Some time ago the Financial Times attacked the austerity plans implemented in Italy by its technocratic government and overtly argued that Mario Monti was "not the right man" to lead the country. This article caused consternation on the Italian soil. Monti immediately sent a polite letter to explain the work he did for the country, and, the day after, the newspaper published a much nicer piece. This overt "attack" was a sort of unwanted surprise internationally too. Who else can "save" Italy then?
A popular, and much heard, answer in Europe is in line with much of the austerity life which currently characterises the same old continent. In Italy this would be an allegedly new type of politics, possibly beyond the obsolete ideologies of the left and the right, and led by the serious and respected (and now former) EU-leaning technocrat Monti. It is known that there was a strong preference from the EU ranks and many foreign leaders, including some socialists and social democrats, for the establishment of a Monti II after the coming electoral competition of February. However, Monti is very far from winning elections. Consequently some of the international hopes are probably now to see the Italian centre-left lacking a future parliamentary majority, and therefore establishing a government with Monti. But why should progressive forces and European socialists support a liberal technocrat (possibly) smiling at Europe's People Party? Were not the conservatives the main supporters of austerity policies?
| Italy's Monti to lead reform-minded coalition
Economy and markets matter, of course. Monti's trajectory and project should, nonetheless, be considered too. This university professor is now claiming to be only a politician on "the side of Italy". This a smart lexical shift, though the rhetoric is quite common among political leaders. Along with some liberal strict measures on the public debt, a more flexible job market, some privatisations in the public sector, and other economic reforms, he is currently suggesting that one of his main goals is to dismantle both the right-wing and left-leaning "conservative" stances which have been blocking Italy's growth. He portrayed himself like a "pioneer", challenging an outdated (but relatively new) bipolar political system in Italy. This is slightly bizarre too: the opportunity to vote for two big coalitions was considered a much welcome change in Italy, and in line with a good part of the western globe. Yet, all this is also behind Monti's current criticisms to its opposing centre-left coalition (and particularly its more leftist stances) and Silvio Berlusconi. "Neither right nor right" became a fashionable watchword. Is this post-ideological phase a reality or it is simply part of the electoral game?
Monti's political adventure started with an electoral group based on the so-called "civil society" (partially led by some big business), and with candidates from Catholic circles, charities, management, industrial sector, and the academia. The virtues of this "good" society, and as opposed to traditional politics, are now very attractive in Italy - and particularly since comedian Beppe Grillo founded his somewhat common citizens-inspired Five Stars movement which will probably become one of the main forces in the next parliament. But Monti is also allied with two centre-right parties and a number of other rightist politicians (along with some former centre-leftists). At some point, he even imagined some potential collaboration with Berlusconi's party too (but only if this latter would step down, of course). His project can therefore hardly be considered beyond the left and the right, or completely novel. In the previous years, some of these forces have backed many, if not all, of the media's tycoon policies and ad personam law. They covered his most embarrassing actions. They contributed to the moral decline of the country and its comical international image. If Monti's political personnel is so mixed what about his proposed agenda? Would it modernise Italy?
There are certainly some interesting, and very welcome, innovations, but they might not be enough. Roughly twenty years of Berlusconism and of other Italy's failing elites turned the nation into a bizarre democratic entity. It is not only the lack of social rights which made Italy appear different from many northern European lands. The gigantic dismissal of some basic rules and common values converted its political and social life into a parody of modern liberal democracies. Corruption, the triumph of personal interest, poor media freedom, unethical behaviour, challenges to public morality, and the attempts to create a community based on inequality and with some people above any jurisdiction, became features which have been too easily overlooked for many years. This made the country paradoxically appearing something between an oligarchy and a modern Middle Ages-like society.
We heard Monti supporting the role and importance of traditional families, but what else in terms of rights and ethics? Isn't there any conflict of interests behind some of the businessmen supporting his campaign? Aside of a generic, but very popular, call for (the need of) reforms, his programme also says very little in terms of brain drain, immigration, geographical inequalities, corruption and mafia. This latter is, for example, one of the main critical features of Italy's society and democracy, and even the parties backing Monti have been involved (but not necessarily convicted), particularly at a local level, in administrations under law investigations.
Monti's enterprise might, in sum, build a much serious and pro-European liberal centre-right in Italy, and one with a better attention to public finances and international relations. However, in terms of European political affairs, Monti is part of both the modern tradition of personalisation of party politics and the ongoing European political landscape which, very wrongly, consider any opposition like a sort of anti-EU, or anti-Europe, standpoint. The truth is that some political elites are striking to pave the way for a new European renaissance, and seem to believe that only some supposedly apolitical and post-ideological, and at times technocratically-led, stances can offer realistic solutions in this age of austerity.
Andrea Mammone is a historian of modern and contemporary Europe at Royal Holloway, University of London. He is author of a forthcoming book on transnational neo-fascism (Cambridge University Press) and coedited Italy Today. The Sick Man of Europe (Routledge). He has also been a commentator on the far right, Italian politics, and other European affairs, for the International Herald Tribune, The Independent, Foreign Affairs, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Observer, BBC, and Voice of America, among others.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.