Has the Democratic Party saved Berlusconi? – July 21

The main political headline in today’s Italian newspapers concerns the Italian Senate’s controversial vote over whether or not to allow the use of wire tap of Silvio Berlusconi’s conversations as evidence in an ongoing investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office of Milan into accusations that he tampered with witnesses during a previous trial, some of whom were underage women that he had had inappropriate relations with. In Italy, Italian Senators have immunity from criminal prosecution, unless that immunity is lifted in a vote by the Italian Senate. Despite the majority of political groups declaring themselves in favour of the admission of the wire taps, the final vote (cast by secret ballot) rejected the prosecutor’s request by  ten votes. This has led to a series of accusations between the Partito Democratico (Democratic Party or PD) and Movimento 5 Stelle (Five Star Movement or M5S). M5S Senator Nicola Morra, accused the PD in an interview of having “saved” Berlusconi in exchange for his support of the constitutional referendum, which will be held this fall.

Former Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, who still has an influential voice in Italian politics, expressed his hope that a pact would be made between the PD and the opposition to face current threats from terrorism and economic instability in an interview in Il Foglio, which was reprinted by many other newspapers. He also called for changes to the electoral law (which governs the election of parliament members) currently under debate in the Italian parliament. Italy is currently debating the passage of laws that would fundamentally change the structure of its parliament and the way that parliament members are elected. The instability of Italian governing coalitions is well noted: because of Italy’s multiparty system, it is difficult, if not impossible, for a single party to win a majority of votes without having to stitch together shifting coalitions of multiple parties in what they refer to as a ‘governing coalition’. Only once or twice in Italian history has a governing coalition managed to complete a single term in office. Italian politics over the last year has been debating solutions to make the government that results from elections more stable and more effective at governing.

Matteo Renzi’s centrist allies, the NCD continue to face an ongoing crisis. After the NCD parliamentarian’s threats to withdraw their support from the government (see Politics briefing of July 11th) and the recent steps that Enrico Zanetti (Vice Finance Minister and leader of “Scelta Civica”, the other main ally of the Democratic Party) has taken to distance himself from Renzi, the head of NCD’s group in the Senate, Renato Schifani, resigned in an attempt to distance himself from the centre-left coalition. This casts further doubt on the solidity of Renzi’s coalition, whose majority in the Senate relies on the votes of the centrist senators, including the NCD and Scelta Civica.

The confusion in the Senate is one of the main reasons for a halt in discussion on Italy’s first draft law on torture. This law would mainly apply to police agents, who have often been accused of abuse of power. In three recent cases Stefano Cucchi, Giuseppe Uva and Federico Aldrovandi all died after having been beaten by the police. The European Court of Human Rights recently cited the absence of a law in Italy on torture as the reason it was not possible to convict the perpetrators. In the Senate, the centre-right parties Lega Nord, Forza Italia and the NCD came out against the bill and succeeded in blocking debate.

Avoiding the Next Banking Crisis: An Agreement Almost “In Hand” – July 12

The main headline of today’s Italian newspapers concerns the Italian government’s discussions with EU finance ministers on measures the Italian government would like to take to prevent a banking crisis. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stated in an interview with Corriere della Sera that an agreement is almost “in hand”. Meetings have been taking place between Finance Ministers of European countries that have adopted the euro currency to discuss the health of European banks and to coordinate on measures that may be necessary to head off another financial crisis, like the one that embroiled Greece last year. There have been worrying signs that European banks are heading towards a crisis of liquidity that could have a far reaching impact on the financial system, and, in particular, on European citizens’ savings and investments in the banks.

The Italian government wants the EU to make an exception in EU regulations that prohibit state aid to banks.  Italy wants to act swiftly to protect the loans and savings of private citizens in Italian banks. To calm public concerns, and optimistic that an agreement will be reached, the Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan stated reassuringly: “Italian citizens’ savings will be protected by the government.” The Renzi administration argues that these measures are precautionary and Italian banks are not yet facing an acute crisis, the real risk resides in other European countries. Indeed, there is growing concern across Europe about the health of European banks, the likelihood of another financial crisis, and, especially among EU officials, the domino effect that ‘stretching’ EU rules on government bank bailouts might have.

In the same interview, Matteo Renzi reversed what had seemed a new openness to break up the vote on the Italian constitutional reform into several parts. He unambiguously declared in an interview to Corriere della Sera that breaking the reform vote is completely out of the question, adding that  he is not afraid of losing the vote and being forced to resign. He seemed confident that those currently opposed to the reform will change their minds and support the bill.

