Sunday, 30 May 2010

When Censorship Is Called Privacy


(Graffiti Land, Anti-Censorship Stencil)

[Edoardo Montenegro, Turin] - Freedom of speech is under threat in Italy.

A bill aimed at preventing the press from publishing telephone wiretaps is under debate at the Italian Parliament. Publishers breaking the prohibition might be fined up to € 300,000, while journalists would undergo disciplinary actions and magistrates could be replaced if accused of leaking stories to the press (1).

The decision to introduce the bill by the People of Freedom has raised a determined action by journalists, writers and publishers: more than 180,000 citizens as well as several constitutional lawyers so far have signed a petition against it (2).

A clear attempt to defend the Government from any journalistic inquiry, the law represents a violation of the Italian Constitution: "The press may not be controlled by authorization or submitted to censorship" (3). The privacy of citizens under investigation has actually to be protected, but by no means an ordinary law can violate freedom of speech.

This draft of law notably follows the blast of repeated scandals concerning the Prime Minister and his entourage. Last spring "Repubblica" began an embarassing enquiry concerning the alleged relationship between Silvio Berlusconi and some call girls (4), while a large enquiry over public contracts recently involved the head of the Italian Civil Protection Guido Bertolaso (5) and led to the resignation of the Minister of Economic Development Claudio Scajola.

The bill is actually being softened owing to the partial opposition of the few allies of Gianfranco Fini within the Parliament (6) and probably it will then be rejected by the Constitutional Court. Once the law approved, however, Silvio Berlusconi may take advantage of a substancial forced truce for the rest of the legislature.

Unless you want him to be appointed President of the Italian Republic in 2013, it is time for you to sign this petition on line.

__________


(1) Dino Martirano, "Intercettazioni, ok di Fini. Alfano: 'Trovata la sintesi'", corriere.it, May 28th 2010.

(2) "La legge sulle intercettazioni", repubblica.it

(3)  "Everyone has the right to freely express thoughts in speech, writing, and by other communication. / The press may not be controlled by authorization or submitted to censorship. / Seizure is permitted only by judicial order stating the reason and only for offences expressly determined by the press law or for violation of the obligation to identify the persons responsible for such offences. / In cases of absolute urgency where immediate judicial intervention is impossible, periodicals may be seized by the judicial police, who must immediately and in no case later than 24 hours report the matter to the judiciary. If the measure is not validated by the judiciary within another 24 hours, it is considered revoked and has no effect. / The law may, by general provision, order the disclosure of financial sources of periodical publications. /  Publications, performances, and other exhibits offensive to public morality are prohibited.  Measures of prevention and repression against violations are provided by law.", Constitution of the Italian Republic, 1948 (art. 21).

(4) "Ten new questions to Silvio Berlusconi", repubblica.it.

(5) Dinmore, Guy, "Berlusconi aide in corruption probe", guydinmore.wordpress.com, February 10th 2010.

(6) "Ddl intercettazioni, le modifiche del PDL. 'Atti giudiziari pubblicabili per riassunto'", repubblica.it, May 28th 2010
 

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Art of Muzzling the Parliament


(Krembo1, dog face)



[Edoardo Montenegro, Turin] - The Italian Parliament has lost any power.

The President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano reported that: "the role of the Parliament has been heavily compressed" (1). The President of the Chamber of Deputies Gianfranco Fini warned that the Parliament is actually not working. As a matter of fact, from January 1st the Chamber of Deputies has worked only 305 hours, while the Senate has worked for just 179 hours (2). How can all this happen in a parlamentary republic?

According to the Constitution: "Legislative power may not be delegated to the Government unless Parliament specifies principles and criteria of guidance, and only for limited time and well-specified subjects" (3). Besides, even if: "As an exception by necessity and urgency, Government may issue provisional measures with the force of law and submits them on the same day to the Chambers for confirmation. [...] Legal decrees lose effect at the date of issue if they are not confirmed within sixty days of their publication" (4).

