Friday, December 28, 2012

Vendola Replies

With considerably less fanfare than Monti's original salvo, Vendola has responded to the outgoing premier's "agenda Monti" and blunt criticisms with his own "agenda Vendola":

“Per me – ha concluso il Presidente – l’agenda Vendola è questa: è l’idea che difendere il lavoro dalla violenza della precarietà e difenderlo dalla sua subordinazione a un comando autoritario, non è conservatorismo, ma è innovazione, è la qualità del lavoro che fa crescere l’economia. Investire sulla formazione permanente dei lavoratori significa investire sul futuro. Questo abbiamo fatto in Puglia e i dati economici dicono che abbiamo fatto bene.

Is the defense of labor "conservative," as Monti charged in his end-of-session address, or progressive, as Vendola insists? This is a theme we will be hearing more about in the campaign: but which side will Bersani take?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Italy All a-Twitter

Thanks to Philippe Ridet, Le Monde's highly perceptive eyes and ears in Rome, we now know what Mario Monti was doing at 11:30 pm on Christmas night: he was tweeting inspirational words to the Italian electorate. Yes, as Ridet wryly suggests, Monti is not the "couche-tôt" we thought he was ... More to the point, what are the odds a man who stays up late on Christmas composing an electoral communication will not seek the office he covets? It only remains to find out how exactly he intends to campaign.

Meanwhile, I plan to spend some time parsing Monti's electoral program, and I would encourage anyone seriously interested in this election to do the same. One way or another, it will be the Scriptural centerpiece: Berlusconi will decry it, Grillo will ridicule it, Bersani must figure out how to gracefully amend it, and Monti of course has positioned himself atop it. But is it any more than a collection of truisms, as some have suggested? I'll put my opinion up in a few days, and will be eager to hear yours.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Monti Doth Bestride the Parties like a Colossus

Finally we have the answer: Mario Monti would like to return as Italy's premier, but he wants to be invited, not elected. A rational choice (who would have expected less?), if the polls speak truly when they give him only 15% at the head of a center-right coalition. A clear electoral defeat would have exhausted his store of magic. Without his star power, those center-right parties--Casini's UDC, Fini's finiani, Montezemolo's non-party--will probably harvest even fewer votes ... but perhaps enough to keep Bersani's PD from a clear victory. In the negotiations that follow will Monti have a chance to form the government? I wouldn't think so, but maybe better odds by that route than by any other.

Meanwhile Berlusconi's PdL and Maroni's Lega are already at the barricades, waging populist war against Monti, his taxes, his recession, his Germanic affections, his subtlety. If either were less discredited, one could almost imagine such a critique taking hold--Italy is in terrible shape, Monti's 'reforms,' the fraction that were passed, have borne little tangible fruit, while the reduced borrowing rates--arguably the one real sign of his success--are not the stuff of popular applause. But how could anyone take them seriously, the much-indicted Lega or Berlusconi with his clownish on-again off-again courtship of the Monti he now disparages? I've been wondering for nearly 20 years ...

And to Monti's left? With Bersani there seems to be little room for strife: praise was flowing abundantly in both directions today, and Bersani is clearly preparing to run on his loyalty to Monti--a much-repeated phrase--with all the credibility that brings him in the Euro-world. By far the most pungent remark Monti made in his lengthy press conference--more so than the headlined questioning of Berlusconi's "linear thinking"--was his warning to Bersani: "Vendola has a right to ask Bersani to keep a distance from the Monti agenda, and Bersani has a right to consider whether he will." But will he?

Saturday, December 22, 2012

His Master's Voice?

The countdown continues. Only hours now till Monti announces his decision, and the Italian political system can get on with its life. Will he run? Not? Sort of? "Neither yes nor no," Monti offered today, showing at least some humor at all the hype.

