Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Il Vecchio Glorioso Comunista

The re-election of Giorgio Napolitano on 20 April for a second seven-year term is an extraordinary event. Unprecedented in the Republic of Italy, not least because of a silent Constitution that neither prohibits nor specifically authorizes re-election (see Part II, Titolo II, art. 83-91). Most uncommon for a man of 88, one year older than the Queen of England and only junior - among Heads of State worldwide - to Robert Mugabe and Shimon Peres, and over six years older than the Italian male life expectancy at birth. Especially after so many previous, consistent and stern denials of such a prospect, labeled  by himself as "ridiculous". And accepting the post on the condition - not to be found in the Constitution, and requested only after re-election - that Parliament grants him effective Carte Blanche in the formation of the next Government. 

Admittedly any President can be better than no President, and financial markets (both the stock exchange and the market for government bonds) rejoiced at the news and the very prospect of a new government rather than none.  Whether initial market optimism was justified or groundless still remains to be seen.  For many Napolitano has been and is a Man of Providence, selfless and generous in the service of the country, an impartial custodian of the Constitution. But many others see him and his re-election at best as a mixed blessing, at worst as an unmitigated disaster.
On the one hand, Napolitano has the merits of being committed both to national unity and to Italy's European integration.  On the other hand, his understanding of such commitments is questionable.  For him, national unity is the avoidance of conflicts at any cost, and in particular the appeasement of Silvio Berlusconi, with the speedy presidential countersigning of ad personam laws favourable to him and his companies though subsequently declared unconstitutional, the postponement of a confidence vote in December 2010 that allowed Berlusconi time to illegally purchase additional parliamentary support, and the President's undue exhortations to magistrates to postpone Berlusconi's appearances in court and his sentencing in four open cases in the run up to the last elections.  While Napolitano's interpretation of Italy's interests in Europe is the total acquiescence to the obligations of EU and EMU, including the so-called Growth and Stability Pact that Romano Prodi at least had the courage to call "stupid", and the associated European austerity measures.