A small delegation of Five Star Movement (M5S) parliamentarians just returned from a controversial trip to Israel, during which they were barred by the Israeli government from traveling to the Palestinian territories. Some members of the delegation reacted angrily stating that “this is not a good sign for peace”. M5S representative Manlio Di Stefano, in an interview with La Stampa, clarified the party’s office stance in support of appeasement between Israel and Palestine and  called on Israel to take the lead in driving peace, a veiled criticism of the Israeli government for blocking progress.

The Italian parliament has just begun to debate a law aimed at tackling growing poverty. The leftist opposition party Sinistra Italiana (SI) proposed  a series of measures to finance a minimum monthly salary of 600 Euros. Italy is one of the few remaining countries in Europe whose government does not have this kind of guarantee in place. The money would be generated from Italy’s inheritance tax.

In other news, the Italian ‘Finance Police’ (the equivalent of the U.S.’s IRS) has raided several of the Rome City Council’s offices, as well as other administrative offices throughout the city, in search of documents related to ongoing investigations into possible corruption in  the construction of Rome’s third subway line.

The Italian Constitutional Reform: Is Prime Minister Matteo Renzi Open to Discussion? – July 11

This week the main themes of the Italian political debate converge on the upcoming constitutional reform being debated in the Italian parliament. The Renzi administration has been obliged to change its strategy in response to pressures from his party’s internal opposition and his governing coalition allies.

The latest polls show that public support for the constitutional reform is declining, falling to 37% after a high of 50% in February.  The percentage of the opposed and undecided have increased to 30% and 33% respectively. According to the noted Italian political scientist Ilvo Diamanti one of the main factors driving these trends is the “personalization” of the referendum after Prime Minister Renzi declared that he would resign if the “NO” camp prevailed. This, Diamanti explained, has strongly polarized public opinion and consolidated opposition forces hoping to push Matteo Renzi’s government to collapse.

Renzi faces other pressures as well:  eight members of the Nuovo Centro Destra (the New Center Right, or NCD) party, which is part of the governing coalition, have threatened to withdraw their support. Many commentators believe, however, that NCD is trying to put pressure on Renzi to make concessions on part of the electoral reform bill that disadvantages small parties. Complicating matters, NCD leader (and Minister for Home Affairs in Renzi’s government) Angelino Alfano has been touched by scandal over the last week: in ongoing investigations of corruption by the public prosecutor of Rome, several individuals were implicated in influence trafficking and money laundering, one of whom, Raffaele Pizza, is accused of helping Alfano’s brother obtain a well-paying job in a public agency. The opposition has called on Alfano to resign.

In light of these developments, the government has slightly changed its strategy on pushing the electoral law and constitutional reform through parliament: Renzi announced his openness to possible modifications of the new electoral law and there have been leaks from Democratic party sources that Renzi would not oppose a decision to break up the vote on the reform into several parts, which would facilitate debate over the law, something he has resisted in the past.

The Five Star Movement is also struggling in the wake of its recent victories in the local mayoral elections in Rome and Turin.  The composition of Rome’s newly elected mayor Virginia Raggi’s cabinet is still under debate as several nominees have been controversial. Chiara Appendino, the newly elected mayor of Turin, is also under fire from conservatives for changing the name of the ‘Family Issues’ office in her government too ‘Families’Issues’ in a nod to marriage equality.

Also, over the weekend, Renzi announced the government’s willingness to support NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and confirmed a rapid timetable for a vote on the civil marriage law in the parliament.

[Congratulations to new LPD Assistant Michail Schwartz on his first Italian Politics Briefing!]

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This fall, NYU Florence professors Roberto D’Alimonte and Alessandro Chiaramonte, will explain the constitutional reform currently under discussion in the Italian parliament in their talk Italian Politics Adesso! on September 26 from 6-8pm. Join us to learn more! Rsvp required at lapietra.dialogues@nyu.edu

 

More Mosques in Italy – March 10

In 2015, the President of Lombardy, Roberto Maroni, passed a law that restricted the construction of any new religious buildings; contingent upon whether or not they were cohesive with the already established local infrastructure. This was particularly problematic for the Muslim community. Considering there are currently only four legally recognized mosques in Italy for 1.5 million Muslims, the push to build mosques is continually increasing. This law, titled the Regional Law of Lombardy 2/2015, very quickly became known as the “anti-mosque law” of Lombardy, as it seemed to be specifically directed towards the Muslim faith.

