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.