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Italy: Double Standards

'Povera Patria', courtesy of Daniele Muscetta / flickr

'Povera Patria', courtesy of Daniele Muscetta / flickr

A dogmatic society ruled by organized criminals and an antidemocratic populist leader… Sounds like some post-Soviet state? Well actually, I mean Italy.

I don’t understand why the country continues to enjoy such a privileged place in the EU, the G-8, and among the Western elite generally. Italy shows a serious democratic deficit and presents some worrying features of failing governance.

While it would be exaggerated to describe Italy as a failed state altogether, it does look like one at least locally. It is no news that, at least in its southern half, the country’s economy and politics is controlled by the mafia. The recent waste management saga is just one of the symptoms of long-standing government failure.

It is no news either that Italian Prime Minister Silvo Berlusconi isn’t quite a fan of democracy. He carves himself special laws to avoid trial. He picks people for important posts on their sex appeal score rather than for their professional qualifications. And last but not least, he cheerfully controls most of the media. Quite frankly I wonder why Italian citizens waited for sex stories to cry out “Scandal!”. To me that’s just the icing on the cake.

Freedom House ranks Italy 73rd for press freedom. It’s labelled ‘partly free,’ just below Israel and Benin. In the EU, the only other countries ranked ‘partly free’ in 2009 are Romania and Bulgaria. Yet, while these two new member states are put under pressure to reform their institutions, Italy is cozily organizing a G-8 summit.

I call this arrogance.

Italy is certainly not the worst governed state on this planet. But its international prestige level is excessive compared to its internal governance. It’s none of Italy’s business to rule Europe, let alone the world.

Could the world leaders please remind Mr Berlusconi to clean up his backyard before inviting him to their table?

2 Responses to “Italy: Double Standards”

  1. Acknowledging its democratic weaknesses, I can imagine two main reasons for Italy’s (and Berlusconi’s) relatively strong current position.

    Firstly, Italy is among the top five contributing nations to NATO both in terms of troops and financially. As it detracts from one’s domestic popularity to send troops to places as Afghanistan and Iraq, I would say this adds significantly to Italy’s importance in the view of many world leaders. Also, Italy was the first country (and, so I believe, still the only one) to follow Obama’s claim for more European troops in Afghanistan.

    Secondly, Italy also faces a big problem in the form of African asylum seekers who are coming across the sea. An application for asylum can be made once only in “Europe” (Dublin system). As the responsible state is mostly the one through which an asylum seeker entered the EU, this is consequently Italy in a lot of cases. No European head of state is keen on discussing about that problem. They rather try to keep it away from home as long as possible, since along with all the administrative and logistical work comes a lot of criticism from human rights groups. (Spain is also confronted with this, but for the time being it seems less prevalent there. Or has it just had less media presence recently?)

    The motto seems to be to keep one’s mouth shut about Berlusconi as long as Italy keeps sending troops and as the asylum problem remains a mostly Italian one.

    Just as China has become too powerful an economy to be criticised by western high-level officials, it seems that Berlusconi has found Italy’s trump cards which save his place among the “big players”. Trump cards, however, with a burden on the flip side – but he would better not start complaining.

  2. Out of fears of mass immigration from impoverished and war weary Africans, EU citizens are turning a blind eye to the Italians outsourcing immigration control to Gaddafi , a man who had no qualms in murdering hundreds of passengers as well as people on the ground in blowing up a Pan Am plane.

    Given Europe’s recent past of despot tyrant leaders along with the Italian peoples own personal history of poor judgement in choosing their leaders – this must surely be so unacceptable that it is hard to believe it is happening.

    Is Gaddafi really the best Europeans can come up with in terms of immigration control ?