What Brexit means for me

I am still reeling from the shock of Brexit but now feel the need to put some thoughts and feelings into words.

The referendum was always going to be a close call, but deep down I was certain that at the end of the day if not the sense of collective responsibility then pragmatism and the spirit of self-preservation would prevail.

Tragically, that was not to be the case.

And my anger and frustration have only been compounded by the fact that, as a British citizen who has been non UK-resident for more than 15 years, I could have no say in the result.

My initial reaction was one of bitter disappointment and a profound sense of betrayal.

Betrayal by the very country and people that first shaped my sense of what it means to be European.

I went on my first school trip to Europe – Italy, in fact – at the tender age of ten, but only after family holidays to Greece, Portugal and, most significantly, Berlin.

That was in 1985, four years before the Wall came down.

During our trip we were able to cross from West to East via Checkpoint Charlie and visit the museum there. The stories of the fugitives who risked – and often lost – their lives to escape from East Berlin made a huge impression on me, instilling an early sense of the values of freedom and justice that are at the heart of the albeit profoundly flawed European project.

Other holidays and school exchange visits to numerous European countries followed.

Then in my post-school gap year I spent four months working as an au pair in France before going on to read two European languages – French and Italian – at university and spending the third year of my degree course working as an English language assistant at a state secondary school in Rome.

All this would have been more difficult – and in some cases impossible – if Britain had not been a member of the European Union.

And so on Friday morning it felt as if the rug had been pulled from under my feet.

It was as if suddenly I was being told that my world view – the world view that Britain helped to foster – and the choices that I have made on the basis of that view – including the decision to make my life in another European country – were no longer acceptable or valid.

It didn’t help my sense of disorientation to learn that one of the people most instrumental in shaping my education voted Leave.

I ask you, what was the point of it all?

Much attention has been given by the Italian media to the effects of Brexit on Italians living in the UK. But what about Britons living here, or in other EU member states? When the UK eventually disentangles itself from the EU we will presumably lose our European citizenship rights and hence also the legal basis for being here or elsewhere – unless, that is, we are already also citizens of our ‘adopted’ EU countries.

That is a destabilising prospect.

Before Brexit I found that my British and European identities sat comfortably together, but now that Britain has voted to leave the EU the feelings has changed.

Suddenly those identities have come into collision course and over the coming months and years I anticipate a conflict of loyalties that may be difficult and painful to negotiate.

Sooner or later I may have to make a choice.

But perhaps in applying for Italian citizenship earlier this year I was already making one without fully realising it.

With any luck I should be awarded Italian citizenship and fully restored to my European identity by early 2018, before Britain goes drifting off into the Atlantic.


Understanding Italy’s 17 April oil drilling referendum

I have been trying to get to grips with the 17 April referendum on offshore drilling in Italy for the purposes of a short news piece for Wanted in Rome.

However, reading around the subject in both English and Italian has left me totally befuddled.

There is a huge amount of information available but little of it seems to clarify what is actually at stake, and the wording of the referendum question doesn’t exactly help matters either (see photo below).

The question makes specific reference to two existing laws (the first on environmental protection dating to 2006 and the second the 2016 budget law, approved definitively by parliament at the end of last year) but without entering into the merits of the cited provisions, making an on-line search for the full texts unavoidable.

However, this immediately threw me into even greater confusion since the part of the 2006 law implicated in the referendum (the third sentence of the 17th paragraph of article 6) doesn’t appear to exist.

No matter: reading on it becomes clear that this missing sentence has in fact been substituted by a clause in the 2016 budget law establishing that existing licences for off-shore oil and gas prospecting and drilling are exempt from a ban on hydrocarbon exploration and production activities in Italy within 12 nautical miles of the coast for the useful life of the fields and in compliance with safety and environmental standards.

Put more simply, under the terms of the 2016 budget operating oilfields in territorial waters can have their concessions extended until the exhaustion of gas or oil.

