Italy’s parliamentary system is all about many parties, many alliances. Just days ago, it seemed as though all the kinks were worked out and a new center-right government would rule the Boot – three months after they won a shaky majority election. But the final arbiter of deals under Italy’s constitution is its “ceremonial” president Sergio Mattarella (pictured), and he didn’t like the new government’s choice for Economics Minister – an anti-euro diehard.
The majority of Italians, like our own “deplorables,” have lost patience with leftist policies, especially the loss of Italian sovereignty to the European Union and the much-hated eurozone. Beset by two decades of economic malaise and hundreds of thousands of refugees, Italians have found themselves painted into a corner by a familiar ally – Germany.
Although Italy is the 3rd major economy on the Continent, the EU is still a Franco-Teutonic straitjacket. The Italians knew, going in, that they would have to give up their profligate ways when they applied for the eurozone in 1998. But they thought only an outside force could rid them of endemic political corruption, organized crime, and deficit spending. Dare I say it? Italians figured German efficiency would change their character. It never happened, and Italy found itself a revolving door for immigrants with a growing class of native mammoni (mama’s boys & girls stuck without jobs, living at home into their 50s).
But Italy’s problems go even deeper. Some 200 investigative journalists require police protection from Mafia hit men. Rome’s municipal buses actually explode – ten so far this year – from age, lack of maintenance, and over $1 billion in debt. Worse, Italy even failed to make the soccer World Cup finals this year.
In the beginning, Italian politicians of all stripes were salivating for the grants Italy would get from the EU for infrastructure, the Mezzogiorno, and to preserve those Roman ruins. Money poured into Italy from the new EU flush with German, French, and British contributions. But that didn’t last long when poorer countries entered the eurozone and siphoned off the largesse. Now many want to emulate Brexit and unhook from the EU. But how?
No matter how desperate it is to leave the EU, Italy is trapped with a banking system loaded with bad loans and a national debt of $2.7 trillion that can send the country into a tailspin if the bond market gets a whiff of Italexit. Its per capita GDP is no higher than it was eighteen years ago. It owes the European central bank $290 billion. In short, making Italy great again would require a new messiah.
If there is one thing we learn from Italian history, it is that Italians are poor planners. Leaving the EU would be equivalent to abruptly leaving the Axis in 1943. That sloppy decision ended in an invasion of the peninsula, a German occupation, and a civil war. Although an Italexit would be less violent, Italy would have to sell half the country to foreigners and fat-cats just to stay afloat. Maybe Amazon could buy the Colosseum.
To leave the eurozone, the new Italian government would have to secretly print new lire – preferably with fewer zeroes than before – prior to springing the news on the world. Notwithstanding, all hell would break loose with a new currency and international banks in shock. Savings accounts would be frozen and surely plummet. People and cash would flee the country.
Do today’s Italians have the right stuff to reclaim their independence? President Mattarella doesn’t think so, hence his resistance to delivering his nation to anti-euro radicals. His only choice now is to send Italians back to the polls to seal their own fate.
Italians always manage to survive adversity, and let’s hope they will rise to this crisis. Nevertheless, I am haunted by the words of comedian Oliver Hardy, “Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into.” -JLM