Enhancing a previously established trend and reversing the Constitution, the Parliament - whose trust the Prime Minister depends on (5) - is meeting mainly to approve the decrees of the Government, while it almost absteins itself from taking any legislative initiative on its own.

This is not surprising, Silvio Berlusconi having repeatedly explained the Italian Parliament to be "plethoric" and "counter-productive" (6). Recent reports say that while considering how to face the current political scandals, he described his strategy in case of elections as follows: "I will make a clean-up. I will ricandidate only a dozen of current deputies and senators" (6).

Emperor Caligula tried to turn his horse into a consul. We must admit that Silvio Berlusconi went further and made the Parliament his running dog. The judgement, as always, is left to history.

__________

(1) "si realizza una pesante compressione del ruolo del Parlamento" ("Decreti legge, Napolitano alle Camere: compresso il ruolo del Parlamento", lastampa.it, May 22nd 2010).

(2) Carmelo Lopapa, "La settimana corta del Parlamento. 16 ore alla Camera, 9 al Senato", repubblica.it, May 18th 2010.

(3) "L'esercizio della funzione legislativa non può essere delegato al Governo se non con determinazione di principi e criteri direttivi e soltanto per tempo limitato e per oggetti definiti" (Constitution of the Italian Republic, art. 76).

(4) "Quando, in casi straordinari di necessità e d'urgenza, il Governo adotta, sotto la sua responsabilità, provvedimenti provvisori con forza di legge, deve il giorno stesso presentarli per la conversione alle Camere [...]. I decreti perdono d'efficacia sin dall'inizio, se non sono convertiti in legge entro sessanta giorni dalla loro pubblicazione." (Constitution of the Italian Republic, art. 77).

(5) "Government has to enjoy the confidence of both chambers." ("Il Governo deve avere la fiducia delle due Camere", Constitution of the Italian Republic, art. 94).

(6) "They will say that I offend the Parliament, but this this the hard fact: plethoric assemblies are useless and even counter-productive" ("Ora diranno che offendo il Parlamento, ma questa è la pura realtà: le assemblee pletoriche sono inutili e addirittura controproducenti", "Berlusconi attacca i giudici e il Parlamento. ANM: metodi distruttivi", rainews24.rai.it, May 21st 2010).

(7) "Le prossime liste le farò io personalmente - ha avvertito -. farò piazza pulita. Ricandiderò solo una dozzina dei deputati e senatori uscenti." (Claudio Tito, "Il Cavaliere e l'incubo Letta. 'Qualcuno vuole coinvolgere Gianni'", repubblica.it, May 15th 2010).

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Europe: It Is Now or Never


(Wolfgang Staudt, Skyline)



[Edoardo Montenegro, Turin] - "Euro is the point of no return for Europe, - Carlo Azeglio Ciampi agreed with Helmut Khol in 1993. - Not only we will not go ahead without the Euro, but we will also risk to go behind to the nationalisms and ghosts of the Thirties" (1).

Last Sunday the EU was able to set up a €720 million plan to save the Euro (2). The financial markets were impressed by the huge amount of money released and by the decision of the European Central Bank to invest in government bonds (3). But the Euro did not take advantage of the plan and fell to $1.24 on Friday, when financial markets lost €170 billion (4).

Speculators are aware that politicians will need courage to cut public deficits and that the ECB is actually printing money it will be difficult to reabsorb: they bet that governments will use inflation to come out of the crisis and that the eurozone will break, the PIGS thus devaluating their currency (5).

Time is running fast for Europe. As recalled by Mario Monti, a monetary union can work only if the job and capital market are really integrated (6). To begin with, as Wolfgang Munchau explained, a single European sovereign bond and a minimal fiscal union should soon be created (7).

Italy took part to the negotiations standing on the right side of the table. Nevertheless, it is clear that holding the largest public debt of the UE, Italy will be the most relevant indirect beneficiary of the plan.

Granted the support of France and the short-sighted isolation of Britain, the destiny of Europe lays in the hands of Germany, which for the first time in history has the opportunity to lead Europe peacefully. Will it take the chance to do it?