(In passing we might also mention Napolitano's political, outrageous use of pardon in the case of CIA agent Joseph Romano, convicted for Abu Omar's "military rendition" and torture, while pardon had been specifically restricted by the Constitutional Court to cases of compassion; his demand that phone tappings of four conversations of his with former Minister Mancino should be destroyed - as they were on the day of his re-election - regardless of their possible relevance to the investigation of State negotiations with the Mafia; and his continuous strong support for Italian military involvement in "peace-keeping" missions  in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Lebanon).
What is worse, in the name of such questionable interpretations of well-meaning commitments Giorgio Napolitano has been perfectly willing to sacrifice democracy and the very same Constitution which he has sworn to observe and to which he has always vigorously paid lip-service.  An authoritarian streak, typical of a glorious old Communist in the tradition of Togliatti and Amendola, used to sacrifice everything, including his own party, in the name of a cause, has led him to transform Italy into a semi-presidential republic.  (For a lucid assessment of Napolitano's first seven years, see Thomas Mackinson, Il Fatto Quotidiano, 18 aprile 2013.
Back in November 2011, when Berlusconi resigned the Premiership, Giorgio Napolitano could have dissolved Parliament and called new elections: Berlusconi would have been steamrolled and buried forever.  Instead of which Napolitano appointed Mario Monti as life senator and pieced together a so-called "technocratic" government under Monti's leadership, backed by a Grand Coalition of PdL, UDC and PD, that squeezed economic life out of the country and led GDP further down a recessionary path. Napolitano's pretext for a technocratic government (of which as recently as 2010 he had denied the very concept) was the fear that Italian debt might become unsustainable. The fear, that is, that the spread between interest on Italian debt renewal and that on German Bunds - that under Berlusconi had escalated to over 500 points (i.e. 5%) on ten year bonds - might rise further during the electoral campaign and after the election if Parliament had been dissolved. 
Monti's austerity policies, predictably, instead of reducing the Debt/GDP ratio raised it to 127% by the time of the recent elections, poised to rise over 130%; though initially they had a small net favourable effect on the spread due to financial markets taking note of a renewed Italian commitment to repay debt.  But the spread fell significantly only in the summer of 2012, not thanks to Monti but as a result of Mario Draghi's resolve to do "all that it takes" to save the euro, and of his Outright Monetary Purchases approaching an ECB role as Lender of Last Resort.  If Napolitano had called an election in November 2011, it would have been won hands down by the PD, and markets would have rejoiced just as they did immediately after the elections of 24-25 February 2013 when they believed early exit polls wrongly giving victory to the PD. But that was a cruel delusion, the Italian electorate split three ways into three parts defying governability.
The PD coalition, whose campaign ruled out an alliance with PdL, gained by a whisker an artificial majority in the lower Chamber (thanks to the majority premium of an indecent electoral law passed by Berlusconi) but only a useless relative majority in the Senate, and was unable to form a government even with the support of Monti's coalition that had barely cleared the 10% threshold for entering the lower Chamber. The PdL coalition gained almost a third of the vote in both Chambers, was open to an alliance with PD but ruled out a technical government.  Beppe Grillo's 5Star Movement (the largest single party if we exclude Italian voters abroad) obtained almost another third but ruled out participation in any government, not least with Bersani's PD.
Pierluigi Bersani, the un-charismatic leader of the PD, tainted by 15 months complicity with Monti's recessionary policies (like the PdL, which at least had provoked Monti's fall before the end of the legislature), handicapped by a lack-lustre electoral campaign without either a programme or alternative policies, had always excluded most vigorously the continuation of a Grand Coalition that included Berlusconi.  Napolitano gave him an "exploratory" mandate, conditional on his obtaining a clear majority on paper before allowing him to seek a confidence vote in both Chambers, and quickly withdrew it with dubious constitutionality, in spite of the precedents of unconditional mandates.   The M5S followed a deplorable , indeed unforgivable, and self-defeating un-cooperative strategy, refusing to support a government led by Bersani, who in truth had offered only a vague programme of 8 points imitating some M5S policies, without offering them ministerial posts or negotiations about the choice of the Premier. 

Napolitano should have allowed Bersani to seek a confidence vote, which he had a fighting chance to obtain; even if he had lost, at least his government would have taken the place of Monti's government, that Napolitano undemocratically left in charge in spite of Monti's spectacular electoral defeat. Napolitano should then have explored an alternative, or resigned at once long before his tenure's expiry in mid-May, so as to speed up his replacement by a new President who could then proceed to dissolve Parliament and call new elections or seek to construct a new government on the strength of such a threat.
Instead of which Giorgio Napolitano temporised, wasted time and pre-judged the subsequent course of events, by appointing an improvised "Commission of Ten Wise Men", with the ambiguous role as "facilitators", totally outside Constitutional procedures, with the task of producing a draft programme for the new government. The so-called Wise Men were indeed all men in their middle to old age, exclusively from the parties that would be included in the a potential Grand Coalition.  A most peculiar procedure, in the absence of a candidate Premier, however pre-judging the subsequent appointment of a Premier who would then be effectively bound to endorse a Grand Coalition to accompany that particular programme.
What is worse, many of the ten appointees, tipped as potential Ministers in the future government, as it actually happened to four of them  - another extra-constitutional feature - were rather controversial, notable not so much for their wisdom as much as their representation of party kakistocracy (i.e. power of the worst, to coin an expression). See Marco Travaglio at Servizio Pubblico of 4 April
 - Filippo Bubbico (PD) former President of the Basilicata region, had been indicted four times and was still subject to one indictment for abuse of office, the author of a hare-brained, expensive and failed scheme to promote employment in his region by subsidising silk worms cultivation (sic).  