On February 24, 2016 the Constitutional Court of Italy declared the Regional Law of Lombardy, 2/2015, unconstitutional. New head of the Constitutional Court, Paolo Grossi, led the repeal: “Our concern is to be the guardian of fundamental rights: the core of the judgment rests on avoiding discrimination, which the Court believed was present in the law.”  This decision was met with strong opposition from members of the Northern League (one of Italy’s more conservative political parties), with its leader, Matteo Salvini, posting his reactions on Twitter and Facebook. He claimed that the nullification of this law was “an accomplice to illegal immigration,” and that the Italian Constitutional Court was acting as an “Islamic court.”

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This act comes at a complicated time within Italy and the rest of Europe. Islamophobia has drastically increased due to the current refugee crisis, making some Italians wary of anything that resonates with the Middle East or the Islamic religion. It will be interesting to see how the community of Lombardy reacts as the construction of new mosques begins, and how it affects the landing place of refugees who are continuously flooding to Italy.

The Two Sides of the Same Coin – November 16

In the aftermath of the tragic events that occurred in Paris, Italian newspapers have been divided. The morning after the attacks, the headline of the Italian newspaper Libero read “bastard muslims”, openly labelling the terrorist attacks as acts initiated by the entire muslim community. “Il Gazzettino” and “Il Messaggero” blamed Islam for the attacks similarly. Other Italian newspapers did not directly assault the islamic people, but underlined President Hollande’s decision to declare a state of emergency in France and close all borders in an attempt to prevent the escape of the presumed terrorists as well as the arrival of any more. Several analysts and intellectuals have also argued that the attacks in Paris are direct assaults against the West and therefore the retaliation should be from the west as a whole and not just France.

There was an Italian national amongst the victims of the attacks. Valeria Solesin was a Ph.d student at the Sorbonne University of Paris. She served as volunteer in the Italian NGO Emergency. From Turkey, where he was attending the G-20 meeting, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi declared that he wants to create a scholarship in Solesin’s name.

Italy is on high alert for two reasons: the first is that a few of the terrorists are still fugitives and there is a risk that they could cross italian borders. The second is that Rome is scheduled to host the Jubilee next december. These two reasons aside, the Islamic State has repeatedly threatened Italy and its capital; to further discuss this serious matter, Renzi announced a convention of the National Committee for Order and Public Security the day after the terrorist attacks. The Minister of Internal Affairs Angelino Alfano has increased the level of alert in the country.

The Unexpected Friendship Between Renzi and a Kangaroo – October 1

After Renzi’s interview with the Wall Street Journal, reported in our previous article, in which he called for the involvement of Russia to solve the current war in Syria, yesterday Russian military aircraft started bombing targets in Syria. As reported by Corriere della Sera Obama has asked that Putin stop the airstrikes responsible for at least 36 civilian deaths. US Minister of Defense, Ash Carter, claims that ISIS is not in the target zone of the airstrikes and others believe that he is aiming for the rebels; Putin is defending his stance by characterizing it as a preemptive strike. These attacks are just two days after Putin addressed the UN to request an international intervention in Syria.

During his visit to the  U.S. Pope Francis has written a letter condemning the death penalty. As reported by Corriere della Sera it seems to be having an effect as two scheduled executions for Wednesday and Thursday have been suspended. The governor of Oklahoma, Mary Fallin, has put an execution on hold in order to evaluate the method of execution and ensure that it is in line with federal standards. In Virginia, a federal judge has put an inmate’s death sentence on hold to examine the use of pentobarbital as an execution method.

Huffington Post Italy reports that  German UN official Martin Kobler will allegedly substitute Bernardino Leon, the current United Nations Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Support Mission to Libya. Just a few days ago Renzi  declared, from the podium of the UN General Assembly, that  Italy would take a leading role in the Libya crisis. However, according to the Huffington Post, if  Kobler is appointed, Germany would reinforce its role in Libya. In Italy, the Senate is trying to pass the Constitutional reform  that Renzi’s administration proposed. Opponents had filed thousands of amendments in an attempt to slow Renzi’s initiative. A few days ago, the President of the Senate Pietro Grasso rejected the request of Northern League representative Roberto Calderoli to present 75 million amendments for deliberation. The Democratic Party passed an amendment called the “kangaroo” that allows the parliament to reject amendments that are similar to an amendment that has already been rejected. Corriere della Sera reports that despite strong opposition from non majority parties, the “kangaroo” amendment passed.

