Former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s third-way party Italia Viva has officially withdrawn from the government coalition. Renzi announced it in a press conference last night at 18:15 (local time), asking three cabinet members from his party to subsequently leave their positions. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s government may now face a vote of no confidence or be forced to resign. This comes at the worst possible moment for Italians. Right now Italy is faced with financial decisions that will have an impact not just on its tomorrow, but potentially on the future of its younger generations, as it tries to ascertain how to best invest its EU recovery fund. The political stalemate in government risks undermining previous efforts for compromise and thus throwing the chances of stability under the bus. For it is Italy’s younger generation – the generazione “aperitivo” – who have been repeatedly let down during this pandemic and whose livelihoods are, arguably, most at stake during this political stalemate.
EU’s recovery fund: an opportunity for the future
Last year, the European Union and national leaders agreed on a recovery plan “to help repair the economic and social damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic.” It is an ambitious economic measure like individual European countries have never seen. The total is €1.8 trillion for “a greener, more digital and more resilient Europe.” Through PM Conte’s work, Italy secured €209 billion in grants and low-interest loans – this is nearly one-third of the total €750 billion EU stimulus package available for member states. It constitutes a major success of Conte’s government and represents a once in a lifetime opportunity to invest in the future of the country. However, the lack of political stability could thwart any possibility of effective use of these funds.
Indeed, it is exactly around this €209 billion figure that Conte’s government has potentially come to an end. As Italy is called to make responsible choices, for which political stability is fundamental, the parliamentary majority is divided, and Matteo Renzi’s party has decided to withdraw from the coalition. According to Renzi, PM Conte’s plan for investing the €1.8 trillion is “devoid of ambition and soul, disappointing.” His party’s subsequent backing out of government, plunging the nation into frankly unnecessary political uncertainty, means those in power are unable to work to build an investment plan the country’s youth desperately needs.
Chaos within the majority; mixed messages from the opposition
Italia Viva has advanced a proposal under the acronym CIAO (“Cultura, Infrastrutture, Ambiente, Opportunità”, Culture, Infrastructures, Environment, Opportunity). The acronym CIAO has triggered all kinds of irony on social media, including the following tweet (made in English) “#ciao is the new #staisereno”, in reference to Renzi’s assurances in 2014 to then Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, “Enrico, stai sereno” (‘Enrico, chill out’ – i.e. I am not planning to replace you) a few days before doing just that. It seems Italy’s history of political backgammon is repeating itself – although Mr Renzi’s party has only 48 seats in both chambers, these are enough to pull the plug on Conte’s government.
Is it going to be CIAO Conte? Reactions from other members of the coalition are mixed. “Destabilizing the government now would be incomprehensible,” warned Nicola Zingaretti, leader of the Democratic Party, in a statement. Meanwhile, Senator Andrea Marcucci, part of a dissatisfied wing of the Democratic Party that is demanding a vote of no-confidence, said the confrontation “is not a Renzi manoeuvre. We have made very similar proposals. The Prime Minister is evaluating them and if his proposals are reasonable, a reshuffled government led by Conte should not be excluded.” Other options may include a snap election – which seems unlikely – or a new Prime Minister.
But if the chance to appoint a new, more effective, leadership may sound promising for young Italians fed up with years of stagnation, the reality remains that there is no viable alternative on offer. Left-wing alternatives consist of minor movements and parties that remain unrepresented in parliament and are unlikely to win any seats in the next, reduced, 600-MP parliamentary term. Meanwhile, the centre-right coalition (current opposition) has veered towards the far right. Matteo Salvini of the League and Giorgia Meloni of Brothers of Italy have been firm in their support of Donald Trump during the assault on Capitol Hill and continue to condemn Facebook and Twitter for suspending the US President from their platforms. Furthermore, a Veneto regional councillor from Meloni’s party has recently argued – after singing a colonialist tune on the radio – that if her uncle, who fought for Mussolini’s fascist regime, had won WWII, Italy would have been better off. It would be unforgivable to let these people make use of the EU recovery fund and design the future of Italy’s youth.
The cost of the future
The ongoing chaos within government is a weapon of mass distraction against the real problems facing Italy and her youth. If this was not enough, never-ending arguments between the central government in Rome and devolved administrations around the Stivale continue. Unlike other countries, including Britain, who have implemented new national lockdowns since the end of the first wave of the pandemic, Italy has managed to control the virus through a system of tiers. This has come at a cost: schools and universities have not reopened since March 2020, with all teaching moved online since then.
Four months ago, at a Forum in Rimini, former ECB (European Central Bank) President, Mario Draghi, had already encouraged politicians to “give more” to Italy’s new generations to avoid “stealing the future away from them.” More recently, Enrico Mentana – one of Italy’s most respected journalists – reminded both PM Conte and Renzi about what this investment means for young Italians: “What in Italy we intentionally choose to call Recovery Plan has a different name in Europe: Next Generation EU,” Mentana wrote on 9 January.
Italy has a very high unemployment rate among under 25s and only a minority of those who have a job are on a permanent contract. Even for those who have been fortunate enough to secure a steady job, perspectives are gloomy: it remains impossible to predict the future of welfare and pensions in the country. Current workers may end up working till very old age and with a very thin reward afterwards. It is paramount that a good share of the stimulus package goes into measures to reduce unemployment among the under 35s and to improve education at all levels – Italy is running out of teachers and recruitment is slowed down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The current deadlock may have repercussions on the livelihoods of Italy’s younger generations. Instead of stability for the present, and perspective for a bright future, we are left with a political stalemate, a tale all too familiar to Italy’s youth.