I would make the case, though, that the form in which Monti, or montismo, enters the lists is pehaps not the most interesting thing happening at this moment, despite all the hoopla. And no, Berlusconi's hysterics aren't it either. I would turn instead to journalist Federico Geremicca's column in today's Stampa, where he looks at the nearly invisible drama of Bersani and the PD. This election is, after all, theirs to lose. And Geremicca comes to the same conclusion I do: that the Vendola question, which needs to be resolved before the campaign can enter full swing, is the pivot on which Bersani rises or falls.

In this discussion 'Vendola' really stands for the legacy of the fractured, fractious Italian left in recent decades, the lingering aura of the Italian Communist Party, the adherence of people like Bersani and Vendola to that legacy, their sincerity as 'reformers.' Bersani has earned a certain 'fiducia' as a reformist minister and unwavering supporter of Monti's government: from Frankfurt to the Wall St. Journal he is seen as relatively 'safe.' Vendola, not so much. And beyond the actual election--but very much a part of the campaign--lies the question: could Bersani govern with the center parties, the montiani with or without their eponym, without dumping Vendola or at least taming him? Geremicca thinks not,  and he cautions Vendola to "think harder about how much is at stake" and desist from his "daily attacks on Monti, his government, and his agenda."

But wait. Vendola's often severe attacks on Monti have stopped, at least for the time being. Vendola's blog is all about Puglia and the successes his regional government is reaping (better employment and export statistics than the rest of Italy, prison reforms, even some praise for Monti's government's indemnification of the Ilva steel workers). You would hardly know there was a national election campaign starting up, with its dramatic twists and turns.

One of the nightmare scenarios for PD sympathizers like Geremicca is the spectre of undisciplined leftist allies that brought down Romano Prodi in 2008. Bersani loudly proclaims, This time it's different; we're one party, not eleven. Vendola's discretion may prove him right--but where does that leave the Left?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Ecce Monti

It's 'official': Mario Monti has all but announced his candidacy for premier. In fact, his friends were announcing it for him all day, or rather, announcing that Monti ipse would be announcing as much on Sunday--don't make any plans!

Now I'm pretty new to Italian politics, but I find all the mystique surrounding the creation of this candidacy peculiarly liturgical, mystifying, almost metaphysical, like something from the Missal or a book of saints' lives. A few days ago Monti was praying over his decision at St. Francis's church in Assisi. He has made the rounds of commissioners,  queens, and popes, anointed by one and all. And now [drumroll, please] his intentions will be withdrawn from the Holy of Holies and held up to the people on Sunday morning.

In its own way this prolonged process is great theater. Monti has held the stage for two weeks, where he models the very prudential, thorough, and aloof management he is marketing with his candidacy. Between Monti's deliberations and Berlusconi's persistent antics, Bersani is almost hidden from view, and might as well enjoy the holidays back in Piacenza.

Monti meanwhile will arrive in campo on this last Sunday in Advent like some gift of the Magi--but can the scent of incense last till the election in February?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Is This Man a Leftie?

What does it mean that Mario Monti, if he chooses to run for premier as head of a list, will draw two thirds of his votes, according to current polls, from the center-left? Is it just that the center-left gathers a certain sober, anti-Berlusconi, no-nonsense voter for whom Monti's probity is greater than Bersani's? Or has Bersani bent so far in the direction of supporting Monti, austerity 'reforms' and all, that the Italian center-left and what the French call 'social-liberalisme' are indistinguishable?

 In any case this curious fact doesn't really clarify the shape of the coming election, with Monti's options still murky and the outcome of Berlusconi's frenetic maneuvers wholly unclear. But it does raise the question, especially as Vendola is being pretty carefully marginalized (see post for 12/14), that there may not be much of a Left in this race--unfortunate for Italy, and for the larger EU, which could use an alternative vision of the possibile. But the two months before the vote will be an eternity: IF Monti runs, and IF he gathers the center of the center-left, might Bersani renew his ties to Vendola and run a real left campaign? One possibility among many ...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wagner in Italy

In the spirit of yesterday's post I want to recall a different drama, or at least a certain thread in the story of last week's dramatic events. It was Friday, December 7 when Angelino Alfano denounced Monti's government on the floor of parliament as a thing that had reached its end. That evening, the opening concert at La Scala took place, a performance of "Lohengrin" that also inaugurated the dual bicentennial of Verdi and Wagner. In attendance were Monti and five of his ministers, guests of the mayor of Milano, all elegantly dressed in white tie with their glittering wives. A grand occasion.

