Why are Italian governments so weak?

There is no simple answer to this question, nor a reasonably short one. First and foremost among the reasons for such feebleness – which is both political and moral – is the way in which Italian political personnel has been selected throughout the past quarter of a century. The collapse of traditionally strong party organisations, such as the Christian-Democrats, the Socialists, and the Communists, has left the country with an array of small, medium and large “failed-parties”. This definition is meant to highlight the fact that most of these organisations, Partito Democratico, Forza Italia, Lega Nord and Movimento Cinque Stelle, are no true political parties, though they might be showing some superficial traits that could mistakenly lead a foreign observer to regard them as such. The right-wing parties have shown since the mid-1990s a deplorable attitude for gregariousness, a complete lack of political education of their party officials, coupled with the tendency to become loose coalitions of interest groups and lobbies, not infrequently connected with mafia. The political leadership, moreover, is only apparently charismatic: when confronted with the difficulty of the problems which bedevil the country, all right-wing leaders have been found lacking the political fibre which would be requested of a strong and iron-willed statesman. The left-wing parties are in no better shape, though they managed to be more discreet in their dealings with organised crime and enjoyed a more favourable press coverage whenever involved in blatant cases of corruption. Their last leader, Matteo Renzi, has proven himself capable to go to any lengths to take control of the government machinery, but his resolve to tackle the financial problems of the country is clearly far less determined. The centrists suffer from the same moral and political infirmity, in some instances even more seriously than other parties, but their tiny, and waning, electoral support has pushed them to the brink of extinction, so that they are even less capable to provide a credible solution to these problems. Movimento Cinque Stelle (Five Stars Movement – a name so politically illogical that it only manages to convey the idea of a complete absence of political tradition as the main asset of such a party) has no true leadership, since its founder, an Italian comedian, is stepping back from his leading role and the would-be successors are in no position to have their claims to leadership recognised by the party base. The latter is routinely “web-consulted” to approve or disavow party’s decisions, but the number of people actually taking part in these polls is quite small and possibly manipulated. Every time this populist movement has managed to win a local election, its administrative performance has always been less than poor, and quite often its mayors have been expelled by the party “directorate”, revealing a most disturbing tendency to a sort of political “autophagy”. The fact that such an unstable movement is still able to collect between 25% and 30% of the votes only adds a degree of uncertainty to the overall fragility of the Italian political system.
All the main state bureaucracies are presented with two equally unpalatable alternatives: either be left with no political guidance at all, since ministers and under-secretaries have no interest, or no knowledge and competence, to do their duty, or be dragged into the fray of politics and party factional strife.
Consequently, as the political and organisational decadence of the party system progresses, the traditional inefficiency of the Italian governmental and local institutions has run out of control, and the growing public debt, compounded by the restrictions and obligations stipulated in the European Treaties, has deprived the public sector, at least to a great extent, of the financial resources which, however inefficiently employed, had nonetheless secured some acceptable measure of functioning.
The ability of the Italian ruling elite – though this term is rarely used more inappropriately than in this case – to manage the customarily ponderous and brittle machinery of the state is rapidly decreasing to the point of collapse, in this resembling what has happened in Greece. Any future crisis in which Italy should find herself, be it a financial “perfect storm”, a major natural disaster or the social disruption caused by a second economic catastrophe like that in 2008, will find no sound and reliable state organisation to stem it.

Daniele Zotti copyright – tutti i diritti riservati – 2016