- Giancarlo Giorgetti, a Lega MP close to Bossi who then switched to Maroni's support, well connected in banking circles (Fioroni and Fazio), notorious for having taken a €100,000 bribe delivered directly by Fioroni at Montecitorio, though he returned it the same day recommending a donation to a sport association instead; his wife indicted for fraud against the state
- Enrico Giovannini, President of the Statistical Office, undoubtedly a competent statistician but never speaking on policy issues; he had been asked by Monti to conduct an investigation on the costs of politics and the salary differentials between Italian MPs (the highest paid in Europe) and MPs in the rest of Europe,  but after six months research in the end had declined alleging the difficulties of the task.
- Mario Mauro, a close associate of the unspeakable ex-President of Lombardy Roberto Formigoni, had switched to Monti at the last minute.  
- Enzo Moavero Milanesi, a EU official,  Minister for European Affairs in Monti's government.
 - Valerio  Onida, ex-President of the Constitutional Court, was on record both for backing Napolitano in his quarrel against the Palermo magistrates investigating the negotiations between mafia and the State, about phone tappings involving former Minister Mancino; and as arguing that the 1957 Law named after Sturzo, often invoked to allege Berlusconi's ineligibility to Parliament, did not apply on the Jesuitical argument that Berlusconi was neither the direct holder of a state concession of TV channels nor the manager of the company that was granted the concessions - glossing over the fact that Berlusconi was indeed a major shareholder in that company, in a clear conflict of interest with the State. 
- Giovanni Petruzzelli, an associate of Senate ex-President Schifani, was President of the Anti-Trust Authority without being able to claim a specific competence, consultant and co-author of Totò Cuffaro, former President of Sicily currently serving a 7 year sentence for aiding the Mafia.  
- Gaetano Quagliariello, distinguished for his multiple moves from Radicals to the UDC, to PDL (as deputy head of the group), to Monti's group and back to the PDL, was the author and proposer of many of the initiatives introduced - and endorsed by Napolitano - to favour Berlusconi and his companies.  
- Salvatore Rossi, a Bank of Italy high official close to the centre-left.
- Last but not least, Luciano Violante (PD), a sycophant  ex-magistrate who in 1998 had proposed an amnesty for Berlusconi and in 2003 (immortalised by youtube on the web, http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=RHPRel7mpUM&amp) actually reminded an ungrateful Berlusconi in Parliament that the PD had guaranteed in 1994 not to interfere with his TV channels, and had set aside the pursuit of legislation on conflict of interest; he actually boasted that Mediaset turnover had increased 25-fold under their government.
In conclusion, not a bunch of Wise Men but - with a couple of exceptions - a gallery of partisan and biassed villains, at least in the eyes of many respectable observers.
When, after over 50 days of total inaction, parlamentarians and regional electors began the process of electing a new President, Pierluigi Bersani - no doubt under the influence of Napolitano - made a spectacular U-Turn from his "No alliance with Berlusconi in government" that had been the main line of his electoral campaign and his early exploration of forming a government, to opening to the Grand Coalition with Berlusconi through the proposal of a candidate agreeable to the PdL, Franco Marini, a respected Catholic trade unionist and former President of the Senate. Such an abrupt switch, to a diametrically opposite policy, predictably was not acceptable to a sufficient number of PD electors to miss the two third majority (required in the first three ballots) so that the candidate was sunk even with the support of most of the PdL.
At this point Bersani made a third spectacular U-Turn and proposed Romano Prodi, corresponding to what Berlusconi called a "declaration of war".  Bersani behaved as a kingmaker, rather than as a democratic leader, in proposing both Marini and Prodi, for neither was subjected to a vote together with other contestants or on his own; Prodi was approved by a dubious and opaque "acclamation" at a meeting of PD electors, instead of being subjected to a ballot, whether open or secret.  So Prodi, the PD founding father and truly independent candidate, also failed to be elected even by the simple majority required at that stage, missing as many as 101 votes that could have been commanded by the PD. 