__________

(1) "L'euro è il punto di non ritorno della costruzione europea, senza l'euro non solo non andremo avanti ma c'è il rischio concreto di tornare indietro, ai nazionalismi e agli spettri degli anni Trenta". Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, "Completiamo (e presto) la costruzione dell'Europa", Il Messaggero, May 11th 2010. At that time, Mr Helmut Khol was the German Prime Minister and Mr Carlo Azeglio Ciampi - President of the Italian Republic from 2001 to 2008 - was the Italian Prime Minister.

(2) In addition to Greece, under the attack of financial speculation for several weeks, Portugal and Spain seemed in great difficulty. This unprecedented speculative attack brought the EU, the ECB and the IMF to take action immediately before the reopening of the financial markets on Monday. ("Piano salva euro fino a 720 miliardi. GB: no al fondo contro le crisi", repubblica.it, May 9th 2010).

(3) Ralph Atkins, "ECB divided over policy U-turn", ft.com, May 11th 2010.

(4) Luca Pagani, "Borse, scende anche Wall Street. Europa giù forte, Milano a precipizio", repubblica.it, May 14th 2010.

(5) Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

(6) "Une zone monétaire ne peut avoir une monnaie solide et une économie performante sans être dotée d'un marché unique digne de ce nom, avec, notamment, une mobilité élevée du travail et des autres facteurs de production. Nous en sommes loin."  Arnaud Leparmentier, "Il faut un marché unique avec plus de concurrence", interview with Mario Monti, lemonde.fr, May 11th 2010. President of Bocconi University in Milan, Mario Monti was European Commissioner for the Internal Market from 1995 to 1999 and European Commissioner for Competition from 2000 to 2004.

(7) Wolfgang Munchau, "The eurozone must take responsibility or it will split", ft.com, May 10th 2010. In his article, Mr Munchau recalls the Blue Bond Proposal by Jacques Delpla and Jakob von Weizsacker (bruegel.org) and suggests that a 5% central fiscal policy might be sufficient to work as a European automatic stabilizer against unemployment.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

An Undeniable Sense of Loneliness


(ro buk[I'm not there], luoghi invisibili)



[Edoardo Montenegro, Turin] - The Italian Government is more unstable after the Minister of Economic Development Claudio Scajola handed in his resignation this week.

The minister was accused by the Italian press (1) of having allegedly used 900,000 euros provived by Diego Anemone, a businessman now under arrest for the corruption scandal concerning the Italian Civil Defense (2), to complete the purchase of a house in front of the Colosseum in Rome in 2004, which he officially paid 600,000 euros (3).

Mr Scajola, who actually is not under investigation, denied any allegation and promised to defend himself, explaining that "A minister cannot suspect to live in a house partly paid by others" (4).

Yet his resignation represents a strong blow for the Italian Government. Not only did Claudio Scajola hold control of several key issues, such as the nuclear energy programme, but he was also a central figure within the People of Freedom.

Christian Democrat Mayor of Imperia from 1982 to 1983 and from 1990 to 1995, Claudio Scajola joined Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia in 1995, rapidly being appointed in charge of the organization of the party. Minister of Internal Affairs from 2001 to 2002, he coordinated the police during the G8 meeting in Genoa (5), and was then forced to resign owing to some inappropriate statements regarding Marco Biagi, a consultant for the Ministry of Labour assassinated by the Red Brigades (6).

His entourage being suddenly deprived of such an important figure, Silvio Berlusconi is probably beginning to consider the end of his era. Not only did his rival Gianfranco Fini refused to defend Claudio Scajola, but also Umberto Bossi - the leader of the Northern League - declared that "It is everyone's duty to defend lawfulness" (7).

While the issue of economic policy arises, the Italian Prime Minister looks more and more alone.

__________

(1) Guy Dinmore, "Italian minister quits over corruption scandal" (guydinmore.wordpress.com).

(2) Nick Squires, "Police 'mega-galactic sex parties' inquiry" (telegraph.co.uk).

