Mistrusted by the markets, Italy is one of Europe’s economic weak links. But, argues Jacopo Tondelli, despite economic hardships, Italy must not lose sight of its ambitions. Within a market environment, the only way for Italy to play is to aim for success.
These Olympic games are just what we wanted: filled with colors, happy faces, victories, defeats, jokes, and revenge opportunities. A rush of fresh air instead of the stale and depressing atmosphere of our media environment. Too often, we are caught in a spiral of terms like ‘crisis’ and ‘recession.’ These words are repeated many times per day, they are frequently analyzed and discussed without developing true seeds of change. But when it’s time for the Olympics, the dark words are suddenly relegated to the background. They continue to be there, but other discussions take center stage.
However, the Olympics will soon be over. The Eurocup soccer championship is also over, and we are running out of distractions. Maybe it’s not a bad idea to return to a focus on politics and the economy. In Italy, the economy is doing badly: growth rates remain low and unemployment remains high. The gap between well-to-do economies in Europe and the struggling countries is widening. Markets – by which I mean the totality of those who are able to decide what something is worth – still don’t trust Italy. They are blamed by many, but it’s hard to argue with their negative assessment of Italian economic strength.
Italy has been stagnating for twenty years. The country has not addressed structural reforms and it hasn’t reconfigured its economy to new economic and social realities. It hasn’t sorted out – in fact, it hasn’t even considered – the ancestral problem of black markets and shadow economies. The problems are plentiful: the squandering of public money, deep rifts between central and local government, organized crime linked to the social-economic environment, old and anti-meritocratic elites.
A country that is so stuck that – even with Mr. Monti in power and political parties struggling to evolve – it still exhibits a temptation to turn backwards. The nihilistic hope that marked the split between pro- and contra-Berlusconi fractions remains present. Of course that would an easy way to avoid confronting Italy’s problems: simply talk about Berlusconi again (but would we like that better?). We are now facing a reality that is tired and worried, often impoverished and sometimes worn out. But we are also facing, once again, a country that reinvents itself, that weathers the financial storm, that creates opportunity in Italy and abroad.
Yes, it’s true, personal consumption is down, many are scaling back their holiday plans and tightening their belts. But Italy is also a country that remains successful, that keeps turning a profit, and that even in the middle of a severe crisis exhibits a positive view of the future: to us, the crisis has value because it forces all of us to rethink our relationship to the economy, to our earnings and consumption. In short: this is not the end of the world or the European common currency. Europe might often resemble a confused and incomprehensible parent, but it hasn’t reached the end of its life. It’s futile to attempt to hide the fact that Italy is one of the weakest rings in the European chain, but even Italy won’t fail.
To be clear: the point isn’t to demand an invitation by the markets to the table of economic powerhouses, but to be able to grow economically by increasing general well-being and quality of life. The Monti government – a strange mix of technocratic and academic elites that now occupies the governmental palace in Rome – has many shortcomings, but one important upside as well: it has acknowledged (more or less explicitly) that our country is in deep trouble, and that the government is tasked with taking care of the situation. Has Mr. Monti solved them? Obviously not. But he has tried to highlight pressing problems and cure them as much as he can. Yet there is no doubt that Italy needs a more solid and structured treatment with a wider mission and more daring vision. Politicians need more courage to touch the real privileges of entrenched elites, powerful lobbies, the rentier economy, and the high tax burden that results from all of this. The government needs to be more in touch with the problems of everyday life of Italian citizens. It must be attuned to the desires and struggles of the population – that, after all, is at the heart of democratic governance and true politics.
This is what Italy needs, together with the bravery – not unrealistic and also not easy to do – to tell the people of Italy that the country will rebound with sacrifice, commitment, and patience. In other words, Italy needs a great political project: we cannot neglect the risks that our country faces, but we cannot give up on our ambitions either. Within a market environment, the only way to play is to try to win.
This article first appeared at The European.
Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
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Jacopo Tondelli – Linkiesta
Jacopo Tondelli is the editor-in-chief of “Linkiesta”, one of Italy’s leading online newspapers.