All the time the M5S had put forward the candidature of Stefano Rodotà, a distinguished professor of Civil Law, who had served for two legislatures as an MP elected as an independent in the Communist Party, former president of PDS - an earlier incarnation of the PD - an ex-President of the Privacy Authority and a civil rights champion: an offer Bersani could not refuse, but did refuse to his eternal shame. Just like the M5S refused to vote for Prodi, also to Beppe Grillo's eternal shame.
This is when Napolitano was asked - again, after repeated earlier refusals  - to stand for re-election. On Bersani's part this was a third U-Turn, from Prodi's independent candidature to Napolitano's strong advocacy of the stitch-up between PD and PdL - or inciucio, in Neapolitan dialect. This is a derogatory term that Napolitano now asks to be banned in his version of political correctness and newspeak; equally banned are expressions playing down the importance of the new government as a "the President's government" or "limited purpose" or "low intensity", or "service government". The designation of the new Premier,  Enrico Letta, until the previous week Bersani's deputy and equally opposed to a Grand Coalition with PdL, made Berlusconi blissfully happy, laughing all the way to the bank (and to the Tribunal), not least because Enrico Letta is the nephew of Gianni Letta, a major advisor and a Minister of his (which makes the present "governo di servizio" a "governo di servi, zio..." in a cartoon in Il Fatto Quotidiano).
The government sworn in on 27 April could have been worse. Angelino Alfano as a deputy Premier and Minister of the Interior was a big price to pay, but at least the old party caryatids on both sides (including Berlusconi) were out - for the time being.  Ministerial average age of 54 years is 11 years lower than in Monti's government; there are only 21 Ministers of which one third are women, including the first black Minister ever in Italian government. Their vote of confidence - aided by a shooting incident in front of the government palace, Palazzo Chigi, immediately used unjustly to demonize M5S - was taken for granted, but its durability is not: the proof of the new pudding will be in the governing.
A Grand Coalition is being presented as a novelty but is nothing more nor less than the replication of the Monti government, with some involvement of politicians that Monti had sought and failed to obtain. It is hard to imagine that Letta might do much more than Monti, apart for the partial reversal of some of his austerity measures: already the two sides are quarrelling about the suspension versus the reimbursement of IMU, and it is not at all clear what government expenditures will have to be cut to make room for lower taxes. 
The centre left PD-SEL alliance is definitively broken; the PD itself has been cracked by Bersani's repeated U-Turns and the final betrayal of PD electoral commitments. Bersani has been scrapped at last; Matteo Renzi has been side-lined and - having always supported an alliance with Berlusconi - will not be able to re-unite the party. The millions who voted for the PD on the basis of its commitment not to ally with the PdL have been betrayed, yet paradoxically those MPs who would not give their confidence vote to Enrico Letta are the ones who have been threatened with expulsion, instead of the other way round. In the end, only one out of 293 PD members of parliament abstained: a "Bulgarian-style" party discipline that would have deserved a better cause. 
Neither Napolitano nor Letta, but Berlusconi is the only true and absolute winner of Italy's latest elections.  All he needs now is to be appointed as life senator by a benevolent Napolitano, and to walk into the posts of either Premier or President at the next round, especially if a French-style direct election of the President was introduced beforehand. Gaetano Quagliariello's appointment as Minister for Institutional Reform, and Berlusconi's bid to a candidature as President of the Committee for Reforms, if successful, might pave the way to such a formalisation of the extra-constitutional presidentialism ushered by Napolitano.  Nothing much can be done about everything else, as a fait accompli, but at least this final corruption of the Italian Constitution can and should be resisted, in order not to have Berlusconi for ever.


