mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
Dark Clouds Gather in Italy


Clouds over Europe’s future grew a little darker yesterday. Italy is still without a new head of state as an effort to have former Prime Minister Romano Prodi elected failed miserably after 100 left-wing delegates refused to vote for the center-left politician. His defeat has thrown the Italian left into chaos, and ensured that the elections will drag on into the weekend.

The failure of the Italian Democrats (a coalition that stretches from the mildly liberal to the hard left) to get the widely respected Prodi through parliament makes it extremely unlikely that a stable government will emerge from the divided parliament created by the last election.

Polls show that Berlusconi would be the favorite in a new round of voting. This is an old pattern in Italian politics. Since Berlusconi emerged as a national force, the Italian left has never been able to provide stable and effective governance, so voters return to Il Cavaliere over and over again. Italy’s problem in a nutshell is that nobody but Berlusconi can govern it, and he is unwilling and perhaps unable to govern it well.

But there is a deeper problem: It is simply impossible for Italy to function along the lines necessary for the euro to work, and the Italian political system is breaking apart under the strain. No political movement in Italy could carry out the reforms the euro demands and survive in a democratic system. Italians do not want to be Germans and do not know how to operate a German style economy.

Europeans are fond of telling Israelis that Israel must choose between being a Jewish state (by ending the occupation) or being a democracy; some are beginning to realize that Europe faces an even more wrenching choice. Europe can have monetary union or it can have democracy; it cannot have both. Prodi’s defeat makes that reality even more clear.

UPDATE: After we published this post, in a move widely seen as a victory for Berlusconi and a defeat for the left, the Parliament re-elected 87 year old Giorgio Napolitano for an unprecedented second term. Beppe Grillo of the 5-Star movement that upset Italian politics in the last election called the vote a “coup d’etat.” It looks as if the old political blocs, the left and the right coalitions, reunited behind Napolitano as a first step to a grand coalition that will probably be more favorable to Berlusconi’s interests than many expected. It appears that the left is terrified of new elections and is willing to make concessions to the Berlusconi bloc to postpone a new appeal to the voters. There is still no sign that Italy is going to have a government willing or able to comply with European demands.

[Romano Prodi image courtesy of Wikimedia]

Features Icon
show comments
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service