Well Romano Prodi and Silvio Berlusconi finally got to meet up in front of the TV cameras last night, even if they didn’t exactly enter into face to face combat. The poll consensus seems to be that Prodi won it on points.
The debate seems to have centred around economic themes, and Euractiv has a summary of it here. Surprisingly, or unsurprisingly, Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti has been trying to put a brave face on things, by claiming that Italy is now “on the right tracks” and that the situation of Italy’s “public finances is good”. Mario Draghi, the new governor over at the Italian central bank does not seem especially convinced, since he was claiming only last week that the Italian economy had run aground.
Again unsurprisingly a poll held shortly before the debate showed that a large number of Italians are still undecided about how they will cast their vote, even if there is some evidence that the Prodi coalition may be hanging on to their lead.
Roberto over at Wind Rose Hotel has the third of his election posts now up. He draws our attention to the latest contributor to the ‘great debate’, semiologist and erstwhile novelist Umberto Eco (link in Italian). Eco has indicated he might consider leaving Italy were Berlusconi to be re-elected. Democracy, according to Eco, is in danger in Italy. Angelo Panebianco, writing in Corriere della Sera (which has remember endorsed the Prodi coalition), takes issue with Eco and asks: why so much theatrical drama?:
For two reasons, I think. The first is that such dramatisation is exactly what attracts the kind of ‘intellectual’ audience which has chosen Umberto Eco, and especially Umberto Eco, as its very own champion and reference point. The hate for Berlusconi among this section of the public is palpable and evident, we have surely all of us found this in recent years in scores of private conversations and in the fascinating phenomenon of collective psychology. …..
The second reason for the dramatisation, I think, is to do with a problem which is typical of our (Italian) culture. It is an ancient legacy here, for many, to mistake democracy, which is a method of resolving conflicts by counting heads instead of breaking heads them……..(to mistake this process) forthe realisation of their own ideals. To mistake the victory or defeat of their political views for the victory and defeat of democracy: this is a kind of childhood illness of democracy.
Well it seems that Italy is a society which is rapidly ageing but where ‘childhood illnesses’ abound. Reading the piece by Panebianco I could not help but think, not of Umberto Eco, but of Nanni Moretti, whose films I thoroughly enjoy, but whose perceptions of contemporary Italian society have always struck me as being ‘warped’ to say the least. Democracy is not in danger in Italy in this election, it is not even in doubt. What is in danger, and about this there should be no doubt, is the Italian pension system and the mid-term economic well-being of Italian society. Far from the Italian pension system having been reformed and fine-tuned to the extent which Tremonti alleges, the necessary adjustment has only recently started on the road, and this small step was taken only after the last minute tussle and haggling (in part with represantatives of Berlusconi’s insurance industry interests) which was needed to salvage at least one piece of reforming legislation from 5 years of a decidedly ‘reform unfriendly’ government. What Italy needs at this point in time is a government which is serious about introducing the Lisbon agenda in Italy. This would not be a Berlusconi-lead government. Will it be a Prodi-lead one? This is what remains to be seen. If it turns out that neitherof the alternatives are up to the task, then Eco may well, in a certain sense be right: Italy will then have a crisis of democracy, but not, I think, the one he has in mind.