For the second-year evaluation of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, we must distinguish between the government’s communications and its actions.
In building the image of the statesman, Renzi makes imitations of his opponents and swipes against “enlightened aristocrats.” He wrongly cites Borges and replaces that merciful precept, “Clothe the naked,” with an order to cover the naked sculptures of the Capitoline Museums.
But Renzi is not just a variant of Italian comedy. He is the story of a bourgeois Tuscan conquering Rome thanks to the backing of the most influential powers of media and finance. The Renzi coalition is situated in an era geographically protected to easily climb and privatize the party.
Once in office, Renzi placed friends there with unscrupulous nominations and thanked supporters with a shower of measures that allowed companies to discontinue operations and sell them to foreign firms. With structural reforms, he has gratified the palate of a bourgeoisie that historically avoided conflict.
He gave €13 billion to businesses along with a package of protections for corporate executives, including the “freedom to fire.” In addition to absolute sovereignty over the fate of the workforce, he also cashed in €8,000 per year for each new contract hire, turning people even further into commodities.
Meanwhile, an €80 bonus to lower income earners is a gift the companies don’t mind because not a single euro comes out of their own pockets — it just involves a few more cuts to public services.
The south is sinking backward into stagnation as the government eradicates any trace of territorial cohesion in its policies. And indeed, precisely the funds allocated to the south have been diverted to fund de-contributions to companies in the north.
After receiving breaks they could never have dared hope for, companies are now beginning to show signs of impatience. The vulnerability of the banking system, the uncontrolled mountain of public debt (which grew €33.8 billion in 2015), the mounting central administration expenses, the smoke signals of aggressive speculation and irate workers ready to strike are throwing panic into Italian employers. The inexperienced government does not know how to remedy the situation before something dramatic happens.
Renzi sniffs danger that someone from the upper floors will no longer consider him indispensable. Haunted by the fear that the pendulum of forced removals can be reactivated, removing a comedian to call a technician, he’s beginning to vent his populism from the palace. Now his strategy is to rail against “parlor room moralists” and knock the wealthy elite who want to “appear at aperitif or Sunday brunch with high society friends.”
Before, the powers that be were exalted as a useful tool, but are now being cast as an impediment to government action. This challenge to European austerity rules is not the product of some greater policy; it supports only Renzi’s own electoral calculations. The flexibility Renzi claims only applies to his political demagoguery, to divert more resources to the rich and to cut other funds to public health (banning general practitioners from prescribing medicines, treatments and expensive diagnostic tests).
The actual numbers debunk any success the government might claim.
Italy recovered just 3 percent of its industrial production, which plummeted after the Great Recession. Germany has recovered 27.8 percent by comparison, and even Spain has risen by 7.5 points. Renzi claims to have improved youth employment by 0.9 percent. But in Germany the increase was 2.7 percent, 4.2 in Britain and 1.9 in Spain.
We must recognize a consistency in Renzi’s decisions. The government that imposed the “Jobs Act” is the same one that decided to launch, with parliamentary tricks to silence the opposition, a devastating constitutional and electoral reform law.
The executive’s sense of action is to attack labor and to attack its weak representation in parliament.
The results of this perverse plot are certainly not positive. But are there only negative signs? In fact, the Renzi government has achieved one record. After 10 years of continuous decline, in 2015 the rate of job-related deaths increased again, by 16.5 percent.