By NYU Florence student Caterina Dacy Ariani
While I was born in New York City, I have spent most of my life in Europe, living in Italy, France and Switzerland (speaking their respective languages). I have seen the challenges these countries have faced trying to manage the benefits of being part of the EU (or not in the case of Switzerland) alongside their desire to maintain national identities and control over their destiny. I have witnessed the absurd (Berlusconi explaining why a Dane shouldn’t hold a post related to food) and the dire (Draghi’s speech explaining the ECB will do “whatever is necessary” to support the euro). Italian and EU politics never seem to bore, and this year was no exception. On my arrival in Italy this year, Italy had only had a new government (a grand coalition) for a few months. The grand coalition (the first one in the history of the Republic), was a result of the deadlock 2013 elections, where no party was left with enough of a majority to rule on their own. The coalition was lead by Enrico Letta as the new Prime Minister and member of the Democratic Party and it was unclear how long this government would actually survive.
Although Silvio Berlusconi hadn’t been Prime Minister since November 2011, his name did not go unmentioned in any discussion on current Italian politics. In August 2014, when I came to NYU Florence, his face plastered newspapers accompanying headlines regarding his trials and convictions. Although the list of illegal activity that Berlusconi has been accused of is practically infinite, the main focus was on his tax fraud, and his sexual scandals never failed to be a punchline. Additionally, Berlusconi still had a seat in the Senate at this point, and how a man convicted in court for criminal activity, that would have sent him to jail if it weren’t for his ripe old age, could still have any active and official role in politics was quite confusing. The highlight of this year in Italian politics, however, was when Mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, suddenly became the new Prime Minister of Italy. Renzi had tried to be the candidate for the Democratic Party in the 2013 elections but lost in the primaries, so his desire to build a national political profile beyond his local Florentine one was no secret. That said, his swift rise to power this spring came as a shock to many Italians and the international public. How could someone become the new Prime Minister without elections? What about Letta? It turns out, the President of the Republic, in this case, Giorgio Napolitano, has the right to request a new cabinet. It became public in the aftermath that Napolitano had gone to Renzi, asking him to form a new cabinet, which also led to Letta’s (arguably forced) resignation. Although there are mixed opinions on whether this was the right thing to do, most political experts recognized that Renzi’s move was very well thought out, and that waiting for elections may have jeopardized his opportunity to take the reins of the Italian government.
So, what does this mean for Italy today? Renzi is 39 years old, making him the youngest PM Italy has ever had, in stark contrast to previous PM’s who, like Berlusconi, were still in office in their 70’s. Moreover, Renzi’s cabinet is the first to be gender equal, consisting of eight men (excluding Renzi) and eight women, one of whom was eight months pregnant when appointed. Renzi’s cabinet also stands as the youngest in Italy’s history, with an average age of 47. He immediately presented his 100-day plan, promising one sweeping reform every month. One of his biggest battles will be the electoral reform, which, if successful, would change the dynamics of the Italian political system. So early into his time in office, it is difficult to determine how successful Renzi will actually be, but we can hope that this young face can start bringing progress to Italy’s elderly and male dominated reputation. Also, much of Renzi’s success will depend on the outcome of the EU elections that are taking place at the end of this month (May 2014). With the constant and dramatic changes and surprises occurring in Italian politics, it is difficult to understand what we, as students studying here abroad, should take away with us. NYU Florence politics professor Roberto D’Alimonte suggests, in response to this conundrum, that student take with them the understanding of “the importance of participating in politics” because too often, he says “people don’t participate and end up letting other people make decisions for them”.