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  • The Future: 6 Barriers to Italy's Success
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    JANUARY 25, 2004 -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was out of the spotlight for a month reportedly recovering from a facelift, returned with the hope of giving his Forza Italia political party a lift, as well. But his critics were quick to point out his noticeable absence, the faltering economy and his blatant vanity. This led many to wonder, "What is next for Italia?" Here are a few of the obstacles that Berlusconi, his party and all of Italy are up against as they plan for the future:

    Ouch! For starters, Corriere della Sera welcomed Berlusconi back from his respite with a scathing editorial. "In 10 years, Forza Italia has remained an unformed embryo: never a congress or political debate worthy of the name, never an idea, never anything," wrote editors on the January 23 front page.

    "F" is for flunking fiscal policy. According to a report released last week, two out of three Italians said that the government's economic policies had failed, as the cost of living surges and all of Italy tries to overcome the overwhelming Parmalat financial scandal.

    Speaking of Parmalatů Italians already were worrying about inflation, lower household incomes and unemployment when news broke about the multi-billion euro fraud allegedly committed by Calisto Tanzi, founder and owner of the dairy giant Parmalat. The scandal combined with repeated transport strikes led to an all-time low of 102.6 in consumer confidence, according to Reuters.

    Is it the euro's fault? Berlusconi, with his flair for the dramatic, said that the decision to switch from lira to euro is the reason for high consumer price increases. (The euro is the single European currency that was put into circulation in 2002 in 12 European Union countries including Italy.) Other Italian leaders disagree. Both President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi and European Commission President Romano Prodi responded. Although Ciampi admits that the introduction of the euro led to price hikes, he said the change in currency is securing a brighter, more stable future for Italy's economy. Prodi added that the euro saved the country, amid the Parmalat scandal, from a financial collapse that would have rivaled the one in Argentina that still has the South American country in turmoil.

    Italy gets left out. Last week, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini retaliated on behalf of the Italian government after repeatedly being locked out of meetings between European Union leaders France and Germany. French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will be meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair February 18, and both are pushing for a core team of countries to lead the EU. As one of the six founding states with the label of being a "large" EU member, one would imagine that Italy would be included in the talks. But, so far, that has not been the case. Frattini told the Italian Parliament that "there cannot be a divisive nucleus which runs the risk of posing a threat to European integration." Italy is, therefore, against the idea of having core EU leadership pave the way for everyone else.

    The brain drain drains Italia, too. According to a recent article in Time, Europe's "best and brightest scientific minds are leaving in droves for the United States," which is costing Europe billions of euros and many jobs. Scientists know that the United States is the place to go for substantial funding for research, top facilities, optimal support and continuous opportunities. About 400,000 European science and technology graduates now live in the United States, according to the article. Numerous Italians, who had to leave the homeland for jobs, were interviewed for the Time piece. Italy, along with the rest of the EU, is doing its best to lure the talent back home by trying to develop labs and increased funding for projects. But, so far, the efforts have been to no avail.

    These obstacles might not be an indication of how successful Berlusconi and his Forza Italia colleagues are as leaders. Instead, these problems could just be proof that a unified Europe, with the different cultures, languages and beliefs of each state, still has a long way to go. Then again, strong and smart leaders make all the difference, right? I suppose it is up to each Italian to decide for herself who is to blame. And we'll find out what everyone really thinks during the European Parliament elections in June.

    What do you think? Tell us how you feel about Silvio Berlusconi, Forza Italia and the European Union. Write me at


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