Italy Economy Real Time Data Charts

Edward Hugh is only able to update this blog from time to time, but he does run a lively Twitter account with plenty of Italy related comment. He also maintains a collection of constantly updated Italy economy charts together with short text updates on a Storify dedicated page Italy - Lost in Stagnation?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Italian Elections 2006 II

Well the election campaign in Italy trundles on, and issues are starting to emerge. One of the more curious details to have come out in recent days refers to the size and shape of the voting card. It is to be some 65 centimetres long with canditates arranged horizontally rather than vertically across the strip (if this seems like a long ticket, some US cards are up to a metre long apparently, although just why AGI online choses the US for its comparison is beyond me).

Beyond the ticket itself, Italy's leading independent newspaper Corriere della Sera has just published an editorial coming down (for the first time I think) on the side of the centre left coalition lead by Romano Prodi (declaration of interest: CdS is my preferred reading among Italian newspapers). The reasoning for this decision seems to run something along the lines that the Berlusconi government has taken policy decisions more in the light of the need to resolve internal coalition differences than in the light of the real needs and interests of the country: to which 'amen'.

Silvio Berlusconi, rather predictably, has had another of his hysterical fits: on the TV popular show 'Porta a Porta' he argued that Corriere della Sera had now revealed itself to be itself to be a journal of the centre-left, just like Unitá ( a strongly left wing paper).

In a campaign which is already being marked by sensations rather than policy, Berlusconi seems to have also managed to manoeuvre the Pope into a political scandal by getting himself invited to the Vatican. Roberto at Wind Rose Hotel has the details.

The campaign is also attracting it's fair share of eccentricities. Like the case of Italian Senate President Marcello Pera (thanks again to Roberto for the pointer). Now Senate President's often seem to be odd enough people and Pera himself doesn't disappoint. Back in the late 90s he was declaring the Italian University system dead and buried (actually 'stone dead' were the exact words he used). Clearly the man has a tendency to exaggerate. So what is he exaggerating about this time?

Well according to Pera we have on our hands a problem of a disappearing Italian identity. Aha, he's on to the fertility issue you might think, maybe he'll put some pressure on his friend Joseph Ratzinger to see about getting some scientific help for all those Italian women who are now becoming too old to have the children they so often very much want to have. But no. You would be disappointed. Europe is, apparently "fading away," "hiding itself from reality" and unable to defend its values. Well if he were talking about the duplicitous practices of the last Italian government and the flight from reality into indebtedness you might think that the man had a point. But no. This isn't the issue at all. What we are into is rather a situation where our:

"intellectual and political elites, obsessed with a dialogue that doesn't exist and a multiculturalism that rationalizes every anti-Western act into European guilt, lack the courage to mark out the reciprocal parameters of pluralism. That results, he thinks, in Europe's burying its Judeo-Christian identity and running from demanding compatibility with its tenets."

On no! We're back to the Danish cartoons issue. As might be imagined this version of events does not prove to be too unpopular in some US quarters, but with my feet squarely on European Terra Firma I find it hard to take any of this seriously at all. Except as another example of the flight from reality that this current member of the European political elite claims to be so preoccupied with. Italy has a declining population and the multiculturalism which seems to obsess him so forms an inevitable and integral part of Italy's real and present cultural reality, a reality which all the rhetoric in the world won't get him away from.

On the reality front there is however news of one concrete proposal today, Romano Prodi is advocating an increase in some types of capital gains tax (up from 12.5 to about 20 per cent). Predictably members of Mr "spend, spend, spend" Berlusconi's coalition are lambasting the idea, with finance minister Giulio Tremonti stating that “In my home we call this a wealth tax. It is a wealth tax on the money of poor people.” This may well be, since from the distance it is hard to evaluate individual proposals like this, but one thing is clear, the next Italian government, whoever it is, will have no alternative but to raise taxes and cut spending, and anyone who suggests otherwise is, quite simply, wilfully misleading the people.

btw, on the latest polls the Prodi opposition is showing a 52 per cent share to 47.5 per cent one for the outgoing government coalition.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Italian Elections 2006

Ok, the Italian elections are now just about one month away, although you wouldn't guess this from reading the British press where the David Mills/Silvio Berlusconi case is what seems to be making all the running. Now as I indicated in this post, I will try and give some systematic coverage to the election issues as they evolve during the campaign. In that post I outlined 7 issues which I thought would be worth looking at in an election which I think is going to be very important not just for the Italian people themselves but for all citizens of the EU. I had a first pass at one of the topics here (and here).

Maybe the best starting point is number 7 on the list: the sense of denial.

Looking at the fact that Berlusconi himself seems to have started his campaign in Washington, while former Commission president Romano Prodi now seems to have become an early convert to neo-protectionism (and this piece), I would definitely say that this is really the number one issue. In order to help me on my course through these troubled waters Roberto of Wind Rose Hotel has kindly offered to send me some on the spot material. Here is his first missive. It confirms my worst fears.

It is usually pretty uncertain, in Italy, whether or not what is known as official statistical data are as reliable as they are in the rest of the Western world. Nevertheless data are the most accountable criteria of judgment we Italians have at our disposal in deciding for which of the two coalitions to give our vote.

In the next general election, Italians will remember what Istat, the official statistics institute, reported on Wednesday: Italy experienced zero growth in 2005 (though Maurizio Sacconi, welfare undersecretary, did not show excessive concern with regard to Istat figures, he even saw some positive signals (see here).

But if a Brit, or a Dutch, a Dane , etc., really wants to try to understand what is at stake and why, on April 9 and 10, people will vote as they do then they should, in my humble opinion, bear in mind that Italy is not a Country where people can afford the luxury of basing their electoral choices, first and foremost, on what official data and survey results purportedly reveal. We have to chose between a centre-right coalition whose leader, the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi called on Wednesday in Washington for “ a grand alliance of all democracies” to fight the threat posed by Islamic extremism, and a centre-left coalition in which the leader of the small Partito dei Comunisti Italiani, Oliviero Diliberto, arguedonly a few hours later that Mr Berlusconi had shaken president Bush’s “bleeding hand.”

Between a strongly pro-America centre-right and a centre-left in which another - and bigger (some 8% in the last general election) - Communist party (Rifondazione comunista) containing members of the Global Justice Movement (one of them will be a candidate to the Parliament for the coalition itself on April 9 and 10) together with various other rag-bag extremists, among them those who have now become famous for chanting slogans such as, "Ten, one hundred, one thousand Nassiriyas" *** during protest rallies in which the U.S. and Israeli flags are burned.

I think this isn't going to be, for many of my fellow countrymen, an easy choice.

*** Nassiriya is the Iraqi town where, on November 12, 2003, a suicide car bomber devastated an Italian military police base, killing 19 Italians and 9 Iraqis.