Renzi addresses the UN General Assembly while Italians Go Back to Work – September 30

Yesterday, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi addressed the room of the UN General Assembly during the opening of the 70th regular session. All of the Heads of member states were invited to participate. Renzi confirmed that his administration intends to take a leading role to stabilize the current crisis in Libya, respecting the UN Charter as well as the prerogative of the Italian Parliament, which has the power to authorize any military operation. In his statement, Renzi also discussed the refugee crisis in Europe, condemning the Hungarian initiative to build a wall between the Hungarian and Serbian border. Quoting the Pope, Renzi called for an international moratorium on the death penalty. During his visit to the U.S., Renzi in an interview with the Wall Street Journal affirmed the key role of Russia in Syria saying that “It is impossible to achieve peace without Russia involved,” it would be “an incredible mistake” to exclude Russia from talks on a solution.

This morning, Italian police started an operation close to the French-Italian border to clear activists and migrants from the coastal town of Ventimiglia (Italy). Since the French government’s decision to suspend the Schengen agreement and temporarily close the French border to prevent the transit of migrants to France, migrants have installed a few tents on the cliffs with the support of activists from the association ‘No Borders’. As reported by Corriere della Sera, the operation conducted by Italian police went smoothly and without resistance. Some activists and migrants are still staying on the cliffs.

The main Italian newspapers reported that last night the state of Georgia executed Kelly Renee Gissendaner, a woman found guilty for the murder of her husband in 1998. She was the first woman condemned to death since 1945 in Georgia. La Repubblica reports that executions in the U.S. are not slowing down, listing upcoming executions in Oklahoma and Virginia scheduled to take place next Wednesday and Thursday. Italian newspapers highlighted that the execution took place a few days after the Pope’s visit to the U.S. where he called for the abolition of the death penalty.

Il Sole 24 Ore, the most important economic newspaper in Italy, reports good news for the Italian economy. This morning the Italian National Institute for Statistics (Istat) released a study that confirmed the decrease of the Italian unemployment rate from 12% to 11,9%. It is the second consecutive decrease in the unemployment rate and the lowest rate since 2013. Renzi commented on the news on his Facebook page saying that this data confirms that his labour reform “The Jobs Act” is working. Since Prime Minister Matteo Renzi took his office the unemployment rate has decreased by 2%.

 

Integration and Shady Business – June 4

From May 9th to November 22nd the city of Venice is hosting the Venice Biennale, one of the most important events around world for art, architecture and exhibitions. Every country is invited to create a pavilion where they can showcase their own conception of art and architecture. This year, the Icelandic pavilion attracted attention over their controversial exhibition. The Icelandic-Swiss artist Christoph Büchel, famous for his provocative works, transformed the unused church of Santa Maria della misericordia into a mosque. Although Büchel had received authorization for the installation which was scheduled to last for seven months, the city police suspended and closed the church because it was not only being used to host an exhibition, but had become a place of worship and he had not received the required  authorization from the city as well as the Patriarchate of Venice. ‘The mosque’ in Venice lasted 10 days, but the Icelandic art center, managed by the Icelandic Ministry of Culture for the Venice Biennale, is preparing to appeal to an administrative court for a re-opening. According to Mohammed Amin Al Ahdab, President of the Muslim community of Marghera, a city close to Venice, “this deed is going to be like a match in a barn and will damage the image of Venice around world”.

This morning all the headlines are about a new chapter in Mafia Capitale, a scandal that broke last year in which several leading Roman politicians were accused of colluding with the mafia. Behind the immigrant shelters used to host asylum seekers in Italy, the Italian police has discovered  a shady business controlled by the mafia being carried out with the direct involvement of several local politicians. The investigation, which started last December, and  led to the arrest  of 37 people, has continued and, this morning, 44 more people were arrested. According to investigators, the managers of several associations and companies that owned the migrant shelters corrupted influential members of local governments to obtain the contracts. The long hand of the mafia has been found in the management of some migrant shelters and, in particular, the mafia of Rome.

 

Everybody Won and Nobody Lost: Italy Reconfirms Its Happy Disposition – June 3

The day after the regional elections carried out in seven regions, it is time to analyze the results. In five regions a center-left wing coalition won and in two a center-right wing coalition won, the same number of regions both factions controlled  the day before the elections with just one change: Liguria passed from the center-left to the center-right and Campania from the center-right to the center-left. Apparently, nobody lost and nobody won, but in Italy, everybody wins. For the Democratic Party five regions against two is a clear victory; for Forza Italia and its president Silvio Berlusconi, the win in Liguria, a region historically guided by the center-left, is a victory; for Matteo Salvini, secretary of the Northern League, it is a victory because in several regions the Northern League is the second most voted party, reaffirming a Northern League presidency in Veneto with Luca Zaia that took twice as many votes as Alessandra Moretti, Democratic Party opponent. For the 5 Star Movement it is a victory because the party confirmed their presence in all regions, contradicting the pessimistic judgement of several political analysts that declared the movement ‘dead’ before the elections.

