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Politics 1 – Evidence 0. The Italian political crisis in spite of all the (mainly negative) evidence


Rowing eightHere is what the evidence says about Italy. The Annual Report 2013 published by the Istituto Nazionale di Statistica (Italian National Institute of Statistics) presents the evidence from 2012:

  • Italy has the highest level in Europe of young people who are neither in education nor employment: 23.9 percent.
  • The number of people living in families considered to be seriously deprived has doubled in the past two years to 8.6 million, or about 14 percent of the population.
  • The percentage of people in families who could not afford to eat a protein-based meal such as meat every two days rose to 16.6 percent in 2012 from 12.4 the previous year and 6.7 percent in 2010.
  • About 14.9 million people, or a quarter of Italy’s 61 million population, are living in families that meet three of more of ISTAT’s poverty indicators.
  • Just 57.6 percent of young people who graduated within the last three years are in employment, well below a European average of 77.2 percent, the data showed.
  • Italians’ purchasing power fell by 4.8 percent last year, an exceptionally sharp reduction which came hard on the heels of four years of constant slides.
  • In the first quarter of 2013 the fall of GDP continued at 0.5% in the first quarter. The crisis is hitting the Italian economy after a decade of economic growth which has been far below that of the other large European countries. A decade, argues ISTAT, characterised by a productivity growth of only 1.2% against an average of 9.5% in Eurozone-countries. As a result between 2008 and 2012, Italian GDP has fallen by 5.8%, while it remained almost stationary in France and grew by 2.5% in Germany.

This is what the evidence says. This is authoritative evidence as ISTAT has been present in Italy since 1926 and is the main producer of official statistics in the service of citizens and policy-makers (here).

At the same time the headlines for last few weeks has been the about Berlusconi having to loose his political office after being decisively found guilty of tax fraud by the Italian highest court. This is a definitive sentence. Mr. Berlusconi cannot appeal and has now to serve one year of house arrest or do community service. More importantly he must give up his seat in the senate and with it his immunity (Der Spiegel).

Despite the mainly negative evidence pouring from ISTAT, Mr. Berlusconi judicial troubles have unlashed a more or less permanent battle for his political survival. The Popolo della Liberta’ knows that the political survival of his leader is vital for the party. They know very well that not having its leader in the front line results in a steep fall in voters’ preference.

On the center-left front lead by the Partito Democratico, things do not look good either. Even thought the current Prime Minister Enrico Letta is from the Partito Democratico, his own party (according to Wikipedia) is divided in at least 18 factions. A bit like an Eight, the rowing boat used in competitive rowing, where each of the eight rowers move their oars at their own rhythm (somebody maybe even stopping to row) while the coxswain instead of giving the rhythm, just sings a song or talks to him/herself.

The most worrying thing is that both the Popolo della Libertà and Partito Democratico have joined ranks to form a government following last February elections. That government is now on the brink of collapse since two days ago the five ministers from the Popolo della Libertà have resigned allegedly because of plans to increase by 1% VAT but also ahead of the vote in Senate that will decide whether Mr. Berlusconi will be able to keep his seat in the Senate or not now that he has been found decisively guilty.

None of the two parties really wanted to be in that coalition. They have tried to mimic the Große Koalition Germany has had few times in its recent history and will soon have again. The problem is that a Große Koalition German style requires on the one hand a good dose of courage that the Italian parties do not have and on the other the humility to agree and compromise.

The evidence is there. The data show how deep and long term the Italia social, political and economic crisis is. President Giorgio Napolitano has felt the need to raise his voice as he had never done before indicating the severity and absurdity of the situation the country is in (Polito). He had warned that the resignation of the ministers of the Popolo della Libertà would not only open a government crisis but would, more worryingly, open a constitutional crisis by putting in conflict with each other the legislative, executive and the judiciary.

At the moment it seems that everybody is rowing in his/her own way. As a result Italy is going nowhere.

It is time to find the rhythm and start moving together in the right direction. This is primarily a question of political will. However, as the coxswain can help his/her team to row in unison, evidence and a greater attention to what the evidence says can help can inform the policy direction and provide suggestions for achieving the right rhythm and pace against the tide.

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