To all Italian politicians: congratulations, your ego is even bigger than our disappointment
By Scintilla Benevolo
Published Wed Jan 27 2021
As an Italian, governmental crises feel like daily business. Germany has had Merkel for over 15 years now, imagine the shock and the surprise that a governmental crisis would spark in such a country! There would be confusion in the air, uncertainty, fear of instability. Well, in Italy the story is much different. A governmental crisis is met with no surprise, no fear, no confusion- just a shrug of the shoulders and a roll of the eyes. Here we are again. And international media loves to use our characteristic instability as a hook for its readers: Italy has had 29 Prime Ministers and 66 governments since its republic was founded in 1946! Conte alone has led two governments since 2018! Mathematically, that means we almost had a new government every year. Realistically, it means we are the ultimate culmination of political instability, we change governments like a pair of underwear and we are much more surprised by stability than we are by instability. During my first year at university, a friend of mine asked how often -constitutionally speaking- elections were held in Italy, and I most honestly had no idea… they just take place when the government falls.
Excuse me for the bitter tone, but it’s frustrating to have to rely on a government like the Italian one. And I am someone who has the privilege to live abroad, in a country like Germany where the Covid strategy is clear, where tests are easily accessible, where there is generous financial support. Many Italians don’t have this privilege, they are in the hands of their government, a government dominated by figures who care far more about themselves than the well-being of the people they are serving (the people who pay their generous wages).
Which brings me to this year’s governmental crisis and Matteo Renzi, the man who has a point, but has absolutely no credibility in making it. On Wednesday, January 13th Renzi’s Italia Viva party -which holds less than 3% on the polls- withdrew from the government, with the resignation of its two Ministers -Elena Bonetti and Teresa Bellanova- effectively throwing the government into a new crisis, right in the middle of a pandemic.
Dear Renzi, this is an incredibly shitty timing to throw our country into a new crisis. We have the highest Covid death rate in the world, a looming economic crisis, and a population full of frustration and anger, because the financial support it has been receiving so far is an utter joke. Schools have been closed for almost one year. They briefly opened up in September, just to shut their doors once again three weeks later. We are the only country in the EU to have closed schools for so long. Bars, restaurants, hair salons and gyms have been given priority over education. The vaccine is finally here! We knew it was coming, and yet we didn’t find enough doctors and nurses to administer it. I could keep going for pages and pages, but let’s just sum it up: really shitty timing to have a governmental crisis.
So why did Renzi pull the rug from under the government’s feet? Officially, he pulled out over a disagreement with Conte regarding how to use the 222 billion euros we are to receive under the EU Recovery Fund. Renzi criticised Conte for allocating too much money to vote-winning tax breaks and handouts, instead of long-term investments in culture, education and health. He definitely has a point here. Conte initially allocated only 9 billion euros for health, which is seriously not enough considering how poorly our health system dealt (and continues to deal) with Covid. Only 19.2 billion euros were allocated to education and research, that is less than 1% of the total fund! A country that cares about its youth, about innovation, and a prosperous future, invests more than 1% on education and research. Tax-breaks and handouts are undoubtedly needed and valuable, but they do not stimulate long-term sustainable growth, development and social equality.
That being said, I do not believe that Renzi pulled this move for the long-term good of the country, as he claims to have done. When he was Prime Minister, the most he ever did for young people and education was handing out 500 euros to all individuals turning 18. These 500 euros could be used on Spotify, to visit museums, go to the cinema, buy CDs or books. Online, books could only be bought €50 at a time, so I could not buy myself any of my university textbooks. Instead, like everybody else, I got a free Spotify account for one year and a few cinema tickets. What a great example of not vote-winning, long-term investment in the youth! Renzi is also the man who in 2016 brought our country, once again, to elections by turning a referendum proposing the greatest constitutional reform since the foundation of our Republic into a vote for his popularity. Indeed, he publicly announced that he would resign were the referendum to fail, which effectively incentivised people to vote based on whether they approved of Renzi or not, instead of on the basis of the proposed, constitutional amendment. Aware of Renzi’s past and love for power and attention -a common feature among Italy’s politicians- 73% of respondents to an Ipsos poll agree that Renzi, in withdrawing Italia Viva from the government, was "pursuing his personal interests and those of his party.”
Renzi pulled this dangerous move, at this terrible time, to get some media attention and try to increase his share of power in the government. He was probably hoping to re-negotiate with Conte how many of the Cabinet’s Ministers would be from Italia Viva. Because unfortunately this is what Italian politics boils down to: selfish protagonism.
As most of you probably know, yesterday morning Conte submitted his official resignation to our President, Sergio Mattarella. Let the waste of time begin! Mattarella now has a difficult choice ahead of him: should he keep Conte as PM and give him a third chance at building a government? Should he install a Monti-style, technocratic government? Should he ask the two ruling parties, the Partito Democratico (PD) and 5 Stelle, to agree on a new PM? I trust Mattarella to be reasonable enough not to convey snap-elections, which the far-right is already screaming and pushing for since they have a majority in the polls, but unfortunately that is also, technically, a possible scenario. Elections, however, would be a real embarrassment. With what money would we organize elections? With what respect would citizens be asked to go to the polls in the middle of a health crisis that has taken more than 80,000 lives? With what courage would our government justify holding elections but not opening schools?
Whatever Mattarella decides, this will have been an unforgivable, unbelievable waste of time. Once again, thank you Italy for reminding me why moving back is not an option.