But there are a few oddities. Daniel Barenboim doesn't open the performance with the national anthem, "Brothers of Italy," as required by protocol with the head of government in attendance. Or is it only for heads of state? As it happens head of state Giorgio Napolitano is not in attendance, as expected. He is back in Rome addressing the crisis Alfano's remarks have precipitated. Earlier, rumor has it that Napolitano is miffed that Barenboim gave pride of place to Wagner over Verdi--but no, we are permitted to read a charming exchange of notes between the President and the Maestro which reveal the rumors to be false. The Wagner-Verdi entente is solid--or is it? Is the unplayed anthem a gesture? Then at the last moment Barenboim surprises everyone: he interrupts the final ovation to lead soloists and chorus in "Brothers of Italy" after all.  A full fifteen minutes of applause will follow.

More strangeness. The unknown White Knight, later identified as Lohengrin, son of Parsifal, has been sent to rescue the innocent Elsa and redeem Brabant.  How many in the audience are thinking of Premier Monti, whose enemies call him a Prusso-Italian, his friends the White Knight, that technocrat from Frankfurt by way of Brussels come down to rescue Italia? But wait: this time the Teutonic hero is presented by the German director Claus Guth as a neurotic wash-out pulled onto the stage cringing in fetal position. Murmurs in the boxes: this isn't Wagner's Lohengrin. What does the imperturbable Monti think, watching from the box of honor? Is he seeing his emasculated political self in Guth's eccentric characterization of the German hero?

Incidentally, the lovely German soprano Annette Dasch has just flown in this morning from Frankfurt to sing the role of Elsa: both the Italian diva and her Italian understudy have come down with something and can't perform. Am I becoming obsessed with the Italo-German theme?

The next day Monti flies to Cannes for a meeting with other Eurozone leaders, then back to Rome, where he calls on Napolitano, and resigns. Has Elsa/Italia been abandoned, or will the unknown knight reveal himself and redeem her and Brabant after all? A few days later the White Knight visits Brabant (or Brussels--close enough) and receives the blessing of the German queen. Will he, like Lohengrin, take himself off the stage and retire to the Castle of the Grail? Or will he descend in campo, enter the field of combat, and restore the kingdom?

Is this just bad Wagner, contaminated by the theatrics of Verdi's children? Or is Italy ready to rise to the Germanic world-stage, and join in struggle with the gods?

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Viva Gli Azzurri!

It seems like only yesterday--actually it was a week ago, an eon in the current phase of Italian politics--that Pier Luigi Bersani was reassuring the financial world, via a Wall Street Journal interview, that he was with the program, prepared to honor all of Monti's international commitments, maintain the larger themes of reformist austerity; in short, to be an honorary German. And it was only two days ago in Brussels that Chancellor Merkel, faced with Italy's prodigal (Berlusconi) and dutiful (Monti) sons in the same overfilled room, was pleading with them to have a nice campaign, not one directed against Germany.

But here we are, and today the PD website featured this photo evoking Italy's contentious soccer history with its northern neighbor, and recalling its triumph in last summer's upset victory in the European championships. Will a future Premier Bersani score a breakaway goal against Merkel's formidable if slow-footed defense? Apparently his team is warming up to do just that.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Monti Enthroned in Brussels--Vendola Sent Home to Puglia--Berlusconi Gets a Time-Out

Just two quick vignettes today, as every politician in Italy worth his salt postures as though his life depended on it, and the papers are full of gossip.

