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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Double Hat For Super Mario

It's official: Mario Monti is Italy's new Prime Minister. The press conference (which we followed live on Twitter @OpenEurope) is over and the names of the people who will form part of his cabinet have been announced.

Monti (see picture) has opted for a 'double hat', as he will be both Prime Minister and the interim Economy Minister. As expected, due to resistance from outgoing Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's party and centre-left Partito Democratico, the new government doesn't actually include any politicians (which is extrordinary). And as Italian media has suggested over the last few days, Monti's cabinet will be very slim, with only twelve ministers (eleven plus Monti himself as Economy minister) and five junior ministers.

Some key ministries (Labour, Health, Justice and Economy) have been given to academics. A banker, Corrado Passera, will be the Minister for Economic Development, while Italian Ambassador to the US, Giulio Terzi di Santagata, will serve as Foreign Minister. Among the junior posts, the Ministry for European Affairs has gone to Enzo Moavero Milanesi, Monti's closest aide during his years at the European Commission.

The new cabinet will be sworn in this afternoon at 4pm (UK time). During his short press conference earlier today, Monti refused to answer questions about what his government is planning to do, in particular with regard to the reform of the pensions system (with the European Commission already asking for more) and the introduction of a wealth tax as a means to reduce the tax burden on workers and businesses. Further details will presumably be available from tomorrow afternoon, when the new Italian Prime Minister is expected to deliver a keynote speech in the Italian Senate ahead of a first vote of confidence.

Super Mario's cabinet undoubtedly contains some experienced people. However, this should not overshadow the fact that, just as Lucas Papademos' national unity government in Greece, we are looking at an unelected government, whose mandate remains extremely uncertain. Just consider that there's not a single politician in Italy's current government. There are two big questions thrown up with this arrangement:
  • How long will the new government remain in charge? Nobody knows. Italian parties are split on this issue, although before accepting the job, Monti made clear that he "wouldn't agree" to lead a government due to leave office before 2013, when the next general elections are scheduled to be held. Unlike Greek voters, who knew since the very beginning that they would be allowed to choose a new government next February, Italians have no idea whether there will elections anytime soon. This might lead to the rather uncomfortable situation where Italian citizens are asked to tighten their belts a whole lot more by an unelected government, pressed by foreign leaders in Paris and Berlin and unelected EU officials in Brussels;
  • What, exactly, is this government supposed to do? Things might become clearer in the next 24-48 hours. For the moment, Berlusconi's party decided to back the Monti-led government on the condition that it would stick to the measures set out in the letter Il Cavaliere sent to other EU leaders at the end of October. However, centre and centre-left parties would be very keen to give the new government a broader mandate, which would involve, among other things, changing Italy's electoral law before 2013.
More clarity is urgently needed on both these aspects. It might take many years for Italy to get back on track. A radical overhaul of Italy's economic system and big sacrifices will be needed. These can only be pushed forward by a government with a clear mandate from the people. Otherwise, what Italian media are celebrating as a watershed moment in their country's history could soon turn into a very bad omen for both Italian democracy and the future of Europe.


Anonymous said...

The technocratic government derives its legitimacy from the confidence the elected politicans.

These politicians have been too timid to dispense the bitter medicine that needs to be given.

The politicians are too worried about getting re-elected to deal with the crisis, nor are they necessarily experts in their field.

The US Treasury Secretary (Tim Geithner) is appointed by the US President not elected by politicians, yet noone doubts his legitimacy.

Let them get on and do the job that needs to be done.

Anonymous said...

"Germany is dominating Europe"

Pulling the strings - Political Puppetry in the Eurozone:


Anonymous said...

I think the interesting question is not from where the new Italian government gets its legitimacy (i.e. through the confidence vote of the two houses of the Italian Parliament) but the reason why tradititional parlamentiary governance has failed.
Let's see how the Professor is going to do his job -that no party was corageous enough to take on!