Giorgio Napolitano has been sworn in as Italian President in parliament, the second seven year mandate for the head of state, who will turn 88 in June.
Political scientist Gianfranco Pasquino joins us below as our interview guest, but first here’s a recap of how Italy got into its present difficulties.
Italy is still in a political impasse – two months after it held legislative elections. Its institutional stalemate is the product of the seemingly unsolvable puzzle of the February ballot.
The centre-left, led by Pier Luigi Bersani got an absolute majority in the lower house of parliament but not in the Senate. Three blocs there neutralised each other: the Democratic Party, Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right and the Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo. Italy’s electoral system requires the government to command a majority in both parliamentary chambers.
As Bersani’s group came out ahead in the Chamber of Deputies, it fell to him to form a government, which meant seeking allies. Five Stars insisted on complete transparency in the negotiating, openly streaming those talks online, and Bersani got nowhere with them.
Vito Crimi, a Movemiento Cinque Stella Senator, said: “In the Senate we will vote against giving the Democratic Party our confidence, which is to say a government led by Bersani.”
The alternative was to seek a grand coalition with Berlusconi, and he wanted this. But Bersani led those in the Democratic Party who didn’t, though some of its members did. Bersani was flustered.
He said: “We have to explain why we don’t want a grand coalition, not just say that we don’t want it. Because we don’t like Berlusconi? That’s not an argument that will solve the problems. It’s not just because people don’t like Berlusconi. There are different problems – the point is that this doesn’t answer them.”
It was impossible for 87-year-old Giorgio Napolitano, nearing the end of his term as President of the Republic, to call fresh elections to try to unblock the logjam, and so Italy was stuck in an institutional paralysis as it sank further into the economic mud.
In a joint session of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, along with special regional electors, it took six rounds of voting for the political blocs to produce a result, which was to keep Napolitano on for an unprecedented second term. Bersani tendered his resignation, paving the way for a leadership battle.
Napolitano agreed to serve for another seven years. He now has the power to dissolve parliament:
Grillo, calling for protest, said the traditional parties he blames for Italy’s economic decline and corruption have already agreed to form a broad coalition to preserve the status quo.
We spoke to Gianfranco Pasquino, a university professor and political scientist in Bologna, to get his impressions.
Simona Volta, euronews: “Professor Pasquino, Napolitano has accepted the invitation of the country’s two main political coalitions to serve again for a new term. In return, however, Napolitano has asked the parties to hold themselves accountable. All the same, Italians are wondering how these politicians can possibly keep such a promise, given that in recent months the image they have presented has been so bad. In your opinion, how long will it take before the parties start fighting again?”
Gianfranco Pasquino: “What I wish is that they won’t start immediately. I think they should allow the new government at least one year in which to do several much-needed things: first, reform the electoral system; and second, to press ahead with economic and social reforms started by Monti’s government, because these reforms have been negotiated with the EU. Commitments need to be fulfilled, and for that to happen, it’ll take at least one year. Only then may the parties decide if they want to resume fighting, or maybe build something new.”
euronews: “Professor Pasquino, you’ve mentioned Europe. In your opinion, what kind of message is Italy sending the EU by re-instating Napolitano?”
Pasquino: “The message is: Remember, we have an excellent President of the Republic, with a high international standing, a man with whom you can converse in either English or French, and who represents very well a country that has a lot of problems to solve. Here he is: please, keep your confidence in us. And I think the markets have already answered in a positive way.”
euronews: “At the moment, the favourite as Prime Minister seems to be Giuliano Amato. Do you think that Amato, in the coming months, will be able to carry out both the institutional and economic reforms necessary for the country?”
Pasquino: “Giuliano Amato is very appreciated by the President, and I’m sure that Napolitano will give him the full support of his political standing. Amato has an international profile, he is also fluent in English, and he is a former treasury minister. That’s worth bearing in mind. He’s not only an authority on legal matters, he also has an extensive knowledge of economic issues. With the President’s backing and a minimum of responsibility from the different parties, Amato will be able to move ahead with those reforms that have been outlined already, and which need to be completed in no more that a year. Otherwise, we risk a huge delay, a failure to fulfil commitments, and that could accentuate speculation against Italy by the markets.”
euronews: “You don’t believe we’re heading towards new elections very soon?”
Pasquino: “If ‘very soon’ means within three-to-six months, I’d say no. I think we should give the government one year’s time. No government, in any country, even in the most efficient democracies, can carry out long-term projects if it allowed to survive for less than a year. The problem is we need to rebuild our country. That is impossible in one year. But in that time we can make progress on some of the guidelines which are already there, which have been wisely outlined for Italy by the European Commission. We can pull ourselves together. This can be done. All the rest will depend – obviously – on the approval the government manages to earn and its ability to accomplish tasks, but also on the backing that the different parties will want to grant Amato.”