Italy must hold a general election in a little over 10 months. Until now Senator Monti has been having a difficult time forcing the various embedded powers of political parties, trade unions, professional bodies, and open gangsters to accept that spending must fall. Everyone is clear that the others should accept reduced state spending - but not themselves. They're all as bad as one another; it isn't as if there's an outstanding villain, though the political elites - the elected and their hangers-on - are not just acting for themselves but being obstructive in the legislature on behalf of the others, who are both their clients and, to some degree, their paymasters (tax-payers are contributing forcibly too.)
After a brief interlude of relief that Berlusconi had finally lost his majority in a welter of accusations and trials, some still on-going, the Prime Minister began to lose the upper hand. Trade unions defended their outrageous closed shop that over-rewards the employed but excludes the young from entering employment; professions dug in their heels over their exclusionary practices; gangsters returned to corrupting and shooting their way forward as usual. But now the politicians are in a bit of a difficulty.
Yes, they have refused to take any cuts beyond derisory gestures that can be made up elsewhere on their palette of access to other people's money. But with the summer recess and a mass decamping to the seaside and the mountains, their hold over the Prime Minister falls away. In the Autumn there can be no more threats of precipitating early elections or forcing the President to ask someone else to try and form a government. The use of legislative decrees will come into its own.
The decreto legge is proposed by the Prime Minister of the day and his cabinet, and signed off by the President of the Republic; for 90 days it is the law and, before the end of that period, must be ratified by both Houses. Or not. Monti has done much, under this system, but has been hamstrung by the threat of legislative refusal on every matter of substance to any of the entrenched interest groups. The people are becoming resigned, a lot of talk, they say, but nothing gettting done.
However, the talk has served: battle lines have been drawn, strengths tested, alliances split, public attitudes evinced. Monti and his ministers have got through what they could, and learned much of what the people want but the vested interests want to prevent. In the Autumn they can put the really necessary changes into place, but they do not have to push any of them through an implacable legislature.
By the time the 90 days is up it will be too late to refuse ratification. Italy will be in full electoral mode; and the people are very angry indeed with their political representatives. They will be even angrier if the rejection of necessary reforms is the platform on which the political elites and the special interest groups go to the country.
Neither the Prime Minister* nor the President of Italy are standing for re-election next Spring. They'll really have the bit between their teeth.
*It is a misrepresentation to say that Mario Monti is unelected. He was nominated by the President and given an overwhelming vote of confidence by both elected Houses of Parliament.
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