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Accomplishing reforms and overcoming limitations in the wake of The Economist’s commendation of Italy

Little Italy. Pizza, mafia and mandolin. Spaghetti-eaters. Chatterboxes. The sick nation of Europe. For the time being, we can bin all stereotypes, as Italy has been named “country of the year” by The Economist, the weekly magazine that has never been sparing in its blistering criticism and cutting irony – especially last year, in 2020, when it termed Italy “a country in decline, useless on the international scene, with a stagnant economy and a ruling class that simply squanders ideas and resources.” A critical tradition perpetuated, in previous years, through scathing covers: such as the one featuring Berlusconi, labelling him “Unfit to lead Italy”; the one with Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, proclaiming “Send in the clowns”; and the one capturing the overall precariousness of Italy – a bus with the tricolour flag perched on the verge of a cliff, entitled “The Italia job”, the source of “Europe’s next crisis”.

But now the tune has changed and Italy is distinguished with “Triumphal honours”, hailed as the “most-improved country of 2021”. All thanks to Mario Draghi who, appointed Prime Minister by the Italian Parliament, has “changed the country”. Indeed, with Draghi, Italy “acquired a competent, internationally respected prime minister” and this political turnaround, sought for and backed by President Sergio Mattarella, meant that “a large majority of Italian politicians buried differences to support a programme of profound reforms aimed at obtaining the funds to which Italy is entitled according to the European Recovery plan.”

Here’s the deal: according to The Economist, which by and large reflects the most authoritative and widespread opinions of the international business community – not just in English-speaking but, more generally, in western countries – Italy is the nation that this year, pandemic and recession notwithstanding, has changed the most and for the better.

The favourable views expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her last days in office spring to mind, too: in the fight against COVID-19 and its variants, do like Italy – and follow its example, too, to relaunch the economy (looking at its GDP data, Italy is “bouncing back” much better than Germany and France).

A nice Christmas present by The Economist, then. In Italian political and entrepreneurial quarters, the feeling of pride is unmistakable. Credit where credit’s due, indeed. So, let’s put aside that particular tendency, which sadly affects large parts of the public opinion, to speak ill of our own country, to be hypercritical, to heighten the darker sides of politics and society (though real enough). And let’s try, instead, to build a more reputable image, based on the many things that are going well (innovative companies; social solidarity; generous initiatives by the “third sector”; banking foundations – like the Fondazione Cariplo and the Compagnia di San Paolo – that, in the words of ACRI president Francesco Profumo, “create alliances to benefit the collective interest”; quality cultural initiatives; the widespread reports about a robust “positive social capital”).

Italy – as many scholars and observers of economy and society have been saying for a long time – deserves a better narrative. Recognition by The Economist certainly helps, just as global sports victories do, or the Nobel Prize for Physics to Giorgio Parisi, or, further, the acknowledgement of Luciano Floridi, Oxford professor, as “the most influential philosopher in the world”.

It’s all very rewarding. These are successes on which we can build to keep on improving, being careful, however, not to allow self-satisfaction to make us too complacent.

In fact, The Economist also reminds us that Italy’s stability is a precarious one, that “week governance” is a threat that may come back our way, and that Draghi leaving Palazzo Chigi for the Quirinale could weaken the ongoing recovery

Moreover, even so, Italy still retains many of its historical features steeped into political, economic and social fragility. And Sabino Cassese is right when, on the Corriere della Sera (18 December), he talks about “Recovery”, but “with no illusions” concerning the “many weak points” affecting the quality of Italian politics, the limitations of public administration, the burden of public debt, the production crises – especially in the public sectors and those segments not influenced by market trends –; the shortcomings in education (exacerbated by poor teaching, due to recruitment processes that disregard merits and skills); the issues concerning environment and territory. And so on, without forgetting the long catalogue of reforms and innovations that have been lacking over the years, the monumental burden of corporations and patronage, and widespread criminality (from massive tax evasion to the pervasiveness of organised crime).

Though, to be fair, some reforms are ongoing. And the Next Generation Recovery Plan, as well as allocating huge financial resources, has also forced the Italian Government and Parliament to acknowledge the needs and the urgency of introducing further reforms, necessary to ensure that those sums are well spent. The arrival of Draghi at Palazzo Chigi has, thankfully, accelerated a process that may have otherwise ground to a halt.

Yet, there’s still a lot to accomplish. And, knowing this, as well as being a source of pride, reading The Economist could perhaps inspire us to keep on moving forward – it could be an incentive for politicians and social stakeholders to take charge and responsibility for building a better country, in all earnest.

