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Italy, where nothing is where it should be

Without a government at Palazzo Chigi, Italy’s politics has been displaced. And as the “Offshore Leaks” scandal has revealed, the country’s economy has meanwhile moved to tax havens.

Nothing is where it should be. At Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s office in Rome, there’s no government resulting from the recent elections. Instead a group of ‘technicians’ – called in during an ‘emergency’ a year and a half ago – that, under the banner of Mario Monti, accounted in the February election for just 11% of the votes. Possible governments are not discussed in Parliament, but rather on the blog of Beppe Grillo (the comedian turned leader of Italy’s Five Star Movement, 25% of the votes), at the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence (official residence of would be new Democrat Party leader, mayor Matteo Renzi) or the homes of Silvio Berlusconi (the right-wing PDL party leader and media magnate). The man directing the formation of the government is not at Palazzo Chigi, but the Quirinal, the Presidential Palace in the Italian capital. And from there, Giorgio Napolitano consults with Frankfurt, on the phone with European Central Bank President Mario Draghi.

On April 4, Draghi announced that Europe will be in recession for the first six months of this year, the crisis now also biting the ‘center’ of the continent, and that the ECB’s policy will not change: (relatively) easy money – especially for unsafe banks; austerity and cuts to public spending; liberalization and lower wages. Today Frankfurt – not Brussels, not Rome – is the centre of politics as well as economics: Draghi warned speculators not to underestimate the “political capital” invested by Europe in the euro.

If in Rome you have the feeling that politics has evaporated, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has officially informed us that the economy has moved elsewhere. It is no longer in Milan, the financial capital, in the small and medium sized firms of the north east, in the Roman headquarters of large (formerly state-owned) companies. It has moved far from the workers and the taxman, to the ‘paradise’ of capitalism. In the tax havens you will find a hundred thousand people, the richest of 170 countries, 120,000 companies, the heart of the world economy. For the poor mortals of the EU, this means one trillion euros of lower tax revenues and many millions of fewer jobs. For the super-rich it means being able to clean up illegal funds through front companies, having tax-free profits, managing their firms’ ownership through Chinese boxes, escaping all rules of the (already unregulated) world of finance.

Among this capitalist élite there are 200 Italians; we will soon read their names, but we know most of them already, without having to wait for the revelations of “Offshore Leaks.” Just as we already know that this élite owns most of the country: the ten richest Italians – according to the Bank of Italy – possess wealth equal to that of the three million poorest Italians.

A geography turned upside down, a displaced politics, a power impervious to democracy, an aristocracy that concentrates wealth, the rich above the law: our country’s “Third Republic” is ending up as the Ancien Régime. We can react to this vacuum, to this cancellation of democracy; there is an Italy that wants to take an alternative path to this feudal drift.

(Translation by Revolting Europe)

This article appeared as the editorial of the daily Il Manifesto on april 5, 2013 and on the website sbilanciamoci.info

About the author

Mario Pianta is Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Urbino and is a member of the Centro Linceo Interdisciplinare of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei. His last book is Sbilanciamo l’economia. Una via d’uscita dalla crisi (“Off balance. A way out of the crisis”) co-authored with Giulio Marcon (Laterza, 2013).