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What’s wrong with Italy?

A number of things are wrong with Italy and need immediate fixing. We take a look at some of the things that need to be top priority for the next leader of the country.

world Updated: Feb 21, 2013 01:18 IST
Lizzy Davies

A number of things are wrong with Italy and need immediate fixing. We take a look at some of the things that need to be top priority for the next leader of the country.

The economy
With the effects of austerity taking their toll and fears building about long-term capacity for growth, it is little wonder that Italy’s economic situation has taken centrestage in the election campaign.
The country is now in its longest recession in 20 years, the economy having contracted for the last six consecutive quarters and languished in more than a decade of almost nonexistent growth. Unemployment is at more than 11%; for under-25s, it is more than 36%. Italy has the second highest ratio of sovereign debt to GDP in the EU.
It could have been worse. In autumn 2011, when Mario Monti took over after years of successive governments largely ignoring the problem, there were fears that the EU’s fourth largest economy might drag the rest of the eurozone into an abyss. The technocrat government did much to restore the markets’ faith in Italy and implemented reforms — including of the pension system and labour market — that according to the IMF, could lead to a 6% increase in GDP if properly implemented.

Attitude towards women
Two years after hundreds of thousands of Italian women took to the streets to protest against Berlusconi’s bunga bunga politics, they still have a fight on their hands. Held back by ingrained cultural attitudes, inadequate public services and political under-representation, they may have better educational qualifications than their male counterparts but they are less likely to be in paid work.
“It’s a country in which women are still very connected to a traditional vision of their role. Care work is work principally done by women. So we find ourselves in a situation where women aren’t getting work,” said Maddalena Vianello, a leading feminist activist. “If they get it, statistics show that they are more precarious, worse paid and in professional positions which, let’s say, are inferior in relation to their level of education.”

Justice system
Slow-moving, hugely bloated and sometimes alarmingly politicised, Italy’s justice system needs fixing. In a critical report last year, the Council of Europe’s top official for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, said Italy could “ill-afford” such an inefficient system, which is estimated to waste the equivalent of 1% of GDP. “The complexity and magnitude of the problem is such that Italy needs nothing short of a holistic rethinking of its judicial and procedural system, as well as a shift in judicial culture,” he wrote of the country’s “excessive” court proceedings.
Italy is one of the most litigious countries in Europe, with more than 2.8 million cases brought in 2011 alone, and has by far the most lawyers of any EU country — around 240,000. But the system simply cannot cope. Last year Severino said there were backlogs of 5.5 million civil and 3.4 million criminal cases waiting to be heard, with the former taking an average of seven to eight years to complete and the latter five.

Organised crime and corruption
If there is one industry in Italy that has not suffered from the economic crisis, it is organised crime. With three significant mafia organisations — the ‘Ndrangheta, the Camorra and the Sicilian mafia — the country remains a hub of organised illicit activity.
During the recession, organised crime groups took advantage of ordinary Italians’ plight, offering loans to individuals or businesses with extortionate rates of interest, thus making a whole new group of people beholden to them. According to a report last year by anti-crime group SOS Impresa, the people acting effectively as loan sharks are likely to be apparently respectable professionals.
Just as pernicious is the corruption that bleeds the state of billions of euros every year. According to an estimate by the state auditor, corruption siphons off 60bn euros a year from Italy’s public coffers.

Italy has had more national elections and more governments than any other big European power since World War II. Only one government has lasted the full five-year term since 1945. In this election, the number of different possible outcomes and permutations is daunting even for the most dedicated student of Italian politics.
One outcome, by no means to be ruled out, would neatly encapsulate the vapidity of Italian politics: if the centre-right wins the lower house but no one controls the senate, the most likely upshot would be ... further elections. And political and economic mayhem.

Geographical divide
The disparity between wealthy north and poorer south is one of the country’s most impervious and worrying problems.
According to the Bank of Italy, GDP per person is more than 40% lower in the south than in the centre and north — a situation that has endured for the past 30 years and has only worsened with the current recession. Unemployment, while on the rise throughout, has become particularly acute in the Mezzogiorno, the southern regions, particularly among young people and women.
Unfortunately this kind of political message has more often been drowned out in recent years by others that seek to further entrench the differences rather than erase them. GNS