PATRIZIO NISSIRIO: Some reflections on Greece and Italy

PATRIZIO NISSIRIO: Senior Editor at ANSAmed

Italy and Greece – culturally very close from the beginning of time – seem to share a similar drama these days: a deep financial crisis, with heavy consequences for the lives of ordinary citizens, austerity packages that leave many dissatisfied. Both countries carry the burden of an overblown public sector, widespread inefficiency and corruption, high and unacceptable tax evasion.

Facing economic catastrophe, both countries have decided to entrust the leadership and the mind-blowing mission on how to walk the bumpy road out of depression to «technocrats». In Greece, the steering wheel was given to ex European central banker and respected economist Loukas Papademos; in Italy it was professor Mario Monti (former European commissioner for internal market and competition) ro receive the honor and the burden. Both need and have already fashioned austerity measures composed of new taxes, cuts to public services, some kind of strict diet for the mammoth public sector.

So far the similarities. But there are relevant differences. Greece is a much smaller economy than Italy: its downfall, although very serious for the whole Eurozone, would still be manageable. Member countries would have to come up with more help and support, but experts agree that the burden would still be tolerable. Italy is another story. It’s one of the world’s biggest economies, with a gigantic public debt which lies in the hands of many foreign banks: if Italy falls, most likely the whole Euro economy would collapse, and the whole world economy would be violently shaken, maybe plunged into an all-out Depression.

It is maybe because of this bigger emergency that Italy’s president of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano has chosen to give mr. Monti a mandate to create a government that comprises no politician. All its members are true technocrats: economics professors, experts in public sector management, bankers. True, the government had to go in Parliament and receive a confidence vote from a wide spectrum of parties – from former members of Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right majority to ex opposition party Partito Democratico -, and no government can truly say that none of his actions are political, but the bottom line is that this new executive has no urge to please anyone, nor the fear of being voted out of power in the next elections. Of course, parties can withdraw their support to the the «Italy-saver» measures, but they will be held accountable if they do that. In brief, the duty ahead is exceptionally tough, and these ministers can so operate with less worries than ever before.

In Greece, the government is still a political expression, with many familiar faces that have stayed (the key Finance minister is still in the hands of mr. Evangelos Venizelos),and different and somehow conflicting agendas that will have to coexist. This, in itself, is a weakness. Democracy is at the core of our nations; politics – although deeply discredited in both countries – still remains a central activity of public life: but politicking, electoral interest, personal crusades and unspeakable financial interests seem to conflict with the dire emergency that both countries face now. Maybe it’s necessary to freeze that part of politics for a few months, so that once the abyss is no longer in front of us we can all come back and fight over ideas, programs, visions.

Bad politics has had a significant role in these crisis, both in Italy and Greece: let’s leave that out for a while so that Politics with the capital P can truly come back in the near future.

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