"Italy's political landscape can become more European than it has been!"

An interview with Costanza Hermanin, board member of PiuEuropa
Mario Draghi
Der neue italienische Premierminister Mario Draghi. © picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS | Andrew Medichini

In an interview with Rahel Zibner, Costanza Hermanin, member of the board of the liberal, pro-European party PiuEuropa, explains what the new government coalition could mean for Italy. She hopes for a more European, more open Italy. The Draghi government will remain stable and, above all, carry out overdue economic and fiscal reforms, said Hermanin.

Ms. Hermanin, let's jump right into the topic: Italy has a new government. To avoid early elections, President Sergio Mattarella asked former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi to form a cabinet of experts. Italy's history is tried in so-called "technocrat governments." What exactly is meant by this?

Technocrat government is a proved and tested model in Italy when no other viable option can be found. Since the 1990s, this is now the fifth government of this kind, which was set up primarily during the major financial crises. However, the Draghi government is not actually a technocrat government. It is headed by a technocratic prime minister, but the government consists of a broad coalition of almost all political parties in Parliament plus external experts. Only the extreme right and left are not involved. So, we are talking about a political government led by a technocrat.

What does this mean for the development of the Italian party landscape?

The fragmentation of the party landscape, which results in the need for a technical government to overcome the crisis, at the same time opens up new spaces. The center left is unable to propose a credible government. The 5-Star Movement is splitting the Democratic Party, which is consumed by an internal struggle. The right-wing parties, such as Forza Italia or the Lega, are in flux. Thus, there is a need for liberal democratic parties to occupy the political middle ground between these two poles. A green movement could also emerge. So, it may well be that Italy's political landscape will become more European than it has been.

Will the liberal actors manage to unite and effectively fill the space in the political center?

They will unite out of necessity, because each is too small on its own to succeed and be heard. They also have the same ideas. But the leaders of the parties don't sympathize to each other. The challenge, therefore, is to replace questions of personality with questions of substance. PiuEuropa is a member of ALDE, the other liberal actors are not. There are liberal-oriented parties that have broken away from the social democratic front, such as Azione or Italia Viva. We have to avoid that these antagonisms become a political problem for liberals in Italy.

As you mentioned, the new prime minister is entering with a government that covers almost the entire political spectrum - an amalgamation of parties that until recently seemed hopelessly at odds. Will the government have the ability to lead the country out of the Corona crisis?

The government will be stable until the end of the legislative period in 2023. Nevertheless, elections are not out of the question as early as next year, once the government has led the country out of the crisis. That would involve implementing a plan that ensures the famous herd immunity and boosts economic growth to at least return to the low levels of previous years. Italy is one of the countries with the lowest economic growth in Europe. The government will mainly implement economic and fiscal reforms. This is its mandate. The political composition does not allow for deep reform efforts. Probably not even the much-needed pension reform or a change in the restrictive and inefficient immigration policy will be undertaken. We therefore see our role in this government as putting pressing issues such as justice, immigration and competitiveness on the political agenda.

The previous government fell as a result of a dispute over the use of billions in aid pledged by the EU. In his first speech as prime minister to parliament, Draghi stressed the urgency of reforms in the tax and judicial systems and in public administration. How can it be ensured that the funds are spent efficiently and sustainably?

Italy is the biggest beneficiary of EU corona aid, with around EUR 209 billion. Compared to the rest of Europe, we are privileged and we should be aware of that. The Draghi government was born out of concern about the proper use, because it takes a completely different structure to spend these funds effectively. But changing one person is not enough. I hope there will be close monitoring of national spending plans by the European Commission. There also needs to be a lot of trust. I am hopeful that we can do it. The problem is that every time we need to do something important, we need a technocratic government. We need to ask ourselves why and how we can reform our political system.

Where can you start to reform the political system and regain the trust of the citizens?

The 5-Star Movement and the Lega have become big because they have capitalized on perfectly justified criticism of the political and governing elite. This criticism is shared by many citizens. The so-called "mainstream parties" should reflect on this, because they still have the same leadership principles that they had twenty years ago. The next generation should be prepared for politics and be part of a new political offer.

How can you bring growth back to a country that has been stagnant for years and now has to deal with the Corona crisis?

Everyone says, 'Let's invest in infrastructure!' But we say: instead of investing in infrastructure, we need to dismantle the structures that undermine the country's competitiveness. We need to take measures to ensure that there are no monopolies and privileges in the energy transition and the digital transformation. In addition, Italy's social problems must be tackled. This includes improving the situation of women through education. We need to ensure that interrupting careers to have children is normal not only for women but also for men. The low employment rate of women, gender discrimination or demographic change are aspects that are not taken into account in Italian policy. A dimension of competitiveness is also to have a sustainable base in the social structure within the framework of a social market economy.

All of this is also related to education in order to create equality of opportunity.

Exactly! Italy is one of the European countries that spend the least on education and research, less than 1% of GDP. We need to prioritize vocational training because people who are well trained go abroad. Many young people remain without completed education, because they leave the country even before graduation. There are no prospects and no jobs for them. Education, on the other hand, creates alternatives.

Costanza Hermanin is a board member of the liberal, pro-European PiuEuropa party, which is part of the new governing coalition in Italy after years in opposition. She is also a Policy Leader Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence.

The questions were asked by Rahel Zibner, project manager in the Madrid-based office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom for Spain, Italy and Portugal.

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