Europe is already established the accused Disappointing Italy at the time of its greatest need – when hospitals were overwhelmed and Rome asked for supplies and assistance, European countries at first looked the opposite, before finally offering support. It might be too late, coloring the views of the Italians about their neighbors. With a bailout package, the EU divided again. The Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Finland have been wary of supporting the plan because of the historic reluctance to send money to what they see as wasteful countries in the South. (It does not matter that Italy does not carry the virus itself, and that countries in the eurozone are interconnected.)
In Italy, too, there was an intense political debate about the fund. The country’s coalition government supports the plan, but the League’s right-wing opposition party has been critical, the saying support will come with too many ties.
But outside the political squabbling, whether in Rome or other European capitals, there is a greater challenge: To use EU funds effectively, Italy needs political vision, something that has been lacking for decades. Following the introduction of the euro in 2002, Silvio Berlusconi dominated the political landscape. The personality scandal and sex scandal of the former prime minister were the main spotlight, rivals were united just to oppose it, and Italy lost years because of its economic mismanagement. Berlusconi left power at the height of Europe’s debt crisis, in 2011, but the country’s economy has never fully recovered.
The EU plan recommends that countries spend funds for long-term investments such as green technology and digital infrastructure, areas where Italy lags. This raises difficult questions. When does the present become the future? When you have rallied to put out fires like coronavirus, how do you start rebuilding? “If the future is not the same as the past, how can we live if we only exist in the present, without planning, hope, or imagination?” columnist Ezio Mauro recently write on Republic, middle left daily. A shrinking middle class and network of local interest groups, Mauro continued, “can easily trap weak political leadership to appease them, rather than articulating plans to change the country.”
The largest political parties in Italy are increasingly cut off from the mainstream of Europe, with no one presenting a broad vision of what modern Italy looks like. The ruling Five Star Movement, a collection of conflicting environments and right and left-wing policies, is the largest party in Parliament, but follows the polls. His coalition partner, the center-left Democratic Party, has been stepping on water for years and, unlike other aging movements, like those in France, does not have a figure like Macron who can recreate it. There is nothing as popular as the League, led by Matteo Salvini, who has ridden nationalist, anti-immigrant messages and smart social media use to the top of the poll.
“I used to say that Italy is a good laboratory for political ideas, ‘Silicon Valley’ populism, and that there are lessons to be learned from Italy that can spread,” Giuliano da Empoli, adviser to former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, told me. “Now it’s no longer a laboratory; it’s a loose cannon. “