[A-List] Italy: strategy of tension
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Fri Mar 22 01:31:14 MST 2002
Considering the flood of credulous nonsense about this episode that has been routinely peddled by most outlets of the mainstream news media, this is a surprisingly objective analysis that reflects wider European concerns about events in Italy. The Pearson group, which published the FT, also publishes the Economist, which has run its own high profile campaign of criticism against Berlusconi. Of course Pearson, as a large multimedia concern, must envy Berlusconi's Fininvest empire, as do others like Rupert Murdoch. Still, this is interesting evidence of unease within European business interests at developments in Italy...
Italy's hollow centre
The murder of government adviser Marco Biagi raises fears of a return to extremism, writes Paul Betts
Financial Times: March 20 2002
Bologna, Italy's oldest university city, has once again been turned into an academy of political violence. The murder of Marco Biagi, a university professor and government consultant on employment policy, shot as he was cycling home on Tuesday night, has put the country's fragile democracy at risk.
Nearly 22 years ago, a bomb at Bologna's railway station killed 84 people and injured 200. Extreme rightwing terrorists with links to the Italian secret services were blamed for the outrage in a city which, until two years ago, was a fortress of the then Italian Communist party and a symbol of good Communist local government.
This time, ultra-leftwing Red Brigades terrorists are suspected. During the anni di piombo (the lead years) of the late-1970s, the Red Brigades kidnapped and murdered prime minister Aldo Moro, and killed or wounded several politicians, journalists and industrialists.
Mr Biagi's murder has provoked an outburst of emotion, rhetoric and political conspiracy theories. Who controls the terrorists? Why should they target a quiet, 52-year-old academic? Who ultimately benefits from a revival of the "strategy of tension" of 20 years ago when no one was sure who was behind the killings that rocked the country?
One thing is clear: Italian politics is polarising to extremes of left and right. Within Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right governing coalition, the loudest voice is that of Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, who has been attacking Italy's commitments in Europe and has been the most strident voice against immigration. The centre-left opposition, meanwhile, is still in disarray after last year's election defeat, and lacks leadership.
Opposition is moving from parliament on to the street. Italy is braced for a confrontation between unions and government over proposed changes to the country's rigid labour laws. This Saturday, CGIL, the largest leftwing union confederation, is preparing a march on Rome, which is expected to involve more than 1m workers.
Mr Berlusconi is under pressure from several flanks. Yesterday he declared a state of emergency following the arrival in Sicily of a ship carrying 1,000 Kurdish refugees, amid reports that other boats will follow.
As well as making hiring and firing easier, the government is attempting to reform education and push forward devolution. Coalition allies are squabbling in government, especially over Italy's commitment to Europe and enlargement. Meanwhile, in Palermo a court is trying to establish the origins of the prime minister's wealth. As one Roman political commentator said yesterday: "Military and business strategy teaches you that you cannot fight on too many fronts at the same time without stumbling."
Tito Boeri, a professor at Milan's Bocconi University, believes there are three fundamental issues at the root of Italy's present problems: ideology, economics and the unions.
Although the terrorism of the 1970s was ultimately defeated, he says, academics, technocrats and other independent consultants have since become a prime target of political extremists. Gino Giugni, one of the fathers of the current Italian labour regulations, was wounded by gunmen in Rome in 1983. Enzo Tarantelli, a professor and trade unionist, was killed in 1985. Massimo D'Antona, a law professor and adviser to a former centre-left labour minister, was killed in 1999 on the anniversary of the drawing up of the Italian labour regulations.
Mr Biagi in fact opposed some of the Berlusconi government's labour reform, particularly a controversial article liberalising restrictions on employees being fired by companies employing more than 15 people. The proposed measure is at the heart of the conflict between unions and government.
Nevertheless, according to Prof Boeri, a mistaken but widely held perception persists among Italians that independent consultants, rather than politicians or ministers, are the real policymakers. "Unlike in other EU countries, independent advisers are not accepted for what they are but considered as the policymakers," he says.
Added to this is Italy's seeming inability - particularly under centre-right governments - to agree labour market reform through peaceful channels. The previous short-lived Berlusconi government failed to push through changes to the pension system in 1994 because it took a sweeping and fundamentally ideological approach. A more limited reform was approved two years later by the subsequent centre-left administration of Lamberto Dini.
Under pressure from the employers confederation, Mr Berlusconi's government has turned employment law reform into a wider battle against organised labour. By so doing, it has unnecessarily alienated vast numbers of unemployed or part-time workers.
According to Mr Boeri, unemployment benefits cover only about 10 per cent of Italy's unemployed. But many workers are hostile to the unions, which they accuse of serving only a few privileged occupations.
The unions, meanwhile, have lost large sections of traditional support through a strategy in recent years of consulting with government. To many Italians, these long, and often fruitless, negotiations have turned the unions into another set of political parties. With the collapse of the centre-left at the last election, the unions became more militant in an attempt to revive their membership. Before Tuesday's killing, they appeared to be well on the road to recovery.
Mr Biagi's killing appears to have changed all this - for now. The unions are on the defensive. Mr Berlusconi is calling for social partnership and compromise. Saturday's march has been transformed into a demonstration against terrorism.
But the crisis has also put Mr Berlusconi in a corner. Italy's democratic institutions are again under attack. For the first time since taking office last summer, the media tycoon is under pressure to show that he has the ability to rise to the challenge of statesmanship. As one leading Italian businessman puts it: "The threat to our democracy does not come so much from the terrorist fringes currently at work, but rather from the prime minister's own tight grip on the country's television media."
Full article at:
Mercuria Business School
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
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