Tag Archives: Europe

The Italy Eurozone crisis – Part 3. Germany doesn’t want to be the Lombardy of Europe.

When I used to work at the Victorian Ethnic Affairs Commission, in the halcyon days even when the Federal Liberals liked to talk about multiculturalism, my boss used to say: ‘behind any stereotype there is a grain of truth’. It has been a factor in my life that stereotypes were always somewhere. Being born in ‘cosmopolitan’ Milan but living amongst provincials in Bergamo. Being from the north of Italy and hearing lots of prejudice for the southerners.   Living in Australia and hearing Europeans generally believing of Australia as a pleasant place to live but without culture and racist. And of course plenty of stereotype in Australia about Italy.

I remember talking about this to a psychologist who told me that our brains are wired to stereotype. Our brains like order. And allocating characteristics to certain people create some sort of order. Often stereotypes also makes those holding them superior, so it makes us feel better.

As I mentioned before the euro-crisis allowed the stereotypes to run wild with impunity. The age old belief that people living below the Alps, Pyrenees or in the Mediterranean generally were lazy, and were on some sort euro gravy train being sustained by hard working northern Europeans was wildly mentioned. Even by people that I thought had a bit more sophistication in economic knowledge, or at least were on the ‘left’ and while would be aghast in stereotyping gays or women, were very happy to label Greeks and Italians with all type of negative attributes.

At this point I will say that Italy is may main area of interest. Other Europeans I can’t vouch for. And I also won’t be blithely blind at the shortcomings of successive Italian governments, and a large part of the electorate that has allowed them to make decisions that have positioned Italy in the situation it finds itself at the moment. But the issue here is that if you want to criticise Italy, at least try to look at the issues. A glib statement of ‘Italians are lazy’ or statement of the kind really are ignorant ones.

Wealthy Italy

The issue that people forget is that Italians are not lazier than others. Quite the opposite. We in Australia have seen literally thousands of examples of Italians who faced with little prospect decided to leave their country of birth, and their families and travel on the other side of the world to work hard in the cane fields of Queensland, or the building sites of Sydney and Melbourne to re-build their lives. But many parts of Italy are extremely wealthy. Just look at this map which shows the gross domestic product per inhabitant in purchasing power. This maps show the Europe of regions rather than states, and you can see that regions like Lombardy and Emilia Romagna are as wealthy as many Landers in Germany and the London area. In fact, apart from the south Italy is not that bad. We see Germany and France having all these talks. But Italy is the third largest economy. You don’t become that by taking many siestas. But the problem with Italy, is that the wealth is concentrated in the north (as the map shows) but also the disparity between wealthy and poor people is one of the highest in Europe.

Germany is right. They don’t want to become the Lombardy of Europe

Over the years the north’s wealth has been used in well meaning measures initially to develop the south. Unfortunately by the 80’s many of these funds were misused for politicians to buy votes and in worst cases assist local organised crime. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Second Italian Republic with the dissolved of the Christian Democrats – Communist Party blocks resentment grew in the North and this gave rise of the Northern League a party that nominally is working towards secession for the Northern regions from Italy. I do wonder whether Merkel is against the idea of providing bailouts funds not only because of the inflation issue, but also because she doesn’t want what happened in Italy to happen in the whole of Europe, that is a ‘German Northern League’ because of resentment of Germans in paying for others in the Union. The Italian journalist Gabrio Casati makes a similar argument in an article (in Italian).

In essence the German position is very simple: Solidarity doesn’t exist without responsibility. It is not possible, because it is not fair that we all share something that hasn’t been produced together without allowing those who are paying to have some control to those who spend. Does this remind you of something? It should (for Italians at least) because in reality Berlin is saying one thing: We will do whatever is necessary to save the Euro, 50 years of integration (and our exports) but we will be never become the Lombardy of Europe. We will not sign blank cheques for failing economies

On the other hand if Italy uses 10 years of imposts at 2% to finance a current unproductive expenditure from its southern regions, instead of lowering the debt in the first place, she has as a country no legitimately ask for assistance. If anything it should be Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna that should ask some return for the money successive Italian government threw to the wind by to keep votes in the south. But no one, including the Northern League that supposedly was supposed to look after the more productive parts of Italy (but instead became ally of  Berlusconi) did anything. They didn’t make a parallel to how Milan was the Berlin of Italy, something that would have made the politicians perhaps realise to change its financial responsibilities, and change the politics that discourage growth, and is destabilising the whole continent.

So where to now

I have read many left commentary about the measures taken by the Monti Government (such as those of the Purple People for instance). I may disagree with those measures as well. But Italy decided to be part of a currency and a system that is marked influenced and capitalist. If you take that path you dance to the tunes of the banks, markets, and rating agencies. If you don’t they will punish you and that’s what happened to Italy. In my opinion there is no choice in the immediate future than take these measures and cop it. Because otherwise you go bankrupt and discussions about merits of the Eurozone etc. go out of the window as people scramble to save the furniture. But is there a different path?

A de-facto pre-unification Italy?

While many may think Italy as being an old country, in fact it is relatively new one being unified in 1861. Before that the north of Italy was part of Spain, France and at the end the Austro-Hungarian empire. A famous Italian journalist Gianni Riotta who tweeted “Born Italian, grew up American, then European, will die German”. Many commentators are writing that Merkel is being resistant in providing money to struggling economies because she wants other eurozone countries to copy Germany’s budget discipline, so that their borrowing is kept under control. So are we going to have a new Maria Theresa Walburga Amalia Christina of Austria, Empress of Mantua, Milan, Parma and Grand Duchess of Tuscany?

Well of course not, I am being facetious. But it wouldn’t be the first time that Italians would take orders from the north.  Germany doesn’t want to be the Lombardy of Europe. But I am sure Lombardy doesn’t want to be in the Empire of the Euro dictated by other governments.

