Going the full Monti – notes from Rome and Athens

“He is a man of his word. I trust him. If he says he will go then he will go”. Maria tells me, stirring a third sugar into her coffee. She is not happy about the manner of his departure but “Enough is Enough”  –  Basta she says  – a uniquely Italian way of saying “That Does it”

Even through Bunga Bunga and all his other self inflicted losses of dignity Maria and so many of her older generation of voters stood behind Il Cavaliere. But now that he says himself he feels liberated by his decision to not seek re-election …. now it is time to accept that the pressure is too much to bear.

Italians seem a little bit behind the curve of events though. There is little awareness of the reluctance of investors to lend to the country just so it can service the interest payments on its two trillion euro debt.  Though I did hear some sarcastic talk that they should have known something very serious was afoot when Berlusconi recently postponed the release of his fourth album of love songs.

While conversation in Europe moves on to the possible shape of a two tier Europe and who would be in or out debate in Italy is still rooted in the politics of personality. Giving your support to the technocrats technocrat, Mario Monti, will be enough to reassure the markets we are serious about wanting to be perceived as being serious is the gist of what a man reading the business section of La Stampa tells me.

If this was the week that Italy realised that Berlusconi might be bad for business in Athens they had little but contempt for their politicians. On Tuesday and Wednesday as the wrangling and jostling for position of interim Prime Minister continued I sampled opinion among those hit hardest by austerity.

“This is not the Europe we dreamt of” Train Company employee Akis Margaritis told me. “This is a European Junta. A fourth Reich” He was expressing a common view that it didn’t matter much who was in the new government because everything was now being dictated from Brussels. How often have you heard that view in the last thirty years – except now for Greeks it is the undisputable case.

I heard little other than jaded cynicism being expressed towards the Greek political classes. There was a general feeling that whatever a politician said in opposition once in power they would impose further austerity. For that matter I also heard little or no responsibility being accepted. “I might have to give up going to the cinema and theatre” one public servant moaned about the impact of cuts. Greece’s bloated public service with its overpaid staff is as big if not bigger an obstacle to recovery as tax evasion.

The two main parties in Greece – the socialists and the conservatives – were very deeply embedded in Greek society. At the next election they are facing a rout of similar proportions to that suffered by Fianna Fail. Voters are shifting their allegiance to the further ends of the political spectrum. In Athens city centre I was surprised to see far right party Golden Dawn brazenly flying a Nazi styled banner over its headquarters proclaiming “Greece for the Greeks”. They are nothing more than a fringe grouping now but as things stand Greece will be in Austerity mode possibly as far into the future as 2027.

Just like Greece eventually settled on Lucas Papademous as its newly unelected leader Italian voters are being asked to shift their allegiance to a new prime minister with no mandate either. One man at a bus stop pointed out that the Italian Parliament was voting that day on budget cuts that had been decided by unelected EU officials and they would be implemented by an unelected government of former EU officials. Isn’t that what happens when the people you elect don’t run your affairs properly? He turned away from me.

We’ll all be lucky if it’s just national pride that is a bit wounded by the time this ends.



1 Comment

Filed under Economics, Euro, Foreign, Politics

One response to “Going the full Monti – notes from Rome and Athens

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