Italy continues to be an interesting political lab to observe. Uniquely, two women are leading its political future. Ms. Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s Prime Minister, is joined this week by Elly Schlein, the winner of Italy’s Democratic Party (PD) primaries. PD is the leading opposition party. Though her policies will be leftist, her entrance clarifies Italy’s political offering.
Iconographically, her supporters sang “Bella ciao” at the electoral committee in Rome after the victory. "Goodbye beautiful", is an Italian protest folk song adopted as an anthem of Italy’s resistance movement by the partisans who fought Nazism and Fascism. The PD is clearly veering left, “forget the center” she stated after the victory.
Elly Schlein, a 37-year-old outsider, defeated in the primaries the main stream candidate, Stefano Bonaccini, current governor of the Emilia-Romagna region. With a 4.6 million population, Emilia-Romagna is Italy’s second wealthiest region by GDP pro capita, US$ 35,000, after Lombardy. Emilia boasts an employment rate of 67% and Italy’s highest female employment, 60%. Bologna, its capital, is a 30 and 60 minute high-speed train ride from Florence and Milan, respectively. The bulk of the Italian food consumed abroad comes from Emilia’s Food Valley: Balsamic Vinegar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto, Mortadella, Tortellini, and Tagliatelle. It is a high-tech region where icons such as Ferrari, Maserati, Pagani, Lamborghini and Ducati – and their supply chains – are headquartered. It is also home to the “packaging valley”, world leader in building packaging systems. Academically, Emilia is highly qualified. The University of Bologna founded in 1088 is considered to be the oldest in the western world. The Motor Vehicle University of Emilia Romagna (MUNER) with the Bologna Business School (BBS) are its crown jewels. BBS, among others, offers two must-attend MBAs in “Food & Wine” and “Supercars, Superbikes & Motorsports”.
This background is relevant to appreciate the shift in vision and policy that will occur vs a Bonaccini PD leadership. The current governor has a market-oriented vision that has supported the growth and the internationalisation of Emilia’s remarkable industrial clusters. Ms. Schlein wants to fight inequalities and promote the themes of radical ecology and sustainable development. A 4-day working week will be one of her policy proposals. Her loyalty to the Atlantic partnership will be under scrutiny and while supporting a free Ukraine, she is hostile to the weaponries provided by Italy, Europe and the US.
A race to be perceived as leftist as possible has started in co-opetition with the 5 Star Movement. PD's sharp left turn clarifies, however, Italy’s political offering. Ms. Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia is the largest political party, 30% of the votes. She is forging a conservative profile sliding to the center with some overlaps, to be further assessed, with the North League and Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Reformists, currently leaving PD, will join the “Third Pole” led by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi whose ambition is to collect 15% of the votes. Italians have now three political supplies: conservative, liberal, and “made in Italy” leftist.
A clarification on the “made in Italy leftist”. Not all international observers appreciate that for over forty years Italy was home to the strongest communist party (34% of the votes in 1976) outside the former Soviet Union and financed by it. While that vision and regime came to a disastrous end in 1989, Italian communists failed to become socio-democrats like in Germany, or socialists like in France. Its legacy continues to win converts in the new generations. As comparisons abound these days, Ms. Schlein has a wafer-thin similarity to Ms. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Though labeled as “socialist” in the US, in Italy she would be a homeless PD reformist. In the same spirit as Voltaire and for the sake of democracy, everyone must wish good to every leader democratically elected. If history, however, is of any help, the meteoric rise and fall of radical labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and that of Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, would suggest that the new PD life cycle might be indeed short lived.
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