Politics

Berlusconi vs Monti: a year later, are we better off now?


When riding the subway here in Rome you have the opportunity to appreciate the best headlines and news. At least that’s what happens to me, while listening to music or playing with my pretty i-pod I can’t help but notice the headlines from those sleepy people like me who are standing and reading their newspaper while grabbing the pole so they won’t fall every time the train stops abruptly (there will be a separate post on Rome Public Transport, believe me!).
And for what I’ve seen lately, the most popular news I can read from those papers here in Rome are: tax evaders (there’s a new one every day, shocking!), Super Mario, corrupted politicians (also a new face everyday), the Cleopatra storm (which never came), Syria (which to me it never seems to be properly featured) and finally one of the funniest ones: Silvio Berlusconi may come back to power! Allegedly..

Now, Silvio has been out of the picture for a year now, but his legacy grieves Italy a ton and the task of the new government promises not easy. Not only because the political class feels betrayed but also because the reforms necessary to reduce the deficit led by Mario Monti are certainly not popular.

About Silvio Berlusconi – the man who has made the unthinkable happen more than once.

Silvio Berlusconi, alias Silvio, Il Cavaliere, Il Caimano, Bunga Bunga King, 74 years old, has been the longest-serving Prime Minister since Mussolini, until his resignation in November of 2011. He has a lot to be proud of: he is 74 years, he owns a media empire that made him Italy’s richest man; he dominated politics for over two decades, and has survived countless predictions of his retirement from Government’s life. Despite the fact that he built an enormous net of business and influences, he has been a disaster as a National Leader. And here is why.

With an estimated fortune of USD 9 billions, Il Cavaliere apart from being one of the country’s richest men he is also a political and media tycoon who controls shareholder of Mediaset and owns the soccer association A.C. Milan. Although his empire extends also to advertising, insurance, construction among other industries.

He dominated Italian politics for 17 years, being PM for four mandates, he failed to implement austerity measures, failed to manage the sex scandals and unwelcome distractions, and finally failed to keep promises.

Founder of the Forza Italia (Go Italy) later called Popolo della Libertá (PDL, People of Freedom) political parties, Mr. Berlusconi has been always the main target of criticism. Here is a brief summary:

– Media control and conflict of interest: the continuous conflict of interest between media ownership and his holding of political office and his influence over the media have sparked allegations of limited freedom of expressions and limitations to news diversity.

– Abuse of his Office Position and Legislative changes: several laws that were passed by his administration, have efficiently detoured and delayed the ongoing trials on him (on the basis that if he believes that local judges were biased against him, he could request his cases to be moved to another court). These events have spread accusations of him passing these laws (17 according to La Repubblica newspaper) aiming to protect himself from legal charges.

– Connection to the Mafia: accusations of Berlusconi being connected to Mafia bosses appear in 1970’s, when Silvio was still just a rich real estate icon. Mr. Gaspare Spatuzza, a Mafia ‘pentito’ (‘repentant’, a criminal who turned to State’s justice) testified that Berlusconi had bargained with Mafia on a political-electoral agreement between Cosa Nostra and Forza Italia.

– Friends with wrong people: he himself  acknowledges his friendship with Bettino Craxi, Head of the Italian Socialist Party 1976-1993 accused of notorious cases of corruption (he in fact fled the country in 1994 in order to escape jail).

– Minors sex legal charges:  accused of having paid for sex with under-age prostitutes and the abuse with his political powers in order to cover up these accusations (and the tons of parties with friends and escorts at his Villa Arbore residence) started in February 2011. Trials are still ongoing.

– False Promises: he promised his fellow associates that if they supported his new laws in the Parliament he would compensate them greatly. I’ll mention just two of these scandals: the ‘fake budget balance’ and the “Trials Prescription” that involved him.
But let’s stop here for a second and dig in a little deeper… What does it mean Prescription?

In Italy, by Prescription we intend the extinction of criminal records and offenses as a result of a ‘certain’ period of time. In other words, if too much time elapses from the crime committed and not yet come to a solution, the crime will be deleted. This is established by Art. 157 of the Italian Criminal Code, which goes like this: “…the limitation extinguishes the offense in a time ranging from 20 years (in the case of offenses for which the law prescribes a prison sentence not less than 24 years) to 2 years (if it comes to offense for which the law prescribes a penalty fine).
This idea was conceived in order to avoid possible abuses by the judicial system and to have Justice acting quicker (that would be interesting). Finally, the prescription does not represent a full absolution, although the effects for the defendant may look identical.

Other accusations include: embezzlement, tax fraud and false accounting, extortion and attempting to bribe a judge. He has denied these wrongdoings and has never been definitively convicted for these charges.

Also on his account: many young people—far more in parts of the depressed south—are jobless, female-participation in the workhorse was the lowest in western Europe, 80th position in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, and 48th in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings.

By the time he resigned, Italy was immersed in a very difficult situation, with two problems difficult to reconcile. On the one hand Italy needs to regain the confidence and credibility of the markets, reduce the national debt, and secondly it should boost growth. To do that, not only a large sum of money and management are needed, but also an efficient Cleaning Action to improve the Italian national image.

