Italian political opera drags Europe back into volatility

Italians are their own worst enemies, once again seduced by Il Cavaliere (Silvio Berlusconi) – and also by Beppe Grillo, a comedian preaching an anti-politician line.

At the Italian election, centre-Left group leader (and outgoing PM) Mario Monti was a worthy but uninspiring politician who made even the most boring of speakers seem charismatic. Rather than acknowledging the weak economy, the need for more change and the challenges facing the country, Italians voted for the easy way, out of tax cuts and the ending of higher imposts and other changes imposed by Monti.

Reform ended up a dirty word, the future was ignored, even though there’s more pain ahead, no matter who won the polls (there is now an impasse). Rank opportunism has replaced prudence and policy-making, or rather has returned with the continued presence of Silvio Berlusconi (surely the basest of all political and business opportunists of the past 30 years) allied to the non-political grouping led by that other opportunist, comedian Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement.

That will lead to more recession, more unemployment and more misery for millions of people who should know better after 17 years of Berlusconi.

The protest vote about the changes brought in by the caretaker government led by Monti has done nothing to change the situation; Monti’s tax changes will remain, and the lack of a clear political decision means no party has the will to continue to try and reshape Italian political bureaucratic and economic life for the better. Petty self-enrichment will remain the order of the day to win votes and make political headway. In that respect the poll was a blast from Italy’s past in the 1960s and ’70s.

And for those critics of Monti, led by US economist and Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman, who claim the vote was a rejection of austerity and that spend, spend, spend is the way for Italy to take, there’s more grim news. Electoral confusion, weak leadership and the presence of Berlusconi in the background, seeking to protect his media and other empires and remain out of jail, means the current recession will continue. Austerity might be tough, but the easy way out of spending, changing laws and refusing to cut wages (and cut the levels of government) is long gone.

The protest vote that gave Grillo’s Five Star Movement 25% of the vote and representatives in the Parliament (none of whom have any experience) will die away when people realise that he is not part of the solution but an outgrowth of the problem and blocking the way for the changes needed.

Graft, corruption, patronage, abuse of social and legal norms, pandering for votes and influence at the highest levels of the country, unnecessary intrigue, political decisions made to benefit the fewest number of people (try just one, Berlusconi), abuse of the tax system, tax evasion, tax avoidance – you name it.

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