Maastricht–shorthand now for the speeding up of the European Community’s financial integration–is both an eye-opener and a mystification. The prospect of financial and political unity, which may or may not take place by the end of the millennium, is compelling member states to reach certain common standards. But this convergence is also being used by the establishment in most of the countries, like the diktats of the I.M.F. in the Third World, to introduce deflationary policies. Italy presents a good example of the tensions thus created. Its press is full of cliches about open borders and the financial measures the country must take to remain in the top league of European players. Full of editorials, too, about the need for a strong government capable of imposing such policies.
When I reported from Rome a year ago the political climate was already reminiscent of France in 1958, when General de Gaulle changed the number and the nature of the republic [see “Fiddling While Rome Smolders,” July 29/August 5 , 1991]. Now two of last year’s major preachers of strong rule are no longer a threat: President Francesco Cossiga duly retired, and Bettino Craxi, the Socialist leader, is up to his neck in a scandal emanating from Milan and ensnaring some of Italy’s biggest firms and leading politicians. The feeling of crisis is stronger than ever, heralded by a series of dramatic events.
In April’s parliamentary poll the ruling four-party coalition clung to office by the skin of its teeth. The election foreshadowed the end of the reign of the Christian Democrats (D.C.), now nearly half a century old. That decline was coupled with, indeed rendered possible by, the even bigger collapse of Communist influence. The Democratic Party of the Left (P.D.S.) got less than half the vote its Communist ancestor (the P.C.I.) used to have. Were it not for the disappearance of the “Red peril,” the angry middle classes would not have deserted the D.C. in such great numbers for Umberto Bossi’s Lombard League. For their part, the leghe are bound to prosper on the putrefaction spreading from Milan, the symptom of the twilight of a reign.
And so I went to Rome, which, for all the strains affecting the unity of the republic, is still very much the political capital; to stately Bologna, the fief of the P.D.S.; and to Milan,now nicknamed tangentopoli, the city of kickbacks. I talked to politicians and labor leaders, economists and sociologists, professors and fellow journalists. They all confirmed that the regime is at the end of its tether. None, however, could clearly define what solutions the capitalist establishment can invent to forge the strong executive needed to perpetuate its rule. (Although the country has been badly shaken by the Mafia’s deadly explosions and though its open defiance of the state is very much part of the present crisis, as shown by the shipment of troops to Sicily, the growing connection between organized crime and politics is a subject on its own.)
White the newspapers were full of stories about the new government, most commentators were already thinking about a new regime. The old has done its time. Italy is probably the only country, along with Japan, in which the same party has been in office since the war. The same system and almost the same men. The novelty in the new team was the conspicuous absence of Giulio Andreotti, the outgoing prime minister, who had started his ministerial career in 1947 and had a post, in most of the fifty-two governments since the war.
The fifty-third, in its backing, is no different from its predecessors. It must rely on the now barely sufficient support of the Christian Democrats and the Socialists (P.S.I.) as well as their tiny allies, the Social Democrats and the Liberals. In many ways it is a second team. Giuliano Amato, Craxi’s lieutenant, got the job of prime minister because his master was not presentable. The D.C., too, withheld its key figures. For a government of transition, designed to tighten the belt and prepare the ground for the sale of public assets, this may not be a drawback: The blame will be put on less influential politicians. Besides, with the people hungry for a new deal and parliamentarians frightened of a new poll, the government may last longer than assumed. But to carry out major reforms it will have to broaden its base.