Finally, a question which I think is shared by many: why did Silvio fail to keep promises of privatization and liberalizations?
In part because Berlusconi’s electorate consists of strongly protected and self-protected categories: professionals, the shopkeepers, who were not particularly interested in a liberal reform of the market. Also, there were objective difficulties, such as the 2008 crisis. But the real problem was Berlusconi’s conflict of interests that dominated much of his political life, like a real ball and chain. Even when he could have managed decently, he spent most of his time to deal with anything else.

A year after the curtain fell on the Berlusconi era, Italy has a new government. A government of technocrats, forced to confront the crisis head-on with a maneuver of € 30 billion.

About Mario Monti – The painful but necessary Economics Professor 

Economics professor and European Commissioner, Mario Monti was appointed by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano as PM and asked to form a Government of Technocrats.

Since he started:

– He introduced new emergency austerity measures intended to stem the worsening economic conditions in Italy and restore market confidence. He adopted taxes increase, a pension reform and an extensive search targeting of tax evaders.
– He prolonged the retirement age, fitting Italy with the European standard.
– He added taxes such as IMU, a tax that applies in Italy on the first real estate acquisition.
– He formally adopted a package of reforms targeting Italy’s labour market. The reforms are intended to open certain professions (such as taxi drivers, pharmacists, doctors, lawyers and notaries) to more competition by reforming their licensing systems and abolishing minimum tariffs for their services, which has cause a significant wave of taxi drivers protects in the bigger cities of Italy. He introduced a reform on Article 18 of Italy’s labour code, which makes it easier for companies to dismiss their employees, despite unions objections and threats of labour strikes.
– The most pleasant and wanted ‘reduction’ though, the one that we all have been dreaming of, has happened too: Monti implemented a serious and damaging cut regarding human resources of the government, municipalities, political parties and basically, he put a stop to the extravagances and leisure life that man politicians were leading. He is slowly getting rid of Berlusconi’s little friends, or else known as “the orphans” who got high level positions in the public sector without really being prepared for it (example: Nicole Minetti).
– And last but not least, the Tax Evasion Hunt: it is thanks to brilliant initiative that now we are able to identify all those whose wealth is being kept in tax havens, or properly hidden in order to pay taxes for it. A guess? Simply, go to Cortina one day and check on those yacht and Ferrari cars!

Oh, and one last thing:
– he gave up on his PM and Minister of the Economy salary as part of his new reforms. At least we know that he does not intend to become rich with this job.

Monti’s revolution has deeply affected the average worker, who is now more vulnerable and subjected to a regulation that cannot secure her/his job. A reform that prolonged the retirement age (people could retire at age 62, now at 66), independent workers on strike, taxi drivers and pharmacists pulling out signs and blocking the cities downtowns. All complaining and desperate for how harsh their life is right now, how unfair these reforms are, and so on and so on.

The problem here is that people are being short-sighted: being under Berlusconi for 17 years has made it possible to witness the deterioration of this country, it has made people less and less aware of how little of the Old Italy is remaining, its industries, its clusters, its specialties, people who have been fooled for years and never able to find anyone better to lead Italy.
When finally this bubble burst, the damage was already too big: Italy needs a new direction, without pre-conditions nor privileges. Taxi licenses privileges? bye bye. Exaggerated privileges to politicians such a lunch meal for the cost of 5 Euro for someone who earns over 10,000 Euro a month? Limitations on the sale of aspirins and cough syrups? Bye bye. It is time to bring functional standards. It takes sacrifice and probably a long time, but it should have been done at some point, and I think we made it just in time, before we find ourselves in the Greek or Spanish shoes.

The question that has been tormenting many Italians, are we better off now?
My guess is yes. Because, if you think about it, is it possible to get worse than in the Berlusconi era?

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15 replies »

  1. Painful, but necessary changes… The sooner they are enacted, the better. The longer these structural changes are put off, the worse it will be when these changes are forced upon Italy (or any country for that matter). And some of these changes are not painful at all – like reining in the corrupt politicians.

    • It still is very close, the only difference is that the situation has stopped worsening. Now that the manoeuvre has been implemented, the wound has stopped bleeding.
      Of course… Our fellow politicians wouldn’t agree with this statement, but when did they ever agree on a thing?

    • Indeed, and Europe has a full record of situations like this. Another example? Spain between José Aznar and José Luis Zapatero 😉 there you’ll have interesting stories to read about.

  2. Maybe Silvio did need to have the best and most controversial lawyer ever, one that can match his notoriety (Di Stefano comes with embezzlement charges too).
    I agree with Di Stefano, I mean, nobody likes Berlusconi for many reasons, but one thing that we have got to admit is: he is a true Italian business man who has always been able to get his own way. Always. He was able to delay his trial charges so that he could make it safely to the elections! He has a lot to be proud of.

  3. You could definitely see your enthusiasm in the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart. “The most profound joy has more of gravity than of gaiety in it.” by Michel de Montaigne.

  4. parents always seem to be wishing they had more time for their offspring. Whether youre playing board games, turnover is vanity,HANDBALL (at Olympic Park Basketball Arena)20:30-22:30 Men’s semi-final. rotation 2.everything I did was wonderful. presents a no-nonsense ?***New York,150) and the remaining balance 10 weeks before departure.Determined when the questions were asked

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