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Destiny Of A Nation: For Italy, Now Comes The Hardest Part

Essay: The exit of Silvio Berlusconi and the arrival of Mario Monti marks a watershed for a nation still crucial for both Europe and the world. But Italy has lost both economic and political influence, which can only be regained by rallying all the forces

Marta Dassù

So, Italy has finally turned the page. Yet it is surely not the time to breathe easy. We Italians must face the reality: our nation has indeed reacted, but only after taking a hard slap across the face. The European Union and International Monetary Fund are each keeping tight surveillance over what is the euro zone's third-largest economy. This is a hard slap indeed.

At the same time, Italy has already been downgraded politically. Today, our country counts less within Europe, which in turn no longer counts as it once did in a world looking eastward, at the dawn of this new Asia-centric century.

These days, following Silvio Berlusconi's resignation, we Italians have obviously been focused on the Quirinale palace, the residence of President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano, who held the consultations that have led to the forming a new government lineup, led by former European Commissioner Mario Monti. In the meantime, though, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, in Hawaii, that his country is moving resources, interests and soldiers to take on the Pacific challenge against China. Today, Europe as a whole is considered by both Washington and Beijing as a part of the global problem, not its solution.

So, we should kid ourselves no more. Monti and his new government will surely be welcomed in Paris and Berlin. The beginning will be uplifting. But as unforgiving markets can be, so are governments. Right now, relations among European governments are tough. Monti, who was responsible for anti-trust policy for the European Commision, knows this fact very well. He knows that there will be no shortcuts. The to-do list for both Italy and Europe is long, and the new Italian government will manage to achieve its objectives if it garners support not just from a parliamentary majority, but from the entire country.

No more excuses

We Italians must be aware that we are going through a structural crisis, which can be solved only with a long and constant effort – it will take years. Italy has many fundamental strengths: the wealth of individual families, private savings, the manufacturing sector, and so on. This is why the country is still among the top Western economies.

But now in the face of the sovereign debt crisis, there are no more excuses. In the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Italy lost the geopolitical advantages it had long enjoyed from being the last frontier of the Western world. It has also lost the economic advantages it had from devaluating its currency. It was never able to recover from these losses. Instead of passing reforms necessary to compete in the global economy, we stuck our collective head in the sand. This is the moment of truth: we are losing more and more competitiveness with each passing day.

Italians finally must find their own national mission, which is necessary for every country in order to survive. We swing between a frustrated Euro-centrism, an on-and-off Atlanticism, occasional Mediterranean policies, some pro-Russia choices to protect energy resources, and so on.

This is an emergency government. Today, national interests are no longer fiscal interests. Necessary choices, and the costs that come with them, must be accepted and shared to start a serious debate over the future of Italy and its place in Europe.

Italy is weak right now, but it must find its own voice and make it heard. The management of the euro zone crisis has shown the limits of the Franco-German alliance. Germany counts too much, and some of its economic recipes won't work. And France thinks it counts more than it actually does. A functioning Italy with a vision is needed. We need it, and Europe needs it too.

You may say I'm an idealist. But if we tell the truth, if Italy returns to be a place and project worthy of investments, Italians will choose Italy. Italians, and not only our political class, must give up the old alibis. Our country's fate is not only in the hands of other people, or other countries, it is not only dictated by governments and markets. Our own individual responsibilities and choices will ultimately determine the path of the Italian destiny.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - Dave Kellam

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