Giuseppe Conte is taking up the appeal of the president—at least in words. He is proposing a dialogue “with all the social actors” to finalize the project of economic revival—basically in order to decide together how to spend the European aid funds.
Will this include the opposition? “Of course, it’s not a slush fund at the disposal of the government that happens to be in office.” The press conference of the Prime Minister on the day of the economic restart dealt mainly with the coming crisis and how to deal with it. The reopening of the regional borders, the de facto end of the lockdown, was referred to only in the first paragraph—“reassuring data, but we must remain cautious”—after which Conte moved on to the main worry of nowadays: the heavy blow that is about to strike the country in terms of impoverishment, bankrupt businesses, unemployment.
Conte limited himself to generalities, inviting everyone to proceed with the reforms already in Parliament and promising a great deal for everyone, without ever getting into the substance. The signal that he intended to send out is, after all, a political one, just as Berlusconi’s letter to the Corriere della Sera, in which, in a clear break from his allies who are on a war footing, the Forza Italia leader put the ideas and support of the blue party on the table. Without fantasizing about improbable governments of national unity, but proposing a common “dialogue” for all the social and political parties—very similar, if not exactly identical, to the one that Conte is about to convene, probably as soon as next Monday, at Villa Pamphili.
There are many cracks running through Italy’s system, which need to be filled by “seizing the opportunity” offered by the crisis. Conte mentioned the justice system—not for the first time—but also the reform of the public administration. He promised a deep reform of the notion of abuse of office, and suggested measures against those officials who, in order to avoid the risk of being accused of anything, simply avoid doing anything at all. In the future, they may be accused of “damages against the state.”
It is certainly true that the initial controls will have to be more careful than ever. But then, the bureaucracy will have to get running again—at least as the Palazzo Chigi sees it. The prime minister had had something more to say about concrete ideas in the morning. Then, he had reiterated that the ecological transition must be central to every project, and must be “epochal in scope.” In the press conference, he hinted at high-speed rail, and, when asked specifically about the Strait of Messina Bridge on which Renzi is insisting, he avoided committing to anything but did not rule it out from the start either.
It is to be hoped that the European funds will be very substantial, but the fight to get them—as the Prime Minister forewarned—will be a tough one. There is no doubt that the money will not arrive any time soon: “With President von der Leyen, we are looking for a way to get advances.” However, getting her ear isn’t easy at all. Italy will ask for support from the SURE fund—even a little more than the 20 billion provided for—but if we read between the lines, the Prime Minister has made it clear that a third deficit decree will probably be necessary. And what about the ESM? Here, Conte, ever the diplomat, danced around the question and entrenched himself behind his usual message: “We must see the conditions: let’s remember that it is a loan.”
The key topics, because of their strategic importance also on a political level, were the Atlantia affair and the relations with Carlo Bonomi and the Confindustria. On the first, Conte was clear: “The revocation [of the highway concession to Atlantia] is more than justified. To go back, we need a very advantageous proposal. Those being put forward at the moment are not.” It’s a question of price. Regarding Bonomi, after saying his comparison between government policies and COVID itself had been “an unhappy formulation which should be returned to the sender,” the Prime Minister was just as clear: “Tax reform will be there, but companies can’t just ask for less taxes.” Not that anyone is doubting the primacy of profit—“we are not collectivists”—but there is also a social responsibility that companies have, as Adriano Olivetti knew well, whom Conte quoted very appropriately for the occasion. It is a matter of negotiation in this case as well.
Giorgia Meloni was the first to attack Conte’s announcements: “How does he have the gall to make new promises?” while Salvini declared himself ready to challenge the government “on the Lega’s proposals regarding bureaucracy and taxation.” In reality, even in the soft wing of the opposition, i.e. in Forza Italia, there is more or less honest perplexity at the Prime Minister’s program, consisting so far only of generalities and based essentially on promises. “It’s the usual Captain Future stuff,” said Bernini, the leader of the FI Senators, and what is coming from the Forza Italia headquarters is maximum distrust of Conte’s real intentions. This time, however—partly because of the pressure by the President, partly because of the need to face a very difficult situation with some support from the outside—the Prime Minister’s overture might not be merely a ploy.
It is no coincidence that the party from the governing coalition through which an underground but strong feeling of nervousness spread immediately was the one most hostile to any form of dialogue with the opposition: the M5S.