Saturday, 31 January 2015


    The President of Italy Sergio Mattarella, and doesn't he look the part?

Italy Chooses Its President Today

They're off.  Led by the Life Senators (4 of the 6 as Ciampi is permanently incapacitated by ill health) Elena Cattaneo,  Monti,  Napolitano,  Rubbia,  (Renzo Piano isn't there).  The Partito Democratico, united behind their leader Matteo Renzi, are voting for Mattarella; as is the whole centre right in their various manifestations; the Lega Nord;  and the 'Rabbit and his Friends and Relations' group of autonomous regions with a particular determination from all the Sicilians (no-one will forget Mattarella's elder brother, gunned down on the streets of Palermo by the Mafia on his way to Mass, dying in his brother's arms in the 1980s).

Berlusconi has recovered his temper and his manners enough to realise that deserting the hall during the voting for the President of Italy might finish off his party completely and has asked Forza Italia to vote blank.  But his Party has fractured under the strain of many southern members' desire to support Mattarella and some 40-50 will vote for the candidate.

The Five Stars have declared an intention to vote for another candidate, but already a dozen of them have deserted Party discipline (and perhaps even the grouping)  and will vote for Mattarella.  The 5-Stelle, too, has made a huge political blunder, then, in attempting to gain quite petty advantage from this presidential election.

This has been a masterly demonstration by the Italian Prime Minister of how to do politics: the best candidate; an overwhelming support base; a unification of his own fractured Party; the destruction of an embarrassment of an alliance to his right while detaching many of the Right to his support; the rendering irrelevant of Italy's Podemos - Europe will be challenged but from Renzi's programme, not that of the wilder shores of the Left/anarchists -; the maintenance of his own drive to more prime-ministerial style powers into his hands (he cannot, directly, even dismiss one of his ministers though he did remark, sharply and publicly to Minister of the Interior Alfano 'You cannot be such a Minister and fail to vote for such a candidate' when Alfano tried to withold his minority coalition party's support for Mattarella in his own, narrow political interest.); the seeing off of the arch-Europeanistas -Amato, Prodi leading the pack.

Europe may be worried by Greece: they should be much more concerned at Italy.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Italian Presidential Elections and Some Wider Implications

Italy begins the process of electing its president today.  At 3pm the grandi elettori gather in the equivalent of the Commons:  senators, deputies of the Lower House, life senators (including former president Napolitano) and representatives of the Italian regions who are themselves Party members of most of the major parties in the Parliament.  There are 1009 of them, 58 from the regions.  On the first three ballots a two thirds majority is required for election - 673 votes.  From the fourth ballot  505 votes suffice.

The inconvenience of the two thirds majority is usually overcome by major parties voting blank on the first three ballots; then they get down to it.  Matteo Renzi has stated that the Partito Democratico's candidate is Sergio Mattarella, a distinguished judge of the constitutional court.  Well, after the Napolitano disgraceful and unconstitutional years that sounds just the job.  He won't be pushing into what is none of his business and may even undo the damage of a rampaging egoist and European Union fanatic warping the basis of Italian democracy.

Unfortunately the rampaging egoist etc., is working away, despite retirement, to replace himself with Giuliano Amato - the author of every major European Treaty: from Lisbon to Rome Amato and his committee have dotted every i, crossed every t.  He has as well a certain reputation as Craxi's man and even now that isn't lived down easily.  Craxi who fled the country and spent the rest of his life in Tunisia.  Which brings us to Berlusconi.  Not, of course, a socialist, and not fled, but convicted and determined to have that conviction lifted (and who can blame him, hounded from office by threats of prosecution and public shaming when he threatened Italy's commitment to Europe-ever-closer...) 

Berlusconi has been in alliance with Renzi throughout Renzi's administration - to the fury of the old CP sections of the Partito Demcratico not least because the alliance across the political divide of centre left and centre right deprive them of all power. (What a pity Blair never allied with Conservative forces against the Brown/Balls/ Miliband tendency).  Berlusconi's price for agreeing to Mattarella is his re-admittance, formally, into political life; he's been banned for some years so necessarily his style is hampered, acting from the back with proxies who tend to get above themselves.  Mattarella, being the man he is, doesn't look the sort of president to hand out pardons to tax-evaders.  So the lifting of Berlusconi's judicial shadows is going to have to come from Renzi and his administration.  And that is going down very badly in the PD, who made 'hating Berlusconi' their mode of being, their only political purpose, for years. (Yes, silly, wasteful, irrelevant but the Left usually is).