 Far beyond gossip, though is the sublime article in today's Charlemagne, describing the scene yesterday in Brussels at the PPE party summit. This is a grand affair, grandly staged in the Académie Royale de Belgique, and attended by a who's who of the European center right: Madame Merkel to be sure, Presidents Barroso and van Rompuy, heads of many European governments ... and party leaders, even failed ones like Silvio Berlusconi, who, as the Economist's reporter noted, is seated off to the side. Front and center, receiving the accolades of one and all, is Premier Monti, a specially invited guest. The praise manages to allude, oh so delicately, to the shambles in which Mr. Berlusconi left the country for Monti to clean up with his classic austerity policies. Part Versailles-like theater among some of Europe's most potent players, part campaign event in Monti's not yet incubated candidacy, it was an eloquent moment in the transition from national to transnational governance in the EU.What does this leave for Berlusconi but a populist attack against Europe, the single currency, the whole cartload of his enemies? And what can Mario do, as the Economist additionally editorialized, but "Run, Mario, Run," a sentiment widely shared, at least in Brussels.

 On the other side of the fence, while Bersani calls on Monti to reserve his gifts for a nation that will need him elsewhere than on the hustings (as self-serving a patriotic appeal as anyone ever uttered), Bersani's surrogate, former premier Massimo D'Alema is out there in an interview with the Corriere della Sera, taking Vendola to task for being too oppositional toward Monti's austerity politics. "Vendola isn't going to be used as a bogeyman," he remarks. "The PD has 32%, SEL (Vendola's affiliated party) 5%." The Left will have to bend to the center. Manwhile Vendola continues to tout his string of regional successes--improved employment numbers, more exports, progress on the Ilva steel mill settlement, now prison reform--the work of a capable governor. Maybe government, real good government, is the answer after all.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Today's Scorecard: Get your Italian Politicians While They Last!

So where are we with this whirling, molten mass that is the Italian political system in the act of re-creation? Let me attempt a summing up--it will all change anyway by tomorrow. Starting on the far right, and moving leftward:

  • Umberto Bossi, formerly of the Northern League (separatist), suggested today he would run for parliament, and would dust off his rifle to prove he's serious.
  • Meanwhile the Lega Nord itself is reluctant to support the discredited Berlusconi but deeply worried that the Europeanist Monti may scarf up most of the center right, leaving it in hopeless opposition. Party leader Roberto Maroni is looking to cobble together some other coalition on the right, while protecting his party's chances in provincial elections in Lombardy, which will happen in February alongside the national election.
  • Silvio Berlusconi, the Cavalier, under multiple indictments and appealing his recent conviction, is showing more moves than a midfielder on his AC Milano team, but is anyone else playing his game? Today he seemed to withdraw his candidacy in favor of Monti, though yesterday he was in the race, declaring that Monti had brought the country to the brink. And tomorrow? Many think his motive is parliamentary immunity from prosecution, others a pathological need for publicity. My personal hunch is senility--just look at his creepy photos. The man's embalmed!