But reality is more real than propaganda. The Democratic Party has to admit that it lost votes; twelve months ago at the European elections the Democratic Party was able to obtain 40,8% of the vote, at this round Liguria and Veneto were the most important contests and it lost in both regions obtaining just 22% and  27% of votes.

The Northern League is the real winner of this election confirming its positive trajectory. Matteo Salvini, the young leader of the Northern League is the leader of the most voted center-right party in Italy, although he is not able, at the moment, to re-create a winning coalition of the center-right, as Silvio Berlusconi has in the past. And for this reason, looking at the 2018 national elections, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s opponent is not Matteo Salvini, but rather Luigi Di Maio, the rising leader of the 5 Star Movement.

According to Roberto D’Alimonte, professor at NYU Florence and one of the most respected political analysts in Italy, in an article published on Huffington Post Italia, the electoral law passed by the parliament a few weeks ago ‘sees’ in the 5 Star Movement, rather than the Northern League, a credible opponent to the Democratic Party of Matteo Renzi. In fact, the new electoral law establishes a majority bonus for the most voted party in order to ensure more stability for the government. Salvini will be able to challenge Renzi only if he takes the lead of the entire center-right, creating a solid coalition. According to D’Alimonte it will be hard for him to achieve itfor two reasons: Salvini has extremist positions on several issues and he guides a party that is only really popular in Northern Italy. In Apulia, for instance, he only won 2% of the votes. On the other hand, the 5 Star Movement “has more chances” because it “has a homogenous distribution of votes in Italy”, D’Alimonte said. However, a system, like that introduced by the new electoral law, which establishes a second ballot between the two most voted parties in case nobody reaches the threshold of 40%, pushes the parties to choose a candidate that is appreciated by other political forces in addition to their own. For D’Alimonte, “Salvini doesn’t have a transversal appeal” and, for this reason, he sees in Luigi Di Maio and in the 5 Star Movement the real opponent to Renzi at the next national elections.

Blurred Elections, Italian Style – May 28

Next Sunday, citizens from seven regions are called to vote in regional elections, in particular in Veneto, Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Campania and Apulia. The results of regional elections can be unpredictable and this time the outcome is really uncertain. There are seven swing regions. Prime Minister and Secretary of the Democratic Party, Matteo Renzi is very concerned about the results. Support for the Democratic Party has declined over the last months because of criticism of new educational reforms strongly opposed by students and teachers and the government’s response to the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. Renzi’s administration has had some successes, though, such as passing the electoral law (Italicum), introducing stronger legislation against corruption and environmental crimes, and reintroducing the crime of false accounting, i.e. ‘fudging the books’.

The electoral law was the most important piece of legislation passed by Renzi’s administration. After a long process, Italy adopted a new electoral law that substitutes the previous law which was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court. The Italicum awards 55% of the seats in the parliament to the party that obtains at least 40% of the votes. If at the first round no party reaches the threshold of 40%, there will be a second round of voting between the first two most voted parties. The winner will receive 55% of the seats in parliament. This is expected to improve the stability of the government.

Renzi’s party over the last months has been shaken by scandals involving elected officials for cases of corruption and abuse of office. Several important members left the party because of disagreements over the government’s agenda. One high profile case is the Democratic Party candidate for the Presidency of the Region of Campania Vincenzo De Luca who last January was found guilty for abuse of office (he nominated a friend as Project Manager for a public contract without any justification) and was convicted to a year of reclusion by the first court of judgement. As established in a law passed in 2012 called ‘Legge Severino’, people found guilty by the court of last resort cannot run for elections. In the case of people found guilty by the first court of judgment, they can be a candidate, but upon election they will be immediately suspended, and must wait for the judgment of another court that will analyze whether there is an incompatibility between the alleged crime and the person’s ability to exercise their duties. That means that if De Luca wins the election, he will be suspended and a court will decide whether not to allow him to assume office, to allow him to assume office and to send the case to the Constitutional Court, or to suspend him with an act that needs to be countersigned by the Prime Minister, while waiting for the decision of the Constitutional Court. The government is suspended during the appeals process, making it highly likely that the second most voted candidate will request to assume office, adding another layer of complexity.