Provision has been made, by tagging a special little clause to a much bigger piece of legislation, that gets Berlusca in the clear; but Renzi has put back the vote until after the presidential election.  Anyone can imagine the fury on the Left as the Prime Minister drains power further into his hands.  Napolitano gone and replaced by a severe constitutionalist who will retreat into the proper conduct of the office of president; Berlusconi absolved yet remaining in alliance even though he has been forced to accept a president of the Right who is not his first choice;  the office of prime minister strengthened  by the ending of perfect bi-cameralism and the stripping of power from the Senate; and, most of all, a prime minister no longer answerable to a disloyal Party (at least in large part) and undisturbed by inappropriate Presidential intervention.

It's not just Greece that is challenging  northern European austerity and the imposition of damaging economic and fiscal policies on other parts of the Union.  Renzi has had to sort out his own backyard first but he's nearly there  - then there's  hope he can bring some of the sillier, even dangerous, European ascendency to heel.

Friday, 16 January 2015

You did ask what is going on in Italy

The multi-layered attempt to deny power to any party questioning the European Union or considering leaving the Euro as the obvious response to Italy's disastrous economic condition was initiated against Berlusconi's elected centre-right government.

Berlusconi was harried by various legal assaults for matters ranging from fraud and tax-avoidance to child prostitution.  He was finally convicted of tax-evasion. But had been assured he would be in some manner let off the hook if he resigned.  Sensibly he left office.  Napolitano imposed Mario Monti - a former EU commissioner - without dissolving Parliament, to whom Berlusconi's centre-right majority lent its votes (to get their leader through his current legal troubles).

When it became clear that no intervention was coming from on high Monti lost vote after confidence vote and Parliament coming to the end of its natural term, had to be dissolved anyway.

Unfortunately for Napolitano his own term of office was expiring too by then (we are now in 2013). 

Meanwhile the Partito Democratico had rigged its internal ballot for a new leader by excluding large numbers of those supporters who had not been party members for an inordinately long time from the ballot.  Even so, the former communist candidate Bersani failed to get through on the first ballot  and only managed on the second due to a further imposition of restrictions on who could vote:ie only those who had voted in the first round. This defeated Matteo Renzi but disgusted so many of us that we  voted 5 Star at the general election of 2013.

Renzi's voters returned a large faction to Parliament in 2013; and 5 Stars took 25% of the vote.  Clearly there was an enormous number disaffected with the Euro.  But the leader of the PD was Bersani, with the largest party and clearly the politician to be invited to try his hand at government.  He was some 7 or 8 seats short of an overall majority -a mere trifle in the context of Italian political trading of votes and coalition-forming.

The attempt to elect a new Italian president was a disaster. And the disaster was blamed upon 'faults' in the Constitution that needed 'correction'(generally in the direction of making it easier for a determined party-political elite and establishment to control the people).

Every candidate in the presidential election was brought down by some section of the electorate for the presidency.  Good, decent candidates: it was remarkable to watch.  When Romano Prodi was not elected it became clear there was another agenda in operation.

Prodi would have asked Bersani, as leader of the majority party, to form a government (Monti was caretaking the government while this was going on).  Napolitano wanted more time to impose his world view not least through choosing another prime minister not elected by us but loyal to the eurozone and the EU at any cost to Italian democracy.

By withholding (secret) votes from Prodi two goals were achieved: no Bersani government,and the impression of total democratic crisis.  Napolitano steps forward and, in defiance of all constitutional practice gets a few more years to push the powers of the presidency way beyond their accepted capacities.

His first act is to appoint Enrico Letta as prime minister: a eurocreep and nephew of a behind the scenes wheeler dealer for Berlusconi's party. Enrico Letta who sat as an MP on the extreme right of the Partito Democratico (you may have noticed him wandering around London seeking the NATO nomination after his destruction by Matteo Renzi within the PD.  Didn't get a European office either. Hah.)