  • Which brings us to Mario Monti, the savior of Italy, hero of the European Union, the second coming of Lohengrin (I'll explain in a later post). Monti spent today in Brussels being praised and endorsed by Angela Merkel, José Manuel Barroso, and other EU luminaries (in total violation of diplomatic etiquette). Not yet a candidate, how can Monti fail to run after being unanimously proclaimed Italy's White knight?
  • Meanwhile Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, corporate head of Ferrari and an amateur politician, is still trying to build the center-right coalition that will be Monti's stalking horse, if President Giorgio Napolitano's ruling stands--he told Monti that as a senator for life he could serve as Premier but couldn't run for a seat in Parliament, the usual route for a party leader.
  • Everyone's dance-card prize, Pier Ferdinando Casini of the centrist Christian Democrats is playing hard to get. Bersani suggested today that he would need to bring Casini into his majority if elected, but won't do so in advance for fear of alienating his left supporters. Monti would match up nicely with Casini, maybe too nicely--the DC brand might lose its distinction. All other coalitions of the center-right pass through him. For now he is playing the hypnotized mongoose to Monti's coiling cobra.
  • Matteo Renzi: affable centrist, only 37, he seems to be taking Romano Prodi's advice, keeping quietly within Bersani's sheepfold, eligible for a ministry if the Democrats win, odds-on inheritor of the party win or lose. When Berlusconi publicly told him "The door's still open," Renzi publicly replied, "You can close it."
  • In firm possession of his Democratic Party's nomination, Pier Luigi Bersani (no-drami Bersani?) is the one major figure who seems to be keeping his head. To counter all the attention on the right, he announced primaries (in 2 weeks!) for parliamentary candidates, another effort to mobilize his base after the surprising success of the premiership primaries (see long article in previous post). Beyond holding steady (he has a commanding 30-35% in the polls), Bersani's real challenge is to articulate policies that differ from Monti's austerity but won't alarm the EU and its financiers, while keeping Vendola and the Old Left on board. A complex geometry: Bersani's orthodox statements to the Wall Street Journal had Vendola up in arms just yesterday.
  • And finally, Nichi Vendola, the bright star of Italy's real left, the communist, Catholic, eco-radical openly gay straight shooter who nurtures his SEL (Left Ecology Freedom) Party with little ethical homilies on his daily blog: Vendola has little choice but to keep his promise of support for Bersani, but as the campaign ratchets up and the pressures, domestic and foreign, mount on Bersani to steer to starboard, Vendola's task of keeping the 'left' in 'center-left' will grow harder. Meanwhile the eco-disaster of the Ilva steel mill, in Vendola's region and a test-case of his ecological fundamentalism, will raise its profile in an election that turns on jobs, growth, and competition.
  • That's it, except for Beppe Grillo, who can't be seated on the left or the right because he wants to blow up the whole hemisphere. That said, he is a sort of left-populist, his Five Stars Movement got a LOT of votes last month in Sicily, and if Berlusconi folds, a pack of angry, disenchanted 'low information' voters may turn yet to this irascible, irresponsible, utterly authoritarian 'non-politician,' who would refuse to govern. Would anyone notice? 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Clearing the Wreckage: What I Wrote a Few Days Ago About the Italian Primary Elections, Before All Hell Broke Loose