So the main theme of the 17 April referendum is not whether oil companies should be allowed to drill in territorial waters – this is already banned for new projects – but rather how long existing concessions should last.

To paraphrase the referendum question, Italians are being asked if they want the exemption clause to be repealed so oilfields operating within 12 nautical miles of the coast are closed once their concessions expire, even if there are still resources in the subsoil.

They are not being asked to make an outright stand against oil drilling, and they are certainly not being asked to address the (crucial) issue of renewable energy as an alternative to fossil fuels.

On a practical level, my understanding is that only three oilfields – Eni’s Guendalina and Edison’s Rospo in the Adriatic sea and Edison’s Vega in the Sicily Channel ­– are directly implicated in the outcome.

Assuming the quorum is reached (which is unlikely), and if the yes vote (to repeal the exemption to the drilling ban for the useful life of the oilfield) prevails, the concessionaires will be obliged to stop activities once their licences expire, mocking massive investment so far.

If the no vote prevails, things will carry on as normal and Italy will have wasted over 300 million euros of taxpayer money.

It seems to me to be a no-win situation.

Surely it would be better to use the referendum tool to address more urgent ethical issues facing Italy, such as same-sex marriage and adoption, end-of-life provisions and, why not, surrogate motherhood?

So far with the very vocal exception of health minister Beatrice Lorenzin (New Centre Right) the debate on this last issue has been defined almost entirely by men.

It would be interesting to know what the other half of the country thinks about it.


Correction: ‘arancione’ is a model of good government on the centre left

I got it wrong.

In my ‘A glossary of the Italian centre left’ posted on December 15 I erroneously wrote that the term arancione (orange) refers to exponents of the newly formed political movement (not yet a full-blown party) called Sinistra Italiana comprising defectors from the Democratic Party (PD), Sinistra Ecologia e Libertà (SEL) and disenchanted former members of the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) and that modello arancione is the epithet for the alliance.

Sinistra Italiana does, it seem, have a logo comprising white writing on an orange background.

However, the ‘orange’ that crops up time and again in current reporting on the shambles within the centre-left in fact refers to exponents of another movement, Movimento arancione, launched by incumbent Naples mayor Luigi De Magistriis in 2012 to bring together politicians and civil society representatives unhappy with traditional political parties. They created an alternative model of centre-left government – the so-called modello arancione – based on democratic participation and civic revival.

Key exponents of this movement are Giuliano Pisapia, Marco Doria and Massimo Zedda, respectively incumbent mayors of Milan, Genoa and Cagliari, who were behind a recent call for unity within the centre left in view of local elections next year.

Separately, further research has turned up two more factions within the PD:

Sinistra è cambiamento: per una primavera democratica (Left is change: for a democratic spring), launched by agriculture minister Maurizio Martina in June 2015. Described in journalese as the sinistra dialogante (the left that is prepared to dialogue), as opposed to the minoranza dem led by Roberto Speranza that disagreed with Renzi over the Italicum electoral law before the summer and remains openly hostile to the government to this day.

Area riformista: launched in April 2014 as an aggregate of minority factions within Renzi’s PD loosely grouped around party heavyweights Pierluigi Bersani (so-called bersaniani), Massimo D’Alema (dalemiani), Enrico Letta (lettiani) etc. The area also includes the minoranza dem.



A glossary of the Italian centre left

I am trying to follow the political debate within the centre left in view of coalition primaries and local elections in numerous cities including Rome, Milan, Naples, Turin and Bologna next year.

However, not only is the discussion more fragmented and fractious than I had realised but it also requires a glossary to understand.

Arancione, minoranza dem, cosa rossa, area dem are just some of the neat but impenetrable phrases used by politicians and reporters to refer to factions or formations that, without the necessary background and context, risk meaning absolutely nothing.

So here in note form is my own ‘glossary of the Italian centre left’, based on the terms and phrases that have most baffled me.

