An italian comedy

Despite the differences between our two Matthews, Renzi and Salvini, they have one thing in common: the tendency to use Europe as a scapegoat. And yet, isn't Brussels precisely the place where we should start to relaunch our country?

League leader Matteo Salvini speaks to the media after consultations with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, Italy, August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ciro de Luca
League leader Matteo Salvini speaks to the media after consultations with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Rome, Italy, August 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ciro de Luca

I could have entitled this column "The end of Matteo 2", with reference to the leader of the League Party, as a continuation of the saga of the previous Matteo, Renzi, who governed Italy for three years. A few commentators have in fact underlined the similarities between the two Matthews and their rhetorical and aggressive styles, qualities which – as the facts seem to bear out – enable fast rises and also produce equally rapid demises. In actual fact there are differences between the two: Renzi had clearheadedly identified the country's main problems and tried to promote policies that could improve the country's competitiveness. Labour flexibility, the need for educational reform and the transfer of tax pressure from productive to non-productive assets. He then ruined everything by displaying a typical trait of the successful social climber: he kept raising the ante, to the point where it all blew up in his face (the constitutional referendum). He also showed authoritarian tendencies towards all and sundry, which revealed his cultural and personality limitations.

Matteo Salvini, on the other hand, has represented a further degeneration of the first incarnation. He too identified a few critical aspects of our society: the need for a simpler tax system and a more effective management of migrant flows have been his embraceable hobby-horses. Unfortunately his recipes to resolve these issues have never truly been explained. The “narrative” with which Matteo 2 has actually decked out his 18 months in power has actually seemed perilous: a leader is after all an example for many and if his exhortations tend to create tensions and enemies everywhere, the general climate turns sour and we all lose our constructive energy, which requires harmony and openness to develop, something Salvini hasn't helped to create. Matteo 2 has in fact engendered fear in many owing to what has resembled an unbalanced and wavering lack of scruples, which at times has verged on a lack of restraint that is a feature of authoritarian regimes rather than democracies featuring checks and balances.

The two Matthews have one other thing in common: their tendency to use Europe as a scapegoat for all our ills, revealing a lack of historical perspective and a short-sighted view of the future. If we want to have the least chance of success in facing any of the major problems we must tackle, starting with immigration and financial crises, it's in Brussels that we must become constructive leaders. So long as our leaders don't set foot in Palazzo Chigi with a clear stance and competence on this matter, we will always have a hard time providing our businessmen, workers, professionals and students with a solid and dignified base.

The exchange of accusations we have witnessed in Parliament, at the end of this League/5 Star Movement government, is an indication of how we are masters at transforming life into comedy: Prime Minister Conte, suddenly transformed into a political heavyweight; the Minister of the Interior, the baddy who finally meets his comeuppance after having wreaked havoc, Di Maio and Grillo, in the wings pulling the strings. The challenge now is managing to channel the institutional competence acquired by the 5 Star men towards less unrealistic goals, to avoid losing other opportunities such as the Olympics, 'to avoid pilfering'.

We want a country that doesn't steal (so the change of leadership provided by Grillo's men is welcome), but we also need a country that acts and manufactures in a sustainable fashion and respecting the environment, but without childish visions of happy negative growth that only exist in science fiction movies.


This article is the front page of the new September/October issue of eastwest.

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