Monday, November 26, 2012

Guest Post: Brent Whelan on Italian Elections

Although this blog is devoted to French politics, the wider European context is always of interest and particularly so in this time of trans-European crisis. Although I try to follow political developments in other countries besides France, an illness for which I am currently undergoing treatment has diminished the time available for keeping abreast of the news. So I am pleased today to present this guest contribution from Brent Whelan, a Boston-based observer of the European political scene and frequent commenter on this blog. As will be clear, Brent's political views differ from mine, but his particular perspective is helpful in illuminating the current state of play in Italian politics.
European political observers accustomed to regarding the Italian electoral system as a comic sideshow might want to take a closer look after yesterday's Democratic Party primaries. What is gradually taking shape in advance of the March/April national legislative election is a classic face-off between two highly credible spokespersons: on the center-right, the darling of the European financial class and its conservative 'reform' program, Mario Monti, on whose behalf strenuous efforts are underway to keep him as premier without the messy business of standing for election; while on the center-left, Pier Luigi Bersani, a reconstructed Communist, centrist minister in Prodi's reform cabinet, and chair of the PD, seems headed toward nomination in next Sunday's runoff. But first Bersani must finish off the frankly Blair-ite mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi (who prefers to call himself an 'Obamist'), a generation younger, post-ideological, and indisputably charismatic. (Renzi spent the morning of yesterday's first-round election running a half-marathon before greeting voters at the polls.)

Much of the interest in that run-off concerns Nichi Vendola, the not-so-reconstructed Communist, fervently Catholic, openly gay and radically environmentalist governor of Puglia, whose small Left Ecology Freedom (SEL) party is officially affiliated with the PD and whose 15% in the first round will provide the margin of victory for Bersani or Renzi. And Vendola is already exerting that leverage, promising to 'listen carefully' ("ascolteremo con puntigliosa attenzione le parole di Bersani e di Rienzi e orienteremo il nostro sostegno di conseguenza") before throwing his support to either candidate. Will Vendola succeed in pushing Bersani far enough to the left that Italy has a real Left/Right showdown in the spring (the one that Hollande seems determined to avoid in France as he turns his back on the Front de Gauche and promotes austerity policies)? As both Bersani and Vendola are deeply committed to the European project, will they team up to define the 'Other Europe' that Mélenchon and the FdG allude to but seldom describe? With Bersani already leading in national polls, will Italy be the site of a resurgent Left, or its last hurrah? Some though not all of these questions will be defined as Vendola makes his move on Bersani in the next few days.


chris said...

But Vendola's never going to endorse Renzi, is he? The issue is the effort he puts behind Bersani, no?

Countdown to November said...

There certainly is the question of whether a left-right divide will emerge, but what exactly will occur on the right side of the equation should such a divide come to the foray? Will the PdL dominate that right wing or will it simply be led Mario Monti and a non-ideological technocratic government? Furthermore, is it even possible that the PD could lack the seats necessary to form any government of its own, even with the help of the SEL? If so, what then will happen, especially if the PdL can't patch together a multiparty coalition? Will Monti rise to power once again and lead a national unity government? I suppose only time will tell.

Anyhow, I've written a nice little piece on my blog about Spain and Catalonia that you might find interesting.