Partito Democratico (PD) – founded in 2007 as a moderate reformist party from the merger of the Democrats of the Left (DS), Margherita and other minor centre-left parties. It is a distant heir of the Italian Communist Party, which was succeeded by the Democratic Party of the Left (PdS) in 1991 and then by the DS in 1998. The PD has been led by Matteo Renzi as secretary since December 2013. Renzi subsequently ousted party colleague Enrico Letta to become prime minister at the head of a left-right unity government in February 2014. Biggest political party in Italy in terms of both the number of votes and the number of seats won at the last general elections in February 2013 (although some MPs have since defected). President: Matteo Orfini. Deputy secretaries: Debora Serracchiani, Friuli Venezia Giulia regional governor, and Lorenzo Guerini, MP. In total the national secretariat is made up of 18 members of whom exactly half are women Headquarters: Largo del Nazareno, Rome

Partito della nazione – denotes a party that appeals to the broadest possible electorate, over and above traditional ideological positions; the term is often used in a derogatory sense to describe the PD under Renzi’s leadership as it has moved progressively away from conventional left-wing and centre-left policies towards the centre and right, in a process that has seen the secretary court unlikely elements such as former Forza Italia national coordinator Denis Verdini and his Alleanza Liberalpopolare-Autonomie (AL-A). It should also be remembered that the two cornerstones of Renzi’s government agenda – electoral and constitutional reform – are the result of a dubious pact with Forza Italia leader and ex prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in January 2014, before the party secretary took office as prime minister.

Minoranza dem – left-wing minority within the PD led by Roberto Speranza that is deeply critical of the direction taken by Renzi but is reluctant to break ties.

Area democratica (area dem) – another faction within the PD established by culture minister and former PD secretary Dario Franceschini to contribute to debate within the party.

Giovani Turchi – movement of 30-40 somethings founded in 2010 and led by Matteo Orfini, which supported Gianni Cuperlo (the candidate backed by several key exponents of the ‘old guard’ including Massimo D’Alema and Pier Luigi Bersani) in the 2013 party leadership campaign before subsequently deciding to cooperate with the winner Renzi. Other key exponents include justice minister Andrea Orlando and, initially, Stefano Fassina, who left the PD to join Sinistra Italiana (see below) in June 2015.

Sinistra Italiana – parliamentary group constituted in November 2015 by defectors from the PD, representatives of Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL) led by former Puglia governor Nichi Vendola and defectors from the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement (M5S) founded by comedian Beppe Grillo. Its defining colour is orange (hence exponents are referred to as ‘arancioni’ and the alliance as the modello arancione), but paradoxically the movement is also referred to as the ‘cosa rossa’ (red thing).

Leopolda – annual political convention launched by Renzi, then Florence mayor, at the former Leopolda railway station in Florence in 2010; it was here that Renzi and then Lombardy regional councillor Giuseppe (Pippo) Civati called for the ‘old guard’ to be scrapped (rottamato) in favour of a new generation of leaders (generazione Leopolda), which is now in power. Renzi and Civati and their followers subsequently became known as rottamatori. The sixth edition of the Leopolda closed on Sunday. Civati left the PD in disagreement with Renzi to join the Mixed Group in the chamber of deputies in May 2015 and has since founded his own party, Possibile.

L’Ulivo – this term refers to successive centre-left coalitions conceived and led by Romano Prodi until the creation of the PD in 2007. Many critics of Renzi’s PD hark back to the Olive Tree alliance with nostalgia and it is now being increasingly evoked in view of local elections next year. Nostalgics (and Prodi supporters) are sometimes referred to as ulivisti.


Renzi passes up equity-inspired pension reform

There was a time when left-wing politics was associated with wealth redistribution and social justice.

Not any more, or at least not in the Italy of Matteo Renzi, prime minister and secretary of the Democratic Party (PD), a distant heir of what was once the largest communist party in western Europe.

And so it seems the ex-Florence mayor had no qualms about ditching a proposal for pensions reform inspired by the principles of equity and protection for the most vulnerable groups before it had even been presented to the public for debate.