Little Italy. Pizza, mafia and mandolin. Spaghetti-eaters. Chatterboxes. The sick nation of Europe. For the time being, we can bin all stereotypes, as Italy has been named “country of the year” by The Economist, the weekly magazine that has never been sparing in its blistering criticism and cutting irony – especially last year, in 2020, when it termed Italy “a country in decline, useless on the international scene, with a stagnant economy and a ruling class that simply squanders ideas and resources.” A critical tradition perpetuated, in previous years, through scathing covers: such as the one featuring Berlusconi, labelling him “Unfit to lead Italy”; the one with Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo, proclaiming “Send in the clowns”; and the one capturing the overall precariousness of Italy – a bus with the tricolour flag perched on the verge of a cliff, entitled “The Italia job”, the source of “Europe’s next crisis”.

But now the tune has changed and Italy is distinguished with “Triumphal honours”, hailed as the “most-improved country of 2021”. All thanks to Mario Draghi who, appointed Prime Minister by the Italian Parliament, has “changed the country”. Indeed, with Draghi, Italy “acquired a competent, internationally respected prime minister” and this political turnaround, sought for and backed by President Sergio Mattarella, meant that “a large majority of Italian politicians buried differences to support a programme of profound reforms aimed at obtaining the funds to which Italy is entitled according to the European Recovery plan.”

Here’s the deal: according to The Economist, which by and large reflects the most authoritative and widespread opinions of the international business community – not just in English-speaking but, more generally, in western countries – Italy is the nation that this year, pandemic and recession notwithstanding, has changed the most and for the better.

The favourable views expressed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel in her last days in office spring to mind, too: in the fight against COVID-19 and its variants, do like Italy – and follow its example, too, to relaunch the economy (looking at its GDP data, Italy is “bouncing back” much better than Germany and France).

A nice Christmas present by The Economist, then. In Italian political and entrepreneurial quarters, the feeling of pride is unmistakable. Credit where credit’s due, indeed. So, let’s put aside that particular tendency, which sadly affects large parts of the public opinion, to speak ill of our own country, to be hypercritical, to heighten the darker sides of politics and society (though real enough). And let’s try, instead, to build a more reputable image, based on the many things that are going well (innovative companies; social solidarity; generous initiatives by the “third sector”; banking foundations – like the Fondazione Cariplo and the Compagnia di San Paolo – that, in the words of ACRI president Francesco Profumo, “create alliances to benefit the collective interest”; quality cultural initiatives; the widespread reports about a robust “positive social capital”).

Italy – as many scholars and observers of economy and society have been saying for a long time – deserves a better narrative. Recognition by The Economist certainly helps, just as global sports victories do, or the Nobel Prize for Physics to Giorgio Parisi, or, further, the acknowledgement of Luciano Floridi, Oxford professor, as “the most influential philosopher in the world”.

It’s all very rewarding. These are successes on which we can build to keep on improving, being careful, however, not to allow self-satisfaction to make us too complacent.

In fact, The Economist also reminds us that Italy’s stability is a precarious one, that “week governance” is a threat that may come back our way, and that Draghi leaving Palazzo Chigi for the Quirinale could weaken the ongoing recovery

Moreover, even so, Italy still retains many of its historical features steeped into political, economic and social fragility. And Sabino Cassese is right when, on the Corriere della Sera (18 December), he talks about “Recovery”, but “with no illusions” concerning the “many weak points” affecting the quality of Italian politics, the limitations of public administration, the burden of public debt, the production crises – especially in the public sectors and those segments not influenced by market trends –; the shortcomings in education (exacerbated by poor teaching, due to recruitment processes that disregard merits and skills); the issues concerning environment and territory. And so on, without forgetting the long catalogue of reforms and innovations that have been lacking over the years, the monumental burden of corporations and patronage, and widespread criminality (from massive tax evasion to the pervasiveness of organised crime).

Though, to be fair, some reforms are ongoing. And the Next Generation Recovery Plan, as well as allocating huge financial resources, has also forced the Italian Government and Parliament to acknowledge the needs and the urgency of introducing further reforms, necessary to ensure that those sums are well spent. The arrival of Draghi at Palazzo Chigi has, thankfully, accelerated a process that may have otherwise ground to a halt.

Yet, there’s still a lot to accomplish. And, knowing this, as well as being a source of pride, reading The Economist could perhaps inspire us to keep on moving forward – it could be an incentive for politicians and social stakeholders to take charge and responsibility for building a better country, in all earnest.