Renzi destroyed Letta (E.) by winning a resounding victory in the PD as leader when Bersani had to resign having failed to even be invited to form a government.  He then simply informed Letta when he was to go as he, Renzi, held his majority (having formed a pact with an increasingly disillusioned Berlusconi, by now convicted, and evicted from the Senate) as well as leading the PD near majority in parliament too.

When he told Letta to go, Napolitano had no choice (as Napolitano bitterly  remarked) but to invite Matteo Renzi to form a government - the present government.  Renzi has long been suspect, in Napolitano's eyes and view, of denying EU precedence and the desirability of Eurozone membership.

Napolitano's antics during the Renzi government have been well out of order but he has (finally) had to go.  Now he's trying to replace himself in moves over the presidential elections on 29 January. 

It's Europe, you see.  What Italy does is central.  And we keep voting for major European change, so democracy goes out of the window.   

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Napolitano Gone At Last

Parliamentary democracy is restored in Italy.  Giorgio Napolitano's letter of resignation is delivered to Matteo Renzi, the Prime Minister (not the prime minister Napolitano wanted - and installed - but the one  we wanted and who forced the removal of Enrico Letta).

There were lots of horses, lots of caped carabinieri with plumed hats, lots of bowing and scraping, but the years of occupation of the office of President, accompanied by gross attempts to extend the powers and practices of that office, are over. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

President Giorgio Napolitano 'helping with enquiries'

As Italy's economic and political disaster takes form - a new dawn has broken, yes it has (to borrow an image) - the Head of State, Giorgio Napolitano is summoned by the magistrates of Palermo to give evidence in the processo per la trattativa tra Stato e mafia [the trial of negotiations between the State and the Mafia]It is unprecedented in Italy for a sitting head of state to be questioned even, as here, as a witness, in any judicial proceedings, never mind judicial proceedings of this order.

There being no provision for such an event in the Constitution, the magistrates will go to the Quirinale rather than requiring the nearly 90 year-old President of the Republic to go to them.  After all, Blair  helped the police with their enquiries in Downing Street when the unthinkable happened in the United Kingdom, although the Italian version is more like Elizabeth II being questioned as a witness than the questioning of a mere prime minister.

Meanwhile the Fourth Estate in the form of the Corriere della Sera - Italy's paper of record - publishes an editorial of such notable aggression and spite against the Renzi government  (and this in the middle of Italy's 6-month presidency of the European Union) that Christ driving out the Pharisees from the Temple comes to mind as a measure of what has happened to Roman power circles.  It seems that a bunch of incompetent, inexperienced, unforgivably young Florentines, unaware of the realities of power, have taken over the rightful offices and positions of the salons of Rome and (to a lesser extent) Milan.  Masonic corruption is hinted (after all, the P2 kept its records only 50 kms from Florence, ooooh), Tiziano Renzi (the prime minister's father) is suddenly under investigation, while his son observes mildly from the UN that it would be difficult to get further from free masonry than he and his family are (boy scouts, yes, Liccio Gelli, no).

Matteo Renzi himself stands accused of being young, with that Tuscan facility of speech that is of itself suspect, and being leader of both Executive and Party; and so extremely popular (evidently a drawback).   Worse, he won't put up with the Troika-isation of Italy by the EU.  Which brings the Presidency of the Republic, particularly in view of the questioning, into consideration.

Even Napolitano can't manage a third go.  He should have gone at the end of his term not stayed for a second in such an iffy manner,  so as to foist the awful Enrico Letta on the country.  The choice of the next President of the Republic is upon us with Renzi in power - what horror.  For the European Union and particularly the Eurozone, Italy cannot be seen to be treated like Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Ireland - it's much to big and founder-memberish.  To put Italy under EU discipline the best thing would be to move Mario Draghi from the ECB into the Quirinale.  As President of the Republic he can save the Euro better from there than from any other position; after all, now that the line the ECB will take, is already taking, is settled, Germany can provide a suitable executor. 

