Thursday

21st Mar 2019

Interview

Prodi: mafia and bureaucracy are Italy's worst problems

  • Italians will this weekend hold their first election for almost five years (Photo: wikipedia)

This weekend (24 and 25 February) Italians will have their first general elections in almost five years.

The last time they went to the polls to choose politicians for the upper and lower houses of parliament was when Romano Prodi left office as prime minister in 2008.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Five years on and a financial crisis later, a lot has changed.

Italy still has the eighth largest economy in the world and the third largest in the eurozone. But volatility on bond markets drove it close to bankruptcy last year, while youth unemployment, according to the European Commission, has hit 37 percent.

Meanwhile, in the run-up to voting, Italy's largest investment bank, Mediobanca, has warned that if Silvio Berlusconi, its populist former leader, wins it could trigger a shock on financial markets that would force Rome to seek a bailout.

Speaking to EUobserver, Prodi highlighted two reasons for Italy's economic misery.

"I give a lot of responsibility [for the crisis] to criminality, to the mafia," he said.

"In Italy you have very efficient companies and you have a lot of acquisitions by foreign countries, but no greenfield investment and no research-based investment. Italy is not being chosen for such new initiatives. What do I mean? I mean that foreign companies are willing to buy market share in Italy, but they don't want to take further risks because of this problem [organised crime] we have in Italy, even if it is limited to certain regions and even if there is an ongoing fight against it," he added.

He said the second reason is the slow pace of Italian bureaucracy.

"The difference between now and 20 years ago is that these days people make decisions so quickly. You see how companies move from one day to the next from the United States to Asia. So if you have a public administration that takes years to give permission to build a new factory, this is not compatible with the modern world. These are the two problems: Italian public administration and corruption," Prodi noted.

"The traditional behaviour, the culture of this country has to change even more than it did after it entered the euro," he added.

The 73-year-old centre-left politician and economist is also worried about apathy among young Italians.

"They don't react. There is no reaction [to the crisis]. It is quite dramatic," he said.

"I have been teaching in universities for many years and I still have some seminars, but students never said to me before: 'Look, professor, I am sure I will be unemployed' or 'I am sure I will only find temporary work, if I am lucky'," he noted.

He said the crisis has created abnormalities in the Italian labour market.

"We have a new phenomenon in Italy - immigration of low-skilled manpower for jobs that Italians don't want to do even if there is unemployment, and increasing emigration of the most talented young people. Italians with PhDs work more and more abroad. My nephews are among them … We cannot go on this way," he noted.

Prodi is less unhappy because young Italians are emigrating to other European countries instead of the US.

But he said the EU needs more stimulus and less austerity in order to save the prospects of the current generation.

"Honestly, I don't understand why Europe does not now choose a different economic policy. Look - even Germany is not growing. Europe is becoming a black spot in the world … Germany has a fantastic surplus in its balance of trade. Why don't they put some fuel in the locomotive?" he said.

"I hope that in the future, Italy again becomes a country of innovation, of new initiatives," he noted.

"If you look at the balance sheets of medium-sized, family-run Italian companies, they are fantastic, and this year we increased exports more than Germany in relative terms," he added.

Banks dominate debate

Turning to the weekend's elections, Prodi said that even as EU politicians and market analysts look to Italy, Italian voters are showing little interest in Europe.

One reason is there is little difference between the candidates in terms of EU policies.

"The basic European doctrine is shared by all the people in the coalition. The democratic centre-left group is pro-European. [Caretaker PM and former commissioner Mario] Monti is by definition pro-European. Even Berlusconi is basically pro-European. Out of the new groups, like [that of satirist Beppe] Grillo, they are more anarchic, but [Europe] is not really part of the debate. It is strange, but this is life," he said.

Instead, political campaigns are devoting attention to banks.

Italy was last month shocked by news that Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world's oldest still-running bank and Italy's third biggest lender, has over €700 million of losses on its books due to dodgy trades.

The Italian city of Siena is the bank’s largest shareholder, linking the scandal to local politicians.

Prodi said that in the old days local elites could effectively oversee bank activity. But today, their involvement has no benefit due to the speed and complexity of bank transactions.

He noted there should be a "wall" between banks and politicians in all of Europe.

"This is a problem not only for Italy. Landesbanken are the main political problem in Germany, Civic banks in Spain … In all cases, the mixture of local political life and management of the banks is too strong," he said.

From next year, the European Central Bank will directly supervise 150 big banks.

But oversight of the rest of Europe's 6,000-or-so smaller lenders will stay in the hands of national supervisors.

"I am not happy that European Central Bank control has been limited," Prodi noted.

"In a world where all the banks, big or small, can go to the international markets and create huge quantities of debt, how can a local-level structure make decisions about that?" he said.

The first part of EUobserver's interview with Prodi was published on 2 February, looking at his current role as UN special envoy to the Sahel region. The second part, published 18 February, looked at EU affairs and his time as European Commission President

Interview

Mali miracle: EU states in agreement

France did not consult anybody before dropping bombs in Mali, the UN's special envoy to Sahel, Romano Prodi, has said. But its level of UN and EU support is "unique."

Opinion

Why Europe should not worry about Italy

While seemingly a threat to EU stability and at the heart of possible contagion, Italy is historically used to navigating through uncertainty, short-lived governments and catastrophic economic forecasts.

Opinion

Why is Italy in political stalemate?

Fundamental differences on how to govern Italy, not on policy, are stopping Italy's top three parties from making a deal.

Feature

Romania enlists priests to promote euro switchover plan

Romania is due to join the single currency in 2024 - despite currently only meeting one of the four criteria. Now the government in Bucharest is enlisting an unlikely ally to promote the euro to the public: the clergy.

Trump and Kurz: not best friends, after all

The visit of Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz to the White House on Wednesday showed that the current rift in transatlantic relations is deepening by the day.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Latest News

  1. EPP suspends Orban's Fidesz party
  2. Macron is confusing rigidity with strength
  3. May tosses Brexit spanner into EU machinery
  4. Centre-right EPP faces showdown with Orban
  5. A compromise proposal for the Article 50 extension
  6. US glyphosate verdict gives ammunition to EU activists
  7. Have a good reason for Brexit extension, Barnier tells UK
  8. EU countries push for new rule of law surveillance

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  2. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  3. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  5. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  6. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  7. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  8. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  10. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  11. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us