Renato said...

If you think Bersani has been inconsistent over the Broad Coalition, see Stefano Fassina's acrobatics http://tv.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2013/04/30/pd-blob-delle-contraddizioni-di-stefano-fassina/230412/

D. Mario Nuti said...

Sure, it is not just Bersani, the whole Party is "indeciso a tutto".

Carlo Clericetti said...

Una precisa descrizione degli ultimi tristissimi eventi, dopo i quali, come ulteriore danno collaterale, il Pd non può più essere considerato un partito di possibile alternativa politica. A meno di radicali cambiamenti che al momento vedo non solo poco probabili, ma semmai in una direzione che nulla avrebbe a che fare con un partito progressista (Renzi). Chi mai potrebbe ancora votare un partito di cui fanno parte 101 parlamentari (di identità ignota) il cui comportamento ha mostrato che hanno fini diversi dalla linea ufficialmente dichiarata dal partito? Fini, per di più, su cui pende il fortissimo dubbio di "intelligenza" con l'avversario?

D. Mario Nuti said...

I share your pessimism, unfortunately. Renzi has a great future behind him and none in front of him. If he had won the Primaries he might have deterred Berlusconi from standing or/and would have won the elections. Now he is only a failed Enrico Letta who can no longer represent a credible alternative. Bye bye Matteo.

Don said...

As you say, it could be worse, with Ministers like Brunetta, Carfagna, Fassina, Santanche', and so on. Count your blessings!

D. Mario Nuti said...

Wait until you see the under-secretaries of state, Don, before you count blessings or curses...

Anonymous said...

According to the latest OECD report on Italy "It is impossible for the time being to significantly reduce the overall level of taxation".

And OECD forecasts a GDP fall of 1.5% in 2013, instead of their earlier (last November) forecast of 1% fall.

Berlusconi is already threatening to "pull the plug" on the government unless IMU is abolished and reimbursed. How is Letta going to deliver?

D. Mario Nuti said...

Enrico Letta is pursuing apparently contradictory targets: maintenance of tight fiscal targets, relaxing austerity and promoting growth.

There is no sign of Germany or the EU granting Italy more time or more latitude in its fiscal targets, or stepping in with additional investment. Therefore Letta is highly vulnerable to Berlusconi's ultimatum.

Bill said...

Will today's ECB interest rate reduction by 0.25% help to promote growth in Europe?

D. Mario Nuti said...

A faint, hardly perceptible signal of goodwill, in the circumstances: down from an already minimal 0.75% to 0.50%, it is not going to be transmitted into a lower cost of borrowing for Italian firms and households.

In theory it should have acted as a stimulus through a euro de-valuation, in practice the euro immediately strengthened from $1.3150 to 1.32.

Bob said...

Not surprising, markets had over-discounted the implications of an interest rate cut...

Nemo said...

Are you saying that Napolitano violated the Italian Constitution, or that he acted un-democratically, or what?

D. Mario Nuti said...

Napolitano certainly stretched and over-stretched the Constitution, at the very least his actions were extra-constitutional. Constitutional lawyers will have to argue whether or not he has violated the Constitution. I am not a constitutional lawyer and it is not for me to say.

What I am saying is that a formal constitutional change in the direction of a presidential republic, possibly complete with the direct election of the President, is undesirable, much as it would please Berlusconi. And that, whatever the constitutionality or otherwise of Napolitano's behaviour, his action was utterly un-democratic.

What did we vote for, just to move from one inciucio to the next, both on his initiative?

D. Mario Nuti said...

Well, Don, I had told you to wait before you count your blessings, until you got the full Cabinet.

Now you have a heavy weight of 40 vice-ministers and under-secretaries, divided up carefully among the parties in the best tradition (the so-called Manuale Cencelli), ranging fron Biancofiore to Fassina, one sixth of which had failed to get elected at the last elections.

Still feeling blessed?

D. Mario Nuti said...

Anybody thinking that my analisis of recent Italian affairs is a bit outre', should compare it with:

"Italy has been under occupation since the ECB effectively toppled the elected government in the coup d'etat of November 2011 – with the active collusion of President Napolitano, a former Stalinist who later transferred his ideological mania to the EU Project."

This is the Daily Telegraph - Evans-Pritchard, no less. He's no fan of the eurozone and the effects it generates but he hasn't minced his words here.


Sam said...

Berlusconi has given Enrico Letta an ultimatum: either the abolition and reimbursement of the property tax IMU on the first house or the government falls. Letta would, but there is no financial cover for such measures.

But Berlusconi had pledged his own personal wealth up to €4bn to guarantee that the government would abolish and reimburse IMU if he governed. Now he does, and there is no cover, it is time for him to honour his guarantee. Cough up or shut up, Silvio.