Renzi isn't having that either.  He (and we, the people, that is) see no reason why Italy should be reduced to penury for the sake of neo-liberal economic orthodoxy pretending to be a 'peace-loving' European Union.   Italian national debt stands at 136% of this year's GDP.  The growth rate has been negative for the last three quarters.  Unemployment stands at 42% of people 18-24. A start has been made on paying government debt to enterprises.  Yet the most pernicious aspect of the economic situation is the resistance to any reduction in the returns to the entrenched political classes at any and all levels,  Still, at least we can now hear their pain    

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Ukraine: the risks of transition

Ukraine misrepresentations and lies, coupled with ignorance are fuelling  widespread displays of media propaganda.  There exists a factual skeleton that cannot be propagandized away though.

It is not in Ukraine or Russia's interest to partition the country.

The Kiev government has lost control of eastern and southern Ukraine.

Calling parliamentary elections in Kiev when so much of the country, with millions of voters,  is no longer governed from Kiev, is a democratic farce.

The current Kiev caretaker government  is widely regarded as Fascist by many and, in some parts of Ukraine, the majority of voters.  Any attempt to validate the agreement with the European Union by the current Kiev government will be regarded as illegitimate by much of the population.  And by Russia.

The response to this has so far been disastrous.  At least 2000 people have been killed.   The EBRD has produced a worst-case scenario in which the sanctions implemented and threatened against Russia will precipitate a Russian recession and bring growth to a halt in the area; there will be serious contagion throughout the global economy and, first, for Europe.

All European former socialist economies have distinctive features arising from their soviet-type starting model.  Escorting them and assisting them through transition is now a well-understood process, if hotly contested by those who want to punish the former socialist errors (and socialists), and those who seek to provide the best route to an economically and politically successful society.

Such a society would not  conform to the hyper-liberal, crony capitalism so beloved of the corrupt of all capitalist economies (sadly only too well-represented in some of the already 'transited' states that fought back to create a more balanced and indeed moral, as well as efficient,  economic and political system and thus largely completed the transition). 

Abolishing or reducing to a minimum the role of the state in transiting economies is not clever.  Market institutions must be created, there must be investment in modern infrastructures (just consider the backwardness of the highly inefficient energy consumption levels of Ukraine industries), market regulation must be a state function, and for any reasonable person there must be great importance given to the provision of employment, the alleviation of poverty, and the assurance of social peace.

Russia will not accept Ukraine (or any other near-abroad state) practising the politico-economic aggression of hyper-liberal, crony capitalism.  In the interests of its defence requirements it has formally annexed the Crimea.  Informally, bluntly, it has annexed also Ukraine as a whole, rejecting the kind of development that will lead to  an unstable and inegalitarian capitalist free-for-all.

Central Europe - Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, The Czech Republic - really doesn't need this pseudo Europe of the UK, US, and Baltic peripherals, trying to put tanks on Russia's lawn.  

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Plus ça change

Monsieur le Président je vous fais une lettre
Que vous lirez peut-être
Si vous avez le temps
Je viens de recevoir
Mes papiers militaires
Pour partir à la guerre
Avant mercredi soir
Monsieur le Président
je ne veux pas la faire
je ne suis pas sur terre
Pour tuer des pauvres gens
C’est pas pour vous fâcher
Il faut que je vous dise
Ma décision est prise
je m’en vais déserter
Depuis que je suis né
J’ai vu mourir mon père
J’ai vu partir mes frères
Et pleurer mes enfants
Ma mère a tant souffert
Qu’elle est dedans sa tombe
Et se moque des bombes
Et se moque des vers
Quand j’étais prisonnier
On m’a volé ma femme
On m’a volé mon âme
Et tout mon cher passé
Demain de bon matin
Je fermerai ma porte
Au nez des années mortes
J’irai sur les chemins
Je mendierai ma vie
Sur les routes de France
De Bretagne en Provence
Et je dirai aux gens
Refusez d’obéir
Refusez de la faire
N’allez pas à la guerre
Refusez de partir
S’il faut donner son sang
Allez donner le vôtre
Vous êtes bon apôtre
Monsieur le Président
Si vous me poursuivez
Prévenez vos gendarmes
Que je n’aurai pas d’armes
Et qu’ils pourront tirer.