wealth of the average Greek family. What more evidence do we need to conclude that this is Greek mafia?”

Spain’s crisis, like Greece’s, was prefaced by years of mafia power and money and a lack of effectively enforced rules and regulations. At the moment, Spain is colonized by local criminal groups as well as by Italian, Russian, Colombian and Mexican organizations. Historically, Spain has been a shelter for Italian fugitives, although the situation changed with the enforcement of pan-European arrest warrants. Spanish anti-mafia laws have also improved, but the country continues to offer laundering opportunities, which only increased with the current economic crisis in Europe.
The Spanish real estate boom, which lasted from 1997 to 2007, was a godsend for criminal organizations, which invested dirty money in Iberian construction. Then, when home sales slowed and the building bubble burst, the mafia profited again — by buying up at bargain prices houses that people put on the market or that otherwise would have gone unsold.

In 2006, Spain’s central bank investigated the vast number of 500-euro bills in circulation. Criminal organizations favor these notes because they don’t take up much room; a 45-centimeter safe deposit box can fit up to 10 million euros. In 2010, British currency exchange offices stopped accepting 500-euro bills after discovering that 90 percent of transactions involving them were connected to criminal activities. Yet 500-euro bills still account for 70 percent of the value of all bank notes in Spain.

And in Italy, the mafia can still count on 65 billion euros (about $82 billion) in liquid capital every year. Criminal organizations siphon 100 billion euros from the legal economy, a sum equivalent to 7 percent of G.D.P. — money that ends up in the hands of Mafiosi instead of sustaining the government or law-abiding Italians. “We will defeat the mafia by 2013,” Silvio Berlusconi, then the prime minister, declared in 2009. It was one of many unfulfilled promises. Mario Monti, the current prime minister, has stated that Italy’s dire financial situation is above all a consequence of tax evasion. He has said that even more drastic measures are needed to combat the underground economy generated by the mafia, which is destroying the legal economy.

Today’s mafias are global organizations. They operate everywhere, speak multiple languages, form overseas alliances and joint ventures, and make investments just like any other multinational company. You can’t take on multinational giants locally. Every country needs to do its part, for no country is immune. Organized crime must be hit in its economic engine, which all too often remains untouched because liquid capital is harder to trace and because in times of crisis, many, including the world’s major banks, find it too tempting to resist.

Roberto Saviano