Dimitris Rapidis

Italy is blocked. And it is blocked for a quite long period of time after the national elections did not achieve to provide a clear result over the clear win of a certain political party. It goes without doubt that the deadlock of Italy is foremost a political deadlock of the entire European Union. Relatively, as there is no hope for overcoming this deadlock, lack of governance can definitely lead to democratic instability.

It is a common belief that political leaders Bersani, Berlusconi, and Grillo do not inspire the Italian public after all. In this respect, the idea of proposing an 80-year old political figure as candidate for Italian Presidency proves something really appalling: that major Italian political leaders decided to propose a figure which in fact could be simply a marionette of the Italian political system, with no voice, and unable of regulating and safeguarding political stability in the country. A symbolic figure that would be only responsible for fulfilling the seat of President and deprived of any other power. Rumors were risen up, the idea was abandoned, and the next candidature of ex-PM Pronti came to overcome the debate. But even in this case, the Socialist Party could not agree on this, ruining again the entire process.

From a wider perspective, the political deadlock in Italy is not something strange in Europe. Greece, Spain, France are amongst other member-states plunged into the same leadership problem, having nourished a political system that cannot promote and build on fresh and inspiring leaders. The phenomenon of recycling leadership is something citizens cannot deal with, nor face it efficiently. This is therefore the main reason why we are witnessing the same political figures trying to gain electoral power even if they have not any new policy agenda to present. People of the European Union know what Mr. Berlusconi, Mr. Samaras, and Mr. Holland represent politically, and even if a considerable part of the electorate disapproves their policy, they are trapped in voting them again and again.

Certainly this is a problem of proper judging when the public stands in front of the ballot box. This leadership gap pushes the public either to vote for the same figures or to decide abstaining from voting. But this strategy leads nowhere. Citizens of Europe should start trusting other political formations, stemming from the Left as any other option for the moment could be even more devastating for political stability in the Union. Any other political preference from extreme right or any other growing trend towards political abstention could increase the existing deadlock and blow up political, economic, and social uncertainty.

The first fundamental test of this deadlock is the forthcoming European Elections in 2014. Let us follow up the pre-electoral debate, as it might be the first structural strike against the current political establishment of austerity politics in Eurozone and the European Union.

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  1. With all due respect, it is difficult to see where your evidence-base is:
    1) Italy’s political dynamics are very much home-made Italian pasta. A dispassionate analysis would suggest that the present struggles are about the difficulties of Silvio Berlusconi, who is still the towering political figure but has a self-defeating capacity for bizarre actions and statements, to reinvent himself for another term in office. Or, conversely, about the difficulties of any other current contender to replace Il Cavaliere as top dog in the Italian arena.
    2) It is frankly absurd to call the Italian situation a “deadlock”. The country is going through rapid, sweeping and often quite painful political reforms, and Grillo’s movement provided a mighty shakeout to the establishment.
    3) the re-election of Giorgio Napolitano is an indication of the immense resourcefulness of the Italian political class, and another example of the attitude so well described in that masterpiece “Il Gattopardo” by Tommasi di Lampedusa: “Everything must change, so that everything may remain the same”.
    4) The EU remains very much on the sidelines of all this. And this is absolutely right and proper, as the well-intentioned attempt to install Mario Monti as a sort of unelected pro-consul (or “dictator” in the Ancient, Republican Roman meaning of the term) has miserably failed and should not be repeated.
    5) Finally, let’s be honest: the economic problems of several EU Member States are not, primarily, problems of political leadership, but more fundamentally the result of massive failures of the entrepreneurial and managerial classes (and, but to a far smaller extent, of their trade-union counterparts). In the liberal market economies we have everywhere created, governments simply do not have the instruments anymore for returning a country to a path of sustainable growth, if private capital does not want, or lacks the skills, to cooperate. This is how the early golden years of the eurozone with its historically low interest rates for countries like Greece, Portugal and Spain were wasted, with investment going into low-wage, low-skill production and absurd real-estate speculation. Of course it is far more convenient to pretent that the reason for all of this was “the EU”, but this does not fit the facts.

    1. Dear Mr.Bradtner,

      First of all, thank you for your interesting comment. I really appreciate your contribution to the debate.
      Second, let me clarify some aspects of my OpEd as they might be misinterpreted.

      1. As I pointed out, the leadership gap in Italy, and further in many countries in Europe, comes in parallel terms with the policy gap (i.e. where policy gap is the lack of a well-formulated and designed policy program other than what we nowadays experience as “austerity politics”). I am sure you have already witnessed that voices and analyses from opinion-makers & scholars are lately focusing on the fact that economic stalemate in the EU is primarily and fundamentally a leadership problem. Therefore, even if Italy was the centre of attention in this article, home-made political dynamics in many member-states, and not only in Italy, do not escape the rule, which is a blindly developed austerity that creates this deadlock.
      2. Italy is not going through “rapid, sweeping and often painful political reforms”, but in the contrary it is going through a major leadership and political deadlock. If you remember well, this was also the major argument regarding Greece, when the government of ex-PM Mr. Papandreou was supposedly invested with support from major EU leaders during his resorting to the first Memorandum of Understanding. In fact, what Mr. Papandreou did -and the following PMs in Greece since now- was to meticulously implement an austerity program that has completely ruined market development, growth, and social security, bringing extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty. I regret to say this, but this austerity determined and imposed by a group of member-states headed by Germany is the one that brought all overdebted states -including Italy- into this deadlock. Political and economic one. Actually there is no reform – facts prove it.
      3. The re-election of Mr. Napolitano provides a clue to my sayings: it is not the resourcefulness of the Italian political class, but an “accommodating” figure that few weeks ago was unable with its turn to provide a viable solution in a country that still cannot express the simple majority of the Italian electorate.
      4. As of the connection between economic and political problems, the entrepreneurial and managerial classes have nothing to do with this. And why is that? Because the “failure” of both depends to complex macroeconomic and investing factors. If for instance a certain government has decided to regularly destabilize and alter the taxation system or to nourish instability in the banking sector, how should we expect investments and growth? In this respect, the role of the government -and therefore of politics- is vital for the development of an investment-friendly environment. If this environment cannot get established, the capital automatically decides to remain on the sidelines. And from this perspective, this behavior is absolutely justified.

      To conclude with, politics and economics are so inextricably interwoven that there is no reason to split them in two. If we want the EU to be developed as a unity and a potential federal union, we should acknowledge that there are many sacrifices to be done from every member-state. Otherwise, it is useless to discuss about a “Union”.

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