If Italy doesn’t want to be part of a more austere financial system I think that’s fine. Go it alone. But I hope the divorce is amicable.

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Italians, let’s give the French and the Germans the arse (translated from Gianni Greco’s blog)

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I have been reading a lot about Italy and the European financial crisis, mainly from financial journals and mainstream papers, both in English and in Italian.  But what Italians that are not strictly ‘journalists’ think of this issue?  I came across this blog called “L’ombra del dubbio” where the author, Gianni Greco, writes about it taking no prisoners.  I have translated the post to the best of my abilities.  Even if I don’t agree with it (I suspect it is also what we Australians call a ‘stir’) I wonder whether these sentiments come close to what many Italians think.

Recently they have kicked us in the balls with this fucking Europe telling us what we have to do and not to do which pisses us off and humiliate us with sarcastic smiles and they dragging us along like a ball of shit at their feet.

‘Italy like Greece’ they say disparingligly. But we are proud of it! Us Italians, and Greeks have given you civilization, you ugly smelly barbarians! We have given you art that you pilllaged and more enough culture to bury you all. What do you have? Let’s see the Gioconda? Oh really?

Yes, OK, we italians can be dickheads. Distracted, disorganised a bit uncouth and shitty, but this comes from our creativity that is within us since Caligola made his horse Senator, or earlier, when Romulus and Remus a she-wolf found them and suckled them or even earlier when the Etruscan entertained themselves by reading livers. But what we can compare this? Some idiots with horns on a hat?

Now you think you are the Gods of the old continent only because you fuck Carla Bruni and you have the ‘Bunds”? If we come back to our Lira, the good old inflationated Lira with which we could buy so many things. If we start to print it again by ourselves we can regain our pride trumpled by your banks, and we can start again do things by ourselves instead of being dictated by you,  and finally we can all give you the arse.

They tell us that if we got out of the Euro wold be a tragedy, but what more of a tragedy would be that what we are in at the moment? Should we have a go? C’mon let’s be a bit reckless! Yes, but who will tell Mario Monti Well…I always wrote to Monti, and he always responded….by saying nothing.

So Italians! we are pissed off! Tell the French and Germans they can stick their measures!

Ah…Ten thousand lire…. beautiful.

The original post in Italian can be found here: http://lombradeldubbio.blogspot.com/2011/11/ma-tornare-alla-lira-e-andare-in-culo.html

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I am an extracomunitario.

There is an entry in the Age’s travel blog that bemoans the fact that non European Union citizens (such as Australians) can only spend a total of 90 days in every 180-day period in EU countries. In other words, three months in every six according to the Schengen Agreement.

I must admit that articles like that make me a bit sad. You see back in 1978, when I was 17, I decided that I had to make some sort of break with my past. Not because I necessarily wanted to, but because I felt that four years in Australia I had to have a go at being a full participant in this country.

I moved from Sydney (that I didn’t like) to Melbourne (that I loved) and I was doing my Higher School Certificate and felt finally that I was in a place where I could feel at home. I felt that I had to make a decision that as I was staying here I had to make a commitment to be involved in Australia, and one of these ways was to become a citizen.

Partly this was to leave Italy behind. I sort of had to, otherwise I felt I would have stayed in this suspended state, belonging nowhere.

The procedure took months and months, so much so that when I became and Australian citizen I was 18. The law of Italy and Australia regarding citizenship in those days were different to those today.

By becoming a citizen of another country after the age of 18, Italy stated that I became a citizen of a foreign country by my free will and therefore I would lose my Italian citizenship. Conversely Australia citizenship was still governed by the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 which stated that no Australian citizen can take another citizenship. If Australian citizens decided to actively apply and obtain a citizenship of another country they would then lose their citizenship.

So basically by becoming an Australian citizen I would be just that. Which was fine, and losing my Italian one wasn’t a big deal. In a sense it signified a break with my past and that I had to make my life in my present reality.

However as I got older I got to somehow regret that rush decision of my youth. Especially since the rules changed that now people can have double citizenships and I can’t. In the early 1990’s Italy provided a window of opportunity for people like me that lost their citizenship to re acquire it. However at that stage there was the risk that I would lose my Australian one. However since 2007 the Australian act was changed where now double citizenships are allowed. So an Italian can have both. But not for me.

That is because the Italian law still see me as someone who willingly relinquished his citizenship and added to that didn’t take up the opportunity to re acquire it when they gave people like me the chance. Of course this opportunity was OK for many in places like South America, where countries allowed double citizenships, and ironically it would be OK too in Australia now, but not in the early 1990’s.

But you may ask why having my Italian citizenship back is so important? I mean I am not likely to go back and live there permanently anyway now, or work.

Perhaps is because somehow it signifies the loss of something that is still part of my being. Citizenship it itself is meaningless, but it can be also a symbol of what makes you as a person, and despite all its faults, and the fact that I haven’t lived there since the end of my childhood thirty-five years ago it is part of me. Belonging to an ‘Italian’ sense of community is important. When I go back there I somewhat hope I can still be part of the populace, I don’t like to be seen as a foreigner (although my slight accent when I speak Italian, and the fact that I don’t have the street knowledge give me away pretty quickly). What irks me is also that many have been able to re acquire their citizenship somehow and I couldn’t. I was startled when while I was in Italy during an electoral campaign in the middle 90’s and I saw an ex member of the Victorian member of Parliament being interviewed on Italian TV as a candidate for the Italian Parliament. How could that be so? Not only an Australian citizen acquiring a citizenship of a foreign country, but now even being a candidate for elections!

So I will remain what Italians call an ‘extracomunitario’. Someone that while born in Italy, can’t stay there for too long without a visa.

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