(3) Carlo Bonini and Francesco Viviano, "Perugia, gli 80 assegni che accusano Scajola" (repubblica.it).

(4) "Un ministro non può sospettare di abitare in una casa pagata in parte da altri" ("Scajola si dimette: 'Devo difendermi'. Berlusconi: 'Ha senso dello Stato', corriere.it).

(5) Giuliano Gallo, "Scajola: al G8 l'ordine era di sparare sui terroristi" (corriere.it).

(6) Dino Martirano, "Scorta negata a Biagi: lo sfogo di Scajola" (corriere.it).

(7) "E' un dovere di tutti tutelare il valore della legalità". ("Caso Scajola, Berlusconi grida al complotto. Fini e Bossi lo stoppano: 'Non è vero'", repubblica.it).

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Wondering About the Greek Syndrome


(larskflem, Insert Coin)


[Edoardo Montenegro, Turin] - On April 24th 2010 Giulio Tremonti, the Italian Minister of Finance, expressed his satisfaction since the IMF recognized Italian public debt being at the same stage of that of Germany (1).
Actually if we look at the last IMF paper on Italy we realize that "The high private savings rate, low private indebtedness, and the resilience of the financial sector, are important elements of strength. However, the high level of public debt and the disappointing growth performance could make Italy vulnerable to external shocks" (2).

The budget deficit deteriorated to 5.5% of GPD in 2009 while, as Tito Boeri outlined, if Italy does not grow in 2015 the public debt will be 125% of GDP: the current level of Greek debt-to-GDP ratio (3).

This calls both for reforms aimed at boosting the economy and for a fiscal consolidation programme. Recalling that Italian GDP per capita fell to the levels of 1999, Vincenzo Visco has no doubts in foreseeing that - devaluation not being an easy option - deficits within the Euro zone will led to deflationist policies: cutting expenditures, increasing taxes and nominal wage reductions (4).

The real effort to save Southern European countries might be huge: €90 billions for Greece, €40 billions for Portugal and €350 billions for Spain (5). Wolfang Munchau is right in saying that "What we are seeing here is the equivalent of the US subprime crisis" (6). If speculators won the game, Italy might sooner or later join the party (7).

Nevertheless, here is the problem: where will Italy find the funds needed to tidy up its counts? With the tax burden weighing disproportionally on salaried and retired workers (8), tax dodging reaching €200 billions a year (9) and the Northern League claiming for fiscal federalism (10) the job will not be easy.

__________

(1) "Tremonti: Italia come Germania e meglio degli Usa. 
'Merito del governo, ora non bisogna mollare'" (repubblica.it, April 24th 2010).

(2) "Italy: 2010 Article IV Consultation Concluding Statement of the Mission" (imf.org, March 30th 2010).

(3) Tito Boeri, "L'euro diventa scudo di vetro" (repubblica.it, April 27th 2010). Tito Boeri is professor of economics at Bocconi University and the founder of the economic policy watchdog website lavoce.info.

(4) Vincenzo Visco, "Stiamo su una polveriera pronta ad esplodere" (unita.it, April 28th 2010). Vincenzo Visco was in charge as Minister of Finance for the Center-Left coalition from 1996 to 2001 and from 2006 to 2008.

(5) These data are suggested by Piero Ghezzi, economist at Barclays Capital, on Landon Thomas Jr., "Beyond Greece, greater dangers loom", International Herald Tribune, April 28th 2010, page 13.

(6) Wolfgang Munchau, "Greece is Europe's very own subprime crisis" (ft.com, April 25th 2010).

(7) Massimo Giannini, "Una folle partita a poker" (repubblica.it, April 24th 2010).

(8) "Italy: 2010 Article IV Consultation Concluding Statement of the Mission" (imf.org, March 30th 2010).

(9) Roberto Petrini, "200 miliardi sottratti al fisco. Le Finanze: 'Un problema enorme'" (repubblica.it, February 19th 2009).

(10) "Bossi: 'Non vogliamo il voto, ma solo fare il federalismo fiscale'" (corriere.it, April 28th 2010).