How do Italians qualify to become government ministers?
You’ve been tried for Mafia association and acquitted? Subsequently, you were convicted of murdering a journalist and sentenced to 24 years imprisonment but this was overturned by the Supreme Court? No problem, then! It qualified Giulio Andreotti to become a government minister on six occasions, three times as prime minister. His political career concluded with 22 years as a senator for life (1991-2013) whilst his all-dominant political party, the so-called Christian Democrats, imploded and disappeared as the extent of its corruption and Mafia links becomes clear.
Are you on the political Left? No problem, provided you do not practise what you preach. As leader of the Italian Socialist Party (1976-1983), Bettino Craxi made it to the office of prime minister (1983-87) and led the third-longest-lasting government of the Italian Republic. Convicted of corruption and sentenced to 27 years imprisonment, he fled to Tunisia and to the protection of his friend President Ben Ali who was to be overthrown in the 2011 revolution. Craxi died in 2000 and is buried there. With Francois Mitterrand of France and Helmut Schmidt of Germany, Craxi is regarded as an inspiration for Tony Blair and New Labour.
Perhaps you are a billionaire media tycoon, such as Silvio Berlusconi, with a conviction for tax fraud that recently barred him from public office for two years. If, like him, you are over 70, your four-year prison sentence will be commuted to a year’s unpaid community work. At no time did Berlusconi’s behaviour prove to be an impediment to his serving as prime minister in four Italian governments and remaining as leader of his party, still a force in political life. A certain ‘eye for the ladies’ was an additional attribute, and some alleged Mafia links have not done his political career any harm.
Indeed, if you are inclined to attend Mafia weddings and can be satisfied with high ministerial office without being prime minister, Angelino Alfano may be the role model you are seeking. He is the incumbent foreign secretary, having previously held the offices of interior minister, deputy prime minister and justice minister. During his time as a politician he has been a member of five different political parties. In 2002 he vehemently denied a newspaper claim that he had attended a Mafia wedding before being shown a video of him enjoying the celebrations. His more recent decision to expel back to Kazakhstan the wife and young daughter of an exiled opponent of that country’s president led to calls for a no-confidence motion against him for putting commercial oil and gas interests above basic human rights.
So what does exclude an Italian from ministerial office? Euro-scepticism, it seems! If you have ever expressed doubts about the benefits to Italy of the euro you are likely to be on a list of prohibited candidates. Never mind that 20 years of the currency has inflicted on Italy next to zero economic growth, falling living standards and crippling levels of unemployment. The 300,000 young Italians in the UK are just one testimony to Italy’s economic catastrophe.
Thus, President Mattarella’s rejection of partly Euro-sceptic Paolo Savona as economics minister in a proposed populist Five Star Movement/League government is hugely significant, not just for Italy but for all of the EU.
From where does the pressure on Mattarella derive? He is, in many ways, an admirable man. And yet, in this case, it is as though the Queen were to decline to appoint Theresa May as prime minister because she does not like one of her policies. Savona has described the euro as ‘a German cage’. What has Italy and the EU come to when such thinking is not seen as compatible with democratic politics?
‘In that case it is no use voting, the same people always decide [on who governs],’ claims Five Star leader Luigi Di Maio on Facebook. ‘There is a big problem in Italy that is called democracy. In this country you can be a condemned criminal, a tax-fraud convict, you can be [Foreign Minister Angelino] Alfano, you can have done crimes against the civil service, you can be under investigation for corruption and you can be a minister. But if you have criticised Europe, you cannot be economy minister in Italy. But it doesn’t end here.’
Italian democracy needs support, regardless of how we may regard proposed changes to the country’s economic policies. Greece yesterday, Italy today and who is next? In metaphorical terms, at least, the time has arrived for Europeans to man the barricades against Brussels and Berlin in defence of national sovereignty and democracy.