A government that doesn’t do much is highly preferable than one that does harm.

Italy vote.jpg

Italian elections are fast approaching: they’ll be held on March 4. I think there is so far an unnatural/uncanny sense of composure surrounding the ballot. I think many assume that, since France ultimately didn’t vote for Marine Le Pen last year and stayed on the safe course with Emmanuel Macron, the same is going to happen in Italy: another big country (60 million people, the third largest economy in the Eurozone) whose stability is fundamental for the future of the European project.

I am far more doubtful. The latest polls (for the rest of the campaign polls cannot be made public) tend to confirm the scenario that international observers prefer: due to the intricacies of the electoral law, nobody wins and the ‘moderates’ of the right and of the left end up in another grand coalition government that certainly won’t be able to profoundly reform the country, but neither will send it in the direction of Athens or Caracas.

I think the very fact everybody is talking about this scenario makes it less likely to happen. The ‘moderates’ of the left do not want their party to govern with the right, and vice versa. The mere possibility being on the table contributes to shifting votes into the hands of the ‘extremists’ of both coalitions. The general public may well be less wise than political commentators and analysts coming from big financial firms: but they understandably don’t like the idea of the parties they’re choosing being hijacked.

On the top of that, we know from polls that 30% of Italians haven’t made their pick yet. This isn’t big news: people tend to decide late who they’re going vote for and a good chunk of them decide literally at the last minute. Another thing is sure: they decide among available options. And in Italy there is quite an interesting anomaly. The “populist” option, the so called Five Stars Movement, has at the same time an “extremist” platform and a “moderate” spokesman. Mr Di Maio, the party’s frontman, is a young, well mannered, gentle politician, in sharp contrast with the perpetually grumbling leader of the nationalist right, Mr Salvini, and the bullying leader of the moderate left, Mr Renzi. Mr Di Maio’s declared policies–which have at one time included leaving the euro (he seemed to have changed his mind more recently), and which include a savage nationalisation scheme, including the telephone network–may be wild, but his tones are relaxed. His party is credited with roughly speaking 1/3 of the suffrages. Is this its ceiling, or may it gain more among still undecided voters? This is the big “if” of the next election.

In the meantime, Mr Berlusconi has tried to campaign as the candidate of stability. I have no glowing/fond memories of the times when Mr Berlusconi was prime minister. As an allegedly free marketer, he was a continuous disappointment. Alas, I think this time he may be an appealing choice: precisely because we know he is never particularly adamant about keeping his own promises. A government that doesn’t do much is highly preferable than one that does harm. This is why the background thinking of this article of mine in Politico on Mr Berlusconi as the “candidate of calm“.