The Economist has a couple of useful pieces this week ( here and here ) comparing the politics of immigration in the US and the UK. Meantime US economist Richard Freeman has an NBER paper where he argues we should "Stop spending so much time thinking about the WTO. Technology transfer, international migration, and financial crises have orders of magnitude more important impacts on human welfare and the state of the economy". In other words globalisation is not after all so much about trade as about labour migration and capital movements. And just how is Europe shaping up to the challenge? Well, by all accounts, not very well. But a surprising proposal has just surfaced from a very unexpected quarter. Immigrants in Italy may (eventually) get the right to vote. Even if this is a very limited proposal, it is certainly a positive one. I am just very surprised by its source.
Gianfranco Fini, the Italian politician who has spent the last decade orchestrating the transformation of a party that once claimed Mussolini as its ideologue, on Thursday got one step closer to his goal of refining that party into a moderate conservative voice.
His party, the National Alliance, presented a bill that, if passed, will extend voting rights in administrative elections to all legal immigrants who have resided in Italy for at least six years.
The bill, which will require the amendment of an article of the constitution, essentially gives non-European Union immigrants the same voting rights as their EU counterparts and allows immigrants to stand for municipal offices, though not for mayor.
Fini, deputy prime minister, was not present at the press conference Thursday, because he is at a summit meeting in Brussels with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and other European leaders to discuss the European constitution, nor did he sign the bill. "But without doubt the paternity of this law is his," said Ignazio La Russa, National Alliance coordinator.
Fini's absence could also be construed as diplomatic. His proposal, which came out of the blue last week, surprising even party officials closest to him, set off protests in the conservative coalition, most vocally on the part of Umberto Bossi.
So angry was the leader of the anti-immigrant Northern League that one of his aides suggested that Bossi was ready to pull out of the government and prompt a crisis should the bill be presented. Bossi later backed down.
National Alliance, which in 1994 began shedding its loyalties to its Fascist roots, has long campaigned on anti-immigration platforms. For most political commentators, Fini's overture to immigrants has more to do with infighting in the governing coalition than with a sudden softening of heart. to synagogues and the Auschwitz death camp, and a planned visit to Israel, put off many times because of the uncertain political situation in the Middle East.
But he's only been partly successful in rewriting his party's history, at least in the eyes of public opinion, and National Alliance has never taken much more than the 12 percent of the vote it got in the 2001 election.
Fini's personal approval rating, on the other hand, hovers around 36 percent, at times higher than Berlusconi's. So many analysts and even members of his coalition suspect Fini of promoting great racial integration as a high visibility vote-grabbing gambit to build up support for a strong centrist party with a broader voter base.
If the center-right majority was caught off guard by Fini's proposal, the opposition was no less surprised. A headline in the Communist daily Il Manifesto last week greeted Fini's proposal with :"I can't believe it." The opposition, which has already has several proposals giving immigrants the vote in the works, has said that in principle they support Fini's bill. But after an initial moment of perplexity, Berlusconi has not refuted the proposal, at least in principal, putting off, or at least postponing, the possibility of a government crisis.
Source: International Herald Tribune