Italy’s Left Rules Out Centrist Coalition After Election

Italy’s left-wing leaders do not intended to prop up another Mario Monti government.

Italian left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani addresses a Partito Democratico congress in Rome, January 17
Italian left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani addresses a Partito Democratico congress in Rome, January 17 (Ilaria Prili)

Italy’s left-wing leader Pier Luigi Bersani on Thursday dismissed the possibility of breaking his alliance with smaller Green and socialist parties in favor of a centrist coalition that includes the supporters of incumbent prime minister Mario Monti’s reelection.

Bersani, whose Partito Democratico is expected to win a plurality of the seats in February’s election, said, “This possibility does not exist,” when asked about sacrificing Sinistra Ecologia Libertà, formerly a coalition of far-left parties, to enter a coalition with Monti’s supporters.

Unlike Bersani’s own party, Sinistra Ecologia Libertà did not support Monti’s economic and fiscal reforms through last year. Partly leader Nichi Vendola has characterized the possibility of joining a government that includes Monti as “fantasy politics.”

The former European commissioner who took over as prime minister from Silvio Berlusconi in November 2011, when Italy appeared to teeter on the brink of sovereign default, told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland earlier this week: “the most difficult reforms that will have to be undertaken will require broad coalitions.” He later said in a radio interview that he had “no intention of making any agreement with parties that aren’t strongly reformist” but pointed out that Berlusconi’s right-wing Il Popolo della Libertà was resisting anti-graft legislation proposed by his government, implying that he prefers a coalition with the left.

The parties that support Monti get just over 11 percent of the votes in a recent preelection poll whereas Partito Democratico and Sinistra Ecologia Libertà win 32 percent combined. The two may narrowly secure a majority in the lower house of parliament but probably not the Senate where they would need centrist support to pass legislation.

Bersani would then have little choice but to strike a deal with the centrists. Raising the prospect now could convince leftists to switch their vote for the far left, however, denying Partito Democratico the plurality.

Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà and Lega Nord, the separatist party that supported his previous governments, get almost 17 and 6 percent in the survey, respectively.

Monti’s reform efforts, which included tax increases to balance Italian state spending as well as labor market and pension reforms, were backed by both the main left- and right-wing parties in the country. Berlusconi’s conservatives pulled their support from the technocrat’s administration in December, however, citing a collapse in home sales, economic contraction, the rising tax burden and tepid labor reforms.

Both parties now criticize Monti’s austerity program. Renato Brunetta, the main economics spokesman for the right and a former public administration minister, told Reuters last month that Monti’s budget and economic policies had failed. “Putting our heads down and carrying on like this with a blood, sweat and tears economic policy designed by Angela Merkel,” the German chancellor, “doesn’t help anyone,” he said. Berlusconi has repeatedly touted his willingness to stand up to German demands while he was prime minister.

Stefano Fassina, the main economics spokesman for the left, told the Financial Times earlier this month that he sees no need for further labor market reforms. “It is not difficult for businesses to fire people in Italy,” he said. Partito Democratico previously blocked a government proposal to lift the obligation on the part of businesses to rehire workers who are deemed by court to have been wrongfully discharged.

However, Fassina added that “the structural reform agenda should move on. We want to open up the insurance market, pharmacies, legal services.”

Monti walked back on pharmacy liberalization when the unions balked at a proposal to allow more drugstores. Aspiring pharmacists still have to prove a “tradition” to open one. As a consequence, it’s virtually impossible except for the children of active pharmacists to enter the profession.

Efforts to lift professional restrictions on attorneys have been similarly halfhearted. Minimum tariffs imposed by Berlusconi’s previous government were abolished but in order to compensate lawyers, a maximum was set on the number that can be employed in the industry, making it even harder for law graduates to start a business.

Italy’s judicial system is among the most bloated in the world. It employs some 211.000 lawyers compared to 155.000 in Germany which has twenty million more citizens. Trials take up to 1,000 days on average and can be susceptible to political interference, forcing companies to often settle out of court.

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