Commentary. On the war in Ukraine, healthcare funding and differentiated autonomy, the Dem leadership has not clarified its position. ‘To vote for the PD means to give its leadership a blank check. Why would someone who supports either of these positions do that?’

Three ambiguities and divisions in the Italian Democratic Party

Micaela Bongi’s op-ed on Sunday hits the sore spot of internal fragmentation within the PD – which has gone to such lengths that il manifesto’s newly appointed vice-editor-in-chief wrote, with bewilderment, that instead of opposing the most right-wing government in the history of the Republic, friends and comrades of the PD would rather spend their time “coming to blows with each other.” It’s an assessment I fully agree with, to which I would like to try to add a few thoughts on the lack of clarity in the political line of the Schlein-led PD, whose final consequence, in my view, is the infighting that continues to tear the PD apart. Let us examine three key issues in the current political conjuncture.

The first issue: the diversion of NRRP funds to arms and ammunition production (i.e., putting war before any other political priority). What is the position of the PD? Against this proposal, as expressed in the Italian Parliament, or in favor of it, as in the European Parliament? I’ll be blunt: as a potential voter, I don’t care in the slightest about the logic of tactical positioning within the family of European socialists. What I am interested in is the position of a party that is going to stand in the next European elections, on an issue – the war in Ukraine – on which the fate of Europe depends. Well, this position is currently unfathomable: the PD has supported both one thing and its exact opposite. So, to vote for the PD means to give its leadership a blank check. Why would someone who supports either of these positions do that?

The second issue: the funding of the National Health Service. On this, the PD has recently taken a clear stand: “allocate at least 7.5 percent of GDP to the National Health Fund,” as opposed to the 6.2 percent currently projected in the Economic and Finance Document. At long last, one might say. But, even here, it’s hard to avoid asking a question: who decided on the reduction of health funding to 6.2 percent of GDP, against which the PD is right to speak out today? Was it the current Meloni government, with Minister Schillaci? Unfortunately, no. It was the former Draghi government, supported by the PD, that did it, with Minister Speranza, who was recently welcomed back into the party by Elly Schlein. What to believe, then? The words they’re saying from the opposition benches or the actions they’re taking when in government? One cannot entertain ambiguities on this point. If the PD wants to be credible in the promises it’s making now as part of the opposition, it must openly distance itself from the choices made when it had government responsibilities (a similar argument applies to taxation, with the PD being co-author of the attack on progressive taxation made by the Draghi government, cutting taxes for the rich).

The third issue is the one at the heart of the latest internal brawl: differentiated autonomy. The demonstration in Naples in recent days comes as a great step forward. But, once again – is it a credible stance? For it to be so, the PD cannot continue to evade the question of the origin of the issue of differentiated autonomy. Is Calderoli the heart of the problem? We all know that’s not true. Calderoli is only the latest arrival on the scene. A combination of elements came before him, starting from the 2001 reform of Title V carried out by the Ulivo alliance, the PD’s forebear (as the 1948 Constitution did not provide for differentiated autonomy), continuing with the legitimizing of the provocations of Veneto and Lombardy thanks to the PD-run Emilia Romagna joining in the demand for differentiation (which happened with Elly Schlein herself among the leadership, as vice-president), and culminating with the preliminary agreements signed by the Gentiloni government (something like a single-party PD government) on behalf of the state in February 2018.

Does the PD secretary want to convince us of the seriousness of her stance today? If so, she has an opportunity to do so without leaving any ambiguity: she can take a public stand, on behalf of the party, calling on Emilia Romagna to break the axis that currently ties it to the Lega-run Veneto and Lombardy and to renounce its demands for differentiation. Siding against regional differentiated autonomy at the same time as fueling it with demands from the regions the PD is governing (Campania, Puglia and Tuscany have also asked for negotiations to begin) is yet another ambiguity that discredits the PD and, inevitably, fuels the infighting that is tearing it apart from within.

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