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.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the ‘politics of kindness’

I don’t want to give prime minister Matteo Renzi any more coverage than he already gets, but I was struck by his comments earlier today on the performance of veteran Burmese opposition leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her party National League for Democracy in landmark parliamentary elections on Sunday.

“It swells the heart,” he is reported to have said of the still provisional results that look set to give NLD a majority in parliament, ending decades of military and then semi-civilian rule.

He then recalled the “beautiful words” on the “politics of kindness” spoken by Suu Kyi during her Nobel Lecture in Oslo in June 2012, 21 years after she had been awarded the prize.

“Even the briefest touch of kindness can lighten a heavy heart. Kindness can change the lives of people,” he quoted her as saying.

In a world visibly suffering from ‘compassion fatigue’ – in Europe with respect to the refugee tragedy playing out on our borders – how good we have become at forgetting this fundamental truth.

Thank you Matteo Renzi for drawing my attention to these words and to Suu Kyi’s broader speech.

I hadn’t read it before and it moved me to tears.