Europe waits for Italy elections

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There was a time when Italian elections were frequent and forgettable. Prime ministers were discarded like last season's clothes.

All of that has changed. What happens in Italy affects the rest of Europe. Campaigning ends on Friday. The result could rattle the eurozone and remind the markets of how little has been settled in the continent's real economies.

The favourite to win is an ex-Communist from the centre left, Pier Luigi Bersani. He is decidedly Mr Normal.

There is nothing extravagant or flamboyant about him. There are no sharp suits. He likes the occasional cigar but he is almost an anti-candidate conducting a low-key conversation with Italy.

When I spoke to him in Naples he sounded a little like Francois Hollande. "I intend to convince Europe," Mr Bersani told me, "that austerity alone is not enough."

He does not believe that the current European policy - the Berlin-Brussels austerity strategy - is correct. He says it needs to be adjusted to push for investment and jobs.

He is committed to reducing the deficit and to continuing with reforms begun under current Prime Minister Mario Monti. He spoke about making the relationship between workers and companies more efficient - code for further freeing up the labour market.

There is no big plan, however, to address Italy's main problem - little or no growth for the past decade.

Grillo wild card

Like other politicians he looks to Europe to find elusive growth. With a slight twinkle in his eye he tells me he believes in the United States of Europe.

The question is whether he will be able to put together a coalition which is credible and long-lasting. And that is unclear.

The wild card in this campaign is Beppe Grillo, a comedian who rages against the political establishment. He has struck a chord with his rants against the corrupt.

His rallies have been so well attended that he has drawn fire from all the other candidates. Mr Berlusconi sees him as a threat to democracy. Mr Bersani warns that he could put Italy at risk in a similar way to Greece.

It is possible that the wild-haired Mr Grillo might get more than 20% of the vote. If that happens he will be a power broker - he is promising a referendum on the euro and believes the current austerity measures are ruining Italy. He has refused to answer whether he would play king-maker and what conditions he might insist on.

A strong vote for Mr Grillo will send a message to Europe that established politicians are at risk at a time of recession and high unemployment.

Monti's struggles

Brussels and Berlin would like to see Mr Bersani form an alliance with Mario Monti as part of a governing coalition.

The prime minister, who took over after Mr Berlusconi's fall in 2011, has proved an awkward candidate. Mr Bersani, speaking in Naples, had a swipe at him saying he never goes onto the streets to meet people, although he did not rule out including him in a future government.

Mr Monti's problem is that he struggles to convince voters he is on the side of ordinary Italians. A partnership with Mr Bersani would be difficult but the markets might prefer such an arrangement to the alternatives.

One theme in this campaign has been Germany. At rally after rally the Germans get a mention. Mr Berlusconi warns against a German Europe. So do some of the socialists.

Mr Monti claimed Angela Merkel did not want a centre-left victory, only for Berlin to insist she had not expressed a preference. Some German politicians have warned against a Berlusconi victory. The interference is widely resented in Italy.

There is a dangerous, unpredictable mood in Italy and the election result remains uncertain.

Mr Bersani told me the people were "disappointed, disillusioned and angry". He said the illusions and fairy tales of the right had been stripped away. Perhaps. There is here the feel of a vacuum, of a country which might need a second election relatively soon.

The fear is of Greek-style paralysis in the euro-zone's third largest economy.

Gavin Hewitt Article written by Gavin Hewitt Gavin Hewitt Europe editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    @ 101 Kenny

    Regional division is not just an Italian issue…. Remember there's to be a regional referendum in the UK. And if you take a close look at the UK's constituent "national" parts, there are still further regional divisions… And even at times, hostility!

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    99 EU

    I see yet another MEP has left UKIP accusing your leader to be "anti-women" and "a Stalinist" and joined the Conservatives.
    How many more can you afford to lose?

    With Farage having declined to stand in Eastleigh (fearing another humiliation?) it doesn't seem to good considering outsiders normally do well when a ruling party is in half-term doldrums.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    101 Kenny

    "Italy is a little like Europe on a small scale. All different with no united sentiment and loads of differences, but in the same boat rowing all against each other and yet patting each other on the back"

    Perhaps you're right and it's just human nature.
    After all we can't even keep Wales, Ireland and Scotland together despite hundreds of years of bloody warfare to force them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    @ 106

    The point is not if the British is an important part of the European culture, which obviously is, but if the Brits, as endowement to better look to the future, value an heritage that blends Shakespeare and Milton with Goethe, Mozart, Cervantes, Voltaire, Michelangelo you name it, over the so called national identity. Whatever they CHOOSE (!!!) they are Europeans, but in a different way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    @ 99. EUprisoner209456731

    "2) I have never met or heard a UKIP memeber or voter claiming that the UKs woes are solely caused by the "EU""

    Quite true; the other cause of the UK's woes, they ignorantly rant on about, is immigration!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    @87 Wrong! UK industry was almost dead in the early 1970s, well before Maggie became PM. Remember BSA, once world's largest motorcycle manufacturer? Or UK shipbuilders- John Brown, Fairfield etc? All sunk or sinking by 1975. UK industry was in steep decline since early 1960s.

