“Yes, we can!!”: Walter Veltroni has made the slogan of US presidential hopeful Barack Obama his own. The leader of Italy’s Democratic Party and candidate in the upcoming general election, believes victory is possible against his rival Silvio Berlusconi. Opinion polls which just weeks ago cast Berlusconi as the winner now say anything could happen. In the final days of the campaign, Veltroni and his team are working flat out to convince Italy’s numerous undecided voters to cast their ballot for him.
EuroNews: “What’s the situation in Italy ahead of the vote?”
Walter Veltroni: “It’s a country with great potential but which is paralysed by its political system. There is a lot of talent in Italy, there are many small and medium-size businesses, there is culture, research, young people are very keen on innovating, but the political system always reproduces the same patterns, the same language.”
EuroNews: “It’s also a poor and demoralised country. GDP is falling. Today, salaries are higher in countries like Spain and Greece.”
Walter Veltroni: “Salaries have not improved since 2000, pensions are too low, we need to give our country the means to start up again. That means helping small and medium-sized companies to develop, reducing taxes and public spending. We need more economic austerity but at the same time we must boost the economy.”
EuroNews: “Two years ago, Prodi said his priority was to introduce reform to boost competition and change the legislation on conflict of interest.”
Walter Veltroni: “I have two priorities. The first is a social priority: Italians are facing real difficulties at the moment. The impact of the US recession combined with the fragility of the situation here could create a really difficult situation. We need to address the problem of job insecurity which affects millions of Italians. That is becoming a major social problem and it’s our first priority. Our second priority is institutional reform. We need to halve the number of deputies. Laws should only be passed by one chamber. We need to prevent the fragmentation of political institutions, because if on the one hand we repair the system, and on the other we start up the country, we will have all the right conditions, possibilities and energies to get out of this difficult situation.”
EuroNews: “The picture of Italy that you see on the front pages of newspapers both at home and abroad is of the rubbish piling up in Naples, which reflect the absence of a strong state.”
Walter Veltroni: “That’s exactly the problem. The problem is that we need to strengthen institutions and reaffirm the principle of democracy. The rubbish crisis in Naples is symptomatic of this – the result of a chain of failed decisions. We need to take decisions and take responsibility, but we need a political and institutional system that has the strength and the credibility to do that.”
EuroNews: “Will Alitalia and its workers become the victims of this electoral campaign?”
Walter Veltroni: “Yes indeed, in a way. They could become victims because their case has been exploited in an irresponsible way. It’s a complex matter, negotiations are underway. A solution needs to be found which will have as little social impact as possible and will redefine Malpensa airport as a national hub and not just the hub of the national airline. A serious political system could take care of that, but there are some people who make irresponsible comments without thinking of their impact. My vision of the role of society and the state is different.”
EuroNews: “A few weeks ago, Berlusconi made headlines by dramatically tearing up your electoral programme. By doing that, did he also destroy the chance of a grand coalition?”
Walter Veltroni: “The chance of a grand coalition has never really existed. Whoever wins will govern. On this point, I believe in the anglo-saxon model. Of course, we need to find common ground on institutional reforms.
EuroNews: “Let’s imagine that you win on the 14th April. Will you manage to govern alone?
Walter Veltroni: “Ah yes. The idea is definitely for the Democratic Party to govern alone. That’s the challenge we face and we are asking Italians to confirm this choice with their vote.
EuroNews: “Is that realistic?”
Walter Veltroni: “Yes, I think so because under Italian electoral law the one who wins – even by just one vote – gets 55 percent of the seats in parliament. In the Senate, however, even a thermo-nuclear engineer couldn’t explain how the law functions which was introduced by the right. If we win, there will be no coalitions, no more majorities – one party will govern.”
EuroNews: “Isn’t it a paradox that the Spanish prime minister, Zapatero, a socialist, has become the icon of Europe’s left-wing?
Walter Veltroni: “Icons no longer exist…”
EuroNews: “Well, at least, he’s being put forward as an example.”
Walter Veltroni: “No, there are lots of different examples you can look at. I look at what’s happening in the United States, Barack Obama has fresh ideas. I also look carefully at what Gordon Brown is doing, and at some northern European countries. Zapatero is indeed an important example and election results show this, but the days of role-models are gone.”
EuroNews: “Zapatero has however succeeded in doing something that would seem impossible in Italy: to break away from the Catholic Church by passing a law allowing gay marriage. Here in Italy, the Church has a lot of power on public opinion and on politicians afraid of losing part of the electorate.”
Walter Veltroni: “The state must be secular and must take its decisions independently from the Church. But there’s nothing wrong with politicians integrating their religious opinions, their faith, into political life. It’s a point of view which you have to accept and take into account. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
EuroNews: “There’s been no mention of Europe during this campaign? Why not?”
Walter Veltroni: “First of all, Italy has long been pro-European. It played its part very seriously in the European Convention. Personally, I firmly believe in Europe. Some of our rivals, like the Northern League, see Europe as a terrible threat. They are openly hostile to Europe. By standing alone in these elections, we want to put an end to the discordant majorities of the past and bring Italy firmly into the heart of Europe. Today’s European leaders are nearly all around my age, because the people have elected leaders with time ahead of them to instigate change. If we succeed, good. If we don’t, we can go home. That’s what other European democracies are doing, and what I would like Italy to do.”