Italy: New gov't gives fresh face to austerity

April 11, 2014
Despite his youthful image, Renzi's policies of continued austerity offer Italy's youth little hope.

Italy’s new centre-left Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has proclaimed his intention to end corruption and economic woe. But there are doubts as to whether his government's actions will benefit the country's working people.

At 39, Renzi, a member of Italy’s Democratic Party, is the youngest PM in Italy's history. His youth and optimistic rhetoric have earned him the title of “Italy’s Obama”.

To many, he represents a welcome change to the corrupt pro-capitalist politics of former PM Silvio Berlusconi ― and a welcome change to the austerity measures Berlusconi championed amid Europe's economic crisis.

Italy’s recent political history is colourful to say the least, with 63 governments in just 68 years. Its system of proportional representation makes it easier for smaller parties to gain a voice.

Despite his stated aim of ending corruption and empowering working people in Italy, Renzi's first major action was to announce more spending cuts and extensive tax cuts in a country with chronic high unemployment and an educational system that cut off opportunity. Such moves continue the thrust of Berlusconi's policies.

Berlusconi had little respect for Italy's most vulnerable people. He said to victims of an earthquake in a poor region of Italy that they should think of their newfound homelessness as “like being on vacation”.

He offered no respect for LGBTI people in the strongly Catholic nation, insisting: “It is better to like beautiful girls than to be gay.”

Renzi may be a refreshing change to the confrontational conservative idiocy of Berlusconi, but there seems little difference between the two in their attitudes to Italy’s poor.

Renzi may parade as being out to save working Italians from the blight of the economic crisis. However, it appears there is nothing on the table except measures to widen the gap between rich and poor, and for more austerity in a country that has already cut funding to many essential services.

The situation has left many people hopeless and disenfranchised. The voter turnout was as low as 52% in some regions of Italy.

The private business with the highest revenue in Italy last year was the Camorra, a Mafia syndicate, which extorts high payments from Italy’s lower classes to remove their rubbish, particularly in southern Italy.

The rubbish was not being collected in poorer cities such as Naples and Palermo because the government cut funding to rubbish collection in the southern regions.

This has led to problems thought to be non-existent in Italy, such as dysentery and a lack of clean drinking water. It created a breeding ground for animal-carried diseases such as rabies, not to mention the destruction of Italy’s environment as the rubbish is dumped in pristine alpine regions.

When Renzi announced greater austerity, he blatantly ignored the results of such measures, which are fuelling crime.

The new government is employing a form of populism by overloading the Italian people with positive messages. Between March 17 and 31, Renzi ensured that he was broadcast on TV for more than five hours a day.

This tactic seems to come with minimal success. Italian student Domenico Orlandini said of the new PM: “Over and over, prime ministers always tell us that there is going to be changes and that they will make Italy more fair … but never have we seen this happen.”

Despite his youthful image, Renzi has little support from Italy's youth, for whom with job prospects are slim.

The country is losing almost 1000 jobs a day. The new government plans to introduce a “Jobs act” aimed at ensuring job security for workers. However, with the country’s notoriously slow legislative process, it will be at least a year until this comes into existence.

Renzi may be able to bring more harmony in Italy than Berlusconi and woo swinging voters, but his means of creating a fairer society are not fundamentally different from his predecessor's ― that is, essentially non-existent.

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