The proposal in question is set out in the document ‘Non per cassa, ma per equità’ (Not for money, but for equity) submitted to the government in June by the labour economist of international fame Tito Boeri, president of Italy’s social security institute Inps, for possible inclusion in the 2016 budget law.

The plan has two main objectives: to halve poverty among people aged over 55 – according to Inps the category worst affected by the recent prolonged recession and measures introduced by the Monti government in 2011 to push back the age of retirement – and to promote generational turnover in response to high youth unemployment.

Specifically, it contemplates awarding a basic income of 500 euros a month in the first instance to low-income families with at least one member aged over 55 on condition that unemployed people in the family actively seek work.

The measure is intended as a precursor of the national minimum wage, which currently does not exist in Italy.

The proposal also introduces a new flexibility scheme allowing workers to retire early on a reduced amount.

According to the document, the funds needed to cover these measures would be sourced by cutting welfare support to around 230,000 high-income families and recalculating so-called ‘golden’ pensions to around 250,000 people and annuities for over 4,000 elected officials (read: politicians) on the basis of contributions paid, meaning that recipients would get less.

The draft budget law signed off by the cabinet in October contained no trace of the proposals and in November Inps posted the document on its website for all to read.

The government and the pensions agency both insisted the on-line publication had been “agreed”, but the speed and intransigence with which the former rejected the plans after they had entered the public domain might suggest otherwise.

Renzi reportedly described the proposal to cut pensions as an “error” even before the document had been made public.

“Some of the remedies suggested by Tito Boeri’s Inps had the merit of equity: those who received more than they had paid in would have been asked to make a contribution,” the prime minister acknowledged.

“However, I didn’t think it was the right time: we need to restore Italians’ confidence” in the economic recovery, he continued, insisting rather on controversial tax-cutting measures that have found their way into the 2016 budget bill – measures that are traditionally advanced by the centre-right.

Critics of the proposals accuse Boeri of playing politics and of exceeding his remit as Inps does not have the right of legislative initiative under the Italian constitution.

However the economist has defended himself saying Inps has a long history of making proposals and that the attacks have come from “people who have clear interests in the operation that we wanted to launch”.

“The people who appeared on television foaming with rage to attack me are those whose annuity payment would be cut by half if our proposals were accepted,” Boeri continued.

In an age when expediency and vested interests seem to count more than political values or coherence, ‘equity’ has clearly become a dirty word.

Evaluating the Jobs Act in light of the figures

I don’t know about you, but my eyes glaze over every time I have to look at figures. However, I decided to overcome my habitual resistance when Italy’s national statistics institute Istat released its provisional employment data for September. The reason: I was trying to get to grips with the new labour market reform otherwise known as the Jobs Act for a story on prime minister Matteo Renzi’s reform agenda and I wanted to know whether the measures were actually achieving the stated aim of bringing down high unemployment and creating more stable jobs. Well, in the immediate term it seems they are.

The figures show a 0.9 per cent rise in employment year on year despite a less than brilliant GDP growth rate, suggesting that the upturn cannot be attributed to economic recovery alone. Rather, it is also the combined result of the Jobs Act and exemptions on social security contributions for employers taking on new steady hires this year.

The number of people in work in September rose by 192,000 over the same month in 2014, Istat said. Over the same period the number of people on permanent employment contracts rose by 113,000 and on fixed-term contracts by 107,000. Simultaneously the number of self-employed fell by 28,000. Ergo: more jobs and more stable jobs. Exactly what the government set out to achieve.

Of course much will now depend on whether the incentives for employers become permanent (economy minister Pier Carlo Padoan has said they will not and already in next year’s budget currently before parliament they have already been reduced considerably with respect to this year) and, to an even greater extent, on how Italy latches onto recovery after the longest and deepest recession since World War II. To quote one informed observer, economist and statistician Gabriele Olini, labour market reform has gone as far as it can; now it is up to economic and industrial policy to do the rest.