Can Europe Make It?

Italy – not all doom and gloom

“Crimes reported in 2017 are down by more than 10 percent compared to 2016, while murders have almost halved in ten years, from 611 to 343. Despite this, there is a general sense of insecurity."

Alessio Colonnelli
27 August 2019, 11.04am
Sergio Mattarella, President of the Italian Republic.
Gregor Fischer/PA. All rights reserved.

Italy's always been under the microscope. It's attracted so much criticism you sometimes wonder if it isn't just a tad exaggerated. Bad news sells better than good news. A no-brainer, yet in Italy's case this plays a major role. Britain's soft power, by contrast, has shielded the four nations – London and England in particular – from negative scrutiny. With Brexit this is rapidly changing, of course. Italy would do better to bear this in mind and stick with the EU and the euro and hone its own soft power instead.

The new cabinet may want to act on this and start talking Italy up. No more kissing rosaries in parliament but a clearer vision of Italy's place among the great nations. In this sense, the current government crisis is very welcome.

This is not to undermine the objective issues the country's facing – some are downright, chronic problems – such as Italy-based international crime organizations or tax evasion. But it's also true that these seemingly insurmountable obstacles are not just features of the Italian landscape.

Solving them requires European cooperation. A supranational institution was set up over sixty years ago with the long-term aim of getting nations to help one another. Italy was a founding member. Now the UK is coming out of it. As the Guardian's Martin Kettle pointed out very recently, Britain looks increasingly stuck in a quagmire of its own making, uncannily resembling that of Italy. The two “have become the terrible twins of Europe.” Debatable. Comparing countries is useful but always tricky. Figures clarify.

Here are some. They relate to positive Italian trends. It's not as if the media hide them – they just don't emphasize them enough for fear readers will shun them.

“Crimes reported in 2017 are down by more than 10 percent compared to 2016, while murders have almost halved in ten years, from 611 to 343. Despite this, there is a general sense of insecurity: 31.9 per cent of Italian families perceive a risk of crime in the area in which they live,” claimed a June 2018 report on security in Italy by Censis, a prominent socio-economic research institute.

In fairness, this applies to many parts of Europe including Germany, France and Spain, but when considering Italy these data acquire a special connotation: Italy finds itself at the forefront of major immigration waves from countries ravaged by war and violence, and certain top politicians are keen to conflate these people with disruption and epidemics. So, the news by Censis is good and worth spreading.

And there's more. Unemployment has gone down. By not much, admittedly, but it is traveling in the right direction at just below double digits. Moreover, Italy's still fairly strong on export – another positive element – and as the middle classes of the world expand their purchasing power and discernment, they have more disposable income for renowned quality products.

Let's be clear, it's not all smelling of roses. In the following, Italy still lies in the lower half of European tables, yet there are more women in work than in the past. The economy isn't particularly favorable, making short-term and part-time contracts ubiquitous, which in turn have on the whole increased work opportunities for women; but influencing this is also a cultural dimension worth considering: the flourishing and promising feminist writing by Michela Marzano, Michela Murgia, Claudia Torrisi, Igiaba Scego and many others, also prolific in the press (women read more than men, and that is even truer for Italy), which makes for an interesting development in a country still at the mercy of ultra-conservative undercurrents. Keeping women down never did Italy any good: A new awareness.

Fortunately, international trends – globalization has many positives – are lending Italy the cultural tools to change from within. Stay-at-home fathers supporting working mothers are barely visible, but more than in the past. Mockingly called mammo up until a few years ago, this once widespread neologism is already on its way out, because there's nothing exceptional now about fathers as primary carers. “I'm not a mammo, I'm a dad changing diapers,” Stefano D'Andrea, an acclaimed children's writer told the weekly Io Donna.

So Italy's fairly dynamic, although you wouldn't guess it. Its ranking in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index is 43: Up by 3 compared to last year (46th) and 9 against 2017 (52nd). Yet, hundreds of journalists are still risking their lives. Any progress in this field is to be looked at with caution. Nonetheless, Italy used to be worryingly marked in red on the index maps; and it's orange now.

Having touched on the economic and cultural, let's finish with politics – the binding ring. Italy's had a series of grand heads of state who've brought sensibility among quarreling, egocentric politicos and selfish parties putting their organizations before the country. (Most Italians are truly fed up with them all and vote, if they do, by holding their nose.) The current president Sergio Mattarella, has proved a firm hand when dealing with time-wasting squabbles and attacks on the press with his punctual, admonishing remarks. Without him Italy would run wild.

And finally, the far-right has been unceremoniously kicked out of Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister's seat. Good news for now but how long will it last?

This was first published on the author’s blog.

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