    Re your 25, US Declaration of Independence 1776, Garibaldi uniting Italy 1861. Margaret, really! Who taught you history?

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    South Tyrol derives much of its prosperity from central-government subsidies, to the tune of some €6,000 per inhabitant per year.
    Tyroleans were nationally oppressed during Fascism but are not now.

    Mr Grillo is not anti-European. He is anti-politicians in a country where politicians grab much of the nation's resources, both legally (they make the laws) and illegally (they break the laws).

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.


    The prevailing mood in UK isn't one of "ever closer union" with the rest of Europe.

    So be it. No nation should ever be forced to be European. It'd be unEuropean.

    Many Brits think they will get along quite fine without Brussels. They won't. This is sheer arrogance and will be exposed as such when there's a run on the sterling. Not far in the future, this. But UK can do as it pleases.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    62. Dailymailreader

    Europe, as a culture, includes UK. Anybody denying it is blind.

    Europe, as a nation, should include UK, whose contribution to its culture, history and economic might is certainly important.

    I'd rather UK stayed in EU and wage a battle for more democracy at the EU level. More democracy at EU level implies some sovereignty will have to be surrendered to EU. (to be cont'd)

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    "The South Tyrol should increase its efforts to be free of Italy"

    Where have you ever seen these efforts? Except the vocal and outlandish minority of the Schuetzens South Tyrolers pay their tribute to the Heimat by buying property in Innsbruck. For the rest of the year they enjoy their happy and golden existence in Italy, where there's the most perfect bilingual environment on the planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Deconstructionists teach to decypher a text by diverting the attention from the most apparent contents and focus on secondary and elusive elements. So the choice by the most important British media of a picture displaying a suburban and degraded piece of Italy as illustration to the general elections in the country tells more about British perceptions than anything Italian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    The South Tyrol should increase its efforts to be free of Italy

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Dear Sirs
    Berlusconi? Despite public polls, I wouldn't worry about him.
    Bersani? Very likely the winner - alone or with Monti / Vendola, he's "Mr Normal"
    Monti? I've been amazed how many harsh comments I've read on his "promoted" fb posts, even more than on B. ones
    Grillo? Noone was expecting him, yet he has ideas, honesty,credibility, competences and will to pursue them. Noone else has anymore

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    Italy is a little like Europe on a small scale. All different with no united sentiment and loads of differences, but in the same boat rowing all against each other and yet patting each other on the back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    For us this is a crucial vote for changing our future. Unfortunately we also know that the new elected government will not last more that 6 months. We are a nation of too many differences North, Centre and South, Left and Right and Middle, Rich, Middle class and Poor, workers and unemployed, believers and not, and so on... We all know better, we don't respect others and have no national sentiment

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Re: 98.Kennys_Heroes


    1) The "EU" is not Europe

    2) I have never met or heard a UKIP memeber or voter claiming that the UKs woes are solely caused by the "EU"

    3) The "EU" is amazing rubbish and we should leave NOW!

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    So. nothing about the UK's downgrading to Aa1 from Moody's.

    Nothing, that is, until Mr Hewitt can somehow blame the UK's financial woes, once again, on Europe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    Before China, imports from Asia were just a nuissance.But with China taking away all of Europe's unskilled labor intensive manufacturing and beating Europe's cost structure Europe has no niche left in the world market.Opening up China was the Kissinger/Nixon plan because it was a dangerously isolated nuclear power.Europe has not adjusted, refuses to deal with reality on its own terms.It's dying.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.


    -- perhaps I should clarify --in a nut shell.

    --I don´t see any end in sight to this whole crises-- the blame I put at the door of Communism --its failure.

    -- We see the success of Capitalism and the continuing Feudalism

    --both causing ruin.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    #92 kane

    -- The responsibility of the UK government to ´work´for its average citizen is non-existent --unlike many north European countries.

    This will only mean more hardship for the average UK citizen.

    The ´bedroom tax ´ is the first step --next is the ´bedroom-eye tax´

    --and we all know what that implies.


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