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"Italy needs to fail if it wants a better future"

While Mario Monti's government is trying to keep Italy in the Eurozone, Italians show a new interest in political outsiders. The most popular of them, Beppe Grillo, is a 64 years old comedian and activist who wants to shake things up in the Repubblica

Giuseppe Lenzo
15 August 2012
Beppe Grillo in the streets of Genoa - maudanros / Shutterstock.com

Beppe Grillo in the streets of Genoa - maudanros / Shutterstock.com. All rights reserved

As Mario Monti is attempting to build confidence in Italy across Europe and the world’s financial markets, it is interesting to look at a new political phenomenon that has arisen in the past few years, namely Beppe Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (Movement 5 Stars) and its aspiration towards an epic change in Italian politics. And although Grillo originally made himself a name through TV comedy, his movement is no joke. The people of Parma have already chosen one of its members as their mayor, and the party scores around fifteen to twenty percent in national polls for the upcoming election.

Culturally speaking, although Grillo has been depicted by many Italian newspapers as a populist, like Bossi and his Northern League in the early nineties, Grillo warns Italians that they cannot delegate anymore, but that they need to make a "bet", to challenge themselves, if they want to see a better country. In fact, throughout history Italians have always been keen to delegate power to the “strong man”, a leader who would take care of them. On the other hand, they have always limited their participation in public affairs.

Indeed and unlike, for example, in France where voters of both fronts take the streets to claim their rights, in Italy only a part of the centre-left has often rallied for job-related protests following spending cuts. Instead, voters of Berlusconi and his coalition have traditionally preferred to stay home and limit their political participation to a vote every two or four years, in local or national elections.

Also, strenuous defence of individualistic concerns under the slogan “tengo famiglia” (I have family) has played a determinant role in Italians' political preferences. Now, if Grillo and his drastic proposals were to be represented in the Parliament after the 2013 elections, he would certainly expect Italians to be brave and do their part. Among other things, he would expect Italian successes in the football Eurocup not to erase recent scandals from everybody's memories, as it happened in 1982 and 2006, when the “Azzurri” were first blamed following investigations over corruption and "arrangements", but, after their successful performances, welcomed back in Rome like national heroes.

Thus, Grillo’s enterprise is not only challenging the traditional – and, mostly, inefficient – political leadership, but he is also promoting a new wisdom for Italy’s society, namely more participation and love for politics. History shows that great leaders, such as Mussolini, Craxi and Berlusconi, were adored up to just one day before their downfall, being thrown coins one day and spits the next. Italy and Italians should have more sense of measure but, most importantly, we Italians should challenge ourselves when needed, in order to deliver a better country to our own children and generations to come.

Currently, Monti is touring the EU to convince Italy's creditors that his country deserves trust. However, although the Eurobond seems to be the only solution not to let the Euro fail, it should be also taken into account that Germany does not like this option. In fact, the Eurobond would mean that European states collectively guarantee a huge common debt. Therefore, German leadership still recalls how beleaguered and wasteful Italian politics have been over the last decades, making sense for Berlin to set strict rules for the future of the Union.

The Monti government is leading Italy to discipline and wise spending. Nonetheless, it is disappointing to notice that the public debt has still increased last year, to over 123% of the GDP. Many wonder how the situation will be handled after Monti leaves in 2013, given that political parties are already discussing possible alliances. But Casini, Fini, Berlusconi, Bersani and their political families have been deeply responsible for this rising crisis. As a consequence, more and more Italians do not believe in fairy tales any longer, and may choose to vote for outsiders such as Beppe Grillo instead.

Italians could decide to vote for Grillo because of very simple factors: the so-called “antipolitics” of Grillo are indeed challenging the reluctance of the Italian Parliament to publicly discuss a bill proposal supported by more than 350,000 people (editor's note : the proposed bill would kick convicted MPs out of the Parliament, limit time in office to two terms and make Italian MPs directly elected by the voters). Also, the "classical" parties are considering a new electoral law to keep Grillo’s movement out of political power by, for example, creating a high percentage threshold (e.g. 10%) to access Parliament, or alternatively by assigning a very high number of seats to winning coalitions. Among other things, the parties composing the current majority in Parliament, the People of Freedom and the Democratic Party, are keen to wait until the end of Monti’s government to gain consensus, redesign their programme and run for a national coalition along with Monti or one of his ministers, such as Passera, who is currently the Minister of Economic Development, Infrastructure and Transport.

Meanwhile, no single cut has been made to the ‘golden pensions’ received by public managers, or to the remuneration of the so-called ‘caste’ of Italian politicians (who are paid better than any of their European counterparts). Voting for outsiders could lead to the end of the Eurozone, as it would create more uncertainty. But perhaps is a shock needed? In other words, it is not an overstatement to say that Italy probably needs to fail if it wants a better future.

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