D. Mario Nuti said...

Good point, San, but you should know by now that Mr B is prone to making promises that he never keeps, and claims the opposite.

Charles said...

I agree with what you write but you are much too soft on Napolitano.

Why does he try to a appease Berlusconi? There seems to be a pact whereby immunity in B’s trials is being swapped for the “insabbiamento” of PD nomenklatura responsibilities in the Monte dei Paschi di Siena scandal. Stefano Rodota’ had both supported B’s inelegibility and requested a serious enquiry into the MPS and therefore was regarded as unacceptable on both counts.

The PD has taken an authoritarian road at the time of Primary elections of the leadership and of candidates. In Rome the lists of voters have been cleansed of all those who did not support the candidates nominated by the Central Committee (I cannot bring myself to call it La Direzione).

D. Mario Nuti said...

What you say about Rodota' is a fact, and the pact you mention has been suggested, but I have no evidence to that effect. As the late Giulio Andreotti used to say, a penmsar male si fa peccato ma spesso ci si prende.

And yes, the PD primaries were a joke,

D. Mario Nuti said...

Don, do you know the Soviet story about the optimist and the pessimist? It could not possibly be worse - says the optimist. Yes, it could be - says the pessimist.

In the light of the appointment of Commissions Presidents, I can say that my pessimism at Ministerial appointments in the Letta government was thoroughly justified.

Anonymous said...

Your narrative of Napolitano’s tales is fascinating but it fails to account for the main reason of his free lines of action other than the concrete lack of explicit constraints to the Presidente della Repubblica’s actions in the Italian Constitution. This reason is to be found behind that brilliant brain of Mr Bersani who, backed by his smart advisors, orchestrated such unbelievable course of unfortunate events for his Party and the Country as a whole.

First, Napolitano‘s strategy for Mr Monti’s government was also, and above all, the result of the PD refusal to going to elections immediately because of its political avidity for staying in power: at that time, as you yourself stressed, the Democratic Party would had won without difficulty but then would have found itself also in the necessity of imposing unpopular measures to restore financial confidence. This would have led to mortgaging PD’s future stay in power.

Second, immediately after the last disastrous electoral outcomes, Mr Bersani should have resigned by the leadership of his Party. Having ignored this fantastic opportunity and assigned only, and admittedly unconventional, a conditional mandate by Napolitano, he had ahead only two alternatives. The first one was that of refusing the mandate on the basis of his (unconventional) conditionality, resigning as PD’s leader and urging for a new leader able to obtain better results (maybe an unconditional mandate?). The second option was that of accepting the conditional mandate and finding an agreement with M5S, implying M5S leading the coalition and PD giving them unconditional support when in line with the PD political programme. As we know, Mr. Bersani has insisted instead on his foolish strategy, for reasons that - far from the wellness of Italy - are to be ascribed to the pure avidity for power mentioned above. He has insisted on his strategy, making a series of unforgivable and unbelievable errors who had no other way out than coming back to Napolitano begging for his indulgence.

After the stupid film shot under the direction of M5S (they put on tv streaming just what they want to make known outside, i.e. their meetings have never been revealed to others), Renzi said that the alternatives were two: one was to come back to the electorate and the other one was an agreement with Mr Berlusconi. Very sadly, he was right. And in fact, after the hard work of Mr Bersani, new elections for the Democratic Party will have been destructive: his non sense strategy, added to the lack of new decent election rules, could only have led to enormous loss of electoral votes for the Democratic Party. What remained then? A disgusting agreement with Mr Berlusconi. Even with all my proverbial pessimism, I could never have imagined such a shameful spectacle provided by the Democratic Party, a spectacle shot by that talented Director named Pierluigi Bersani. What unhappy end for a country and a Party who have had the opportunity to change.

Alice from Wonderland

D. Mario Nuti said...

Thanks Alice. You said it: foolish, disgraceful, shameful. And hopeless and doomed, I would add.