Archival: I begin these new posts with an outdated essay, something I wrote just a week ago on December 2, but it seems like months. The Italian Democratic Partyprimaries had just ended with Pier Luigi Bersani's anticipated victory over Matteo Renzi. After following the rise of Nichi Vendola for a year or so, my interest intensified after his first round elimination because he seemed poised to exert considerable influence on what followed. That is still true, as further posts will show.  So I wrote about Bersani, Renzi, and Vendola, not knowing that within days Berlusconi would return from the grave, Monti would resign, the Center would not hold, Berlusconi would change his mind about running, again and again, and Monti would play Hamlet, as they say, about his own political intentions. All that since last Friday, and Barenboim at La Scala and Napolitano at the Quirinale, and all eyes suddenly on the Italian election, shaping up a little sooner than anyone imagined.

So I reprint this article, still largely correct, I think, in its expectation of a Bersani-Monti face-off that may define the orientation of Europe. And in its attention to Vendola whose ideas of ecological and social justice reach an ever larger stage, and may tip the election one way or another.  After posting this article overrun by events, I'll turn to the daily catch of news and comment.

Clearing the Wreckage: A Fresh Start for Italy’s Troubled Politics? [3-5/12/2012]

The Italian Democratic Party primaries, in two rounds on November 25 and December 2, drew a surprising turnout of three million voters in this land of dysfunctional politics and disenchanted voters. To no one’s surprise Pier Luigi Bersani, the party’s veteran secretary, emerged victorious. But Bersani’s nomination to lead the center-left into next spring’s national election is a small part of the drama of an election cycle that witnessed the emergence of an odd couple of younger challengers, apocalyptic weather, and a constitutional dog-fight between the current premier Mario Monti and the Italian judiciary over the fate of Europe’s largest steel mill. At the bottom of this strange brew astute readers of European tea leaves may discern the precarious fate of Europe’s Left as the EU totters through an endless series of crises.
“The Wrecker”
By most measures the star of the primaries themselves was the 37-year-old mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi. Explicitly channeling Barack Obama’s improbable 2008 nomination campaign, Renzi emerged as a national figure while crisscrossing the peninsula in a camper placarded in red-white-and-blue with his vapid slogan “Adesso!” (“Now!”) Handsome and athletic, Renzi was dubbed  “il Rottamatore” (“the Wrecker”) by Italy’s sensationalist press as he repeatedly insisted that the older generation of Italian politicians should be hauled off to the junkyard. In the final round Renzi’s campaign of “rottamazione” fell short as Bersani won 61% to Renzi’s 39%, but Renzi’s glib, post-political centrism, all sizzle with little at stake, left its mark on Italy’s general election voters, who say they prefer him to Bersani by nearly ten points.
  Meanwhile one of Italy’s least likely political figures, Nichi Vendola, governor of Puglia in the southeast corner of the country and leader of the affiliated Left Ecology Freedom party, lost in the first round of the primaries with 16% of the vote but may still win the war for the soul of the center-left. Like Bersani, Vendola grew up in the Italian Communist Party, and like him he moved toward the center when the Party collapsed in the early 1990s. Unlike Bersani, though, Vendola is quick to claim “communist culture” as his own along with his devout Catholicism; he likes to cite the reformist cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan along with Communist Party founder Antonio Gramsci as his twin mentors. Vendola is also Italy’s first prominent openly gay politician, immensely popular in a region known for its macho mores, and an uncompromising environmentalist in a nation desperate for jobs. Against all odds he has twice been elected to Puglia’s top job.
One of Vendola’s most dogged concerns is to bring environmental justice to Puglia, home to the massively polluting Ilva steel mill. Immediately after his first election in 2005 Vendola began painstakingly documenting the emission of dioxins and benzopyrene that were causing notably elevated rates of cancer around the plant’s home base in the city of Taranto. Those efforts were undermined at the national level as the well-connected owners, the super-rich Riva family, found a protector in Italy’s notoriously corrupt premier, the “Cavalier” Silvio Berlusconi. Finally last July, after Berlusconi was sidelined in favor of the technocratic government of Mario Monti, a court in Puglia ordered the plant to be closed until it could comply with environmental regulations. Nearly twelve thousand direct jobs, and many more secondary ones, were thrown into the balance against the health and safety of Taranto’s residents.
Lightning Strikes—Twice
In November, just as the primary election was heating up, the Monti government moved to vacate the court order in order to keep Ilva’s workers on the job. Taranto’s streets were filled with workers marching for their jobs, but also demanding that the company be held accountable for the billions needed to clean up the plant and the region. Vendola hinted that nationalization might be the answer, just as France’s Socialist government was threatening to take ownership of its own floundering ArcelorMittal steel mill.
Then on November 28, just after Bersani and Renzi ran one-two in the first round of the primaries, a tornado blew up in the gulf of Taranto, and the Ilva plant was struck by lightning. A smokestack was shattered while floodwaters threatened the city. Though neither flood nor fire developed into the full-blown catastrophe many feared, Taranto was seized with the drama of a 29-year-old crane operator, Francesco Zaccaria, who was blown into the water and drowned, his body irretrievable for several days. Suddenly the threat of impending ecological disaster had a name and a face, and Vendola’s environmental politics began to look more inevitable than extreme.
Monti’s government nonetheless issued its promised decree on November 30 authorizing the plant to resume production. Environmental Minister Corrado Clini insisted that the plant had already been substantially modernized, and was on an acceptable path toward compliance with EU rules. Premier Monti declared that the Italian economy couldn’t withstand the loss of jobs, not just in Taranto but in a number of other factory towns that process the Ilva steel. Patrizia Todisco, the magistrate who had issued the stop-work order back in July, stood her ground, backed by the higher courts. She also has the full support of Vendola, who called Monti’s decree a “slap in the face of Taranto.” As of this writing it remains unclear how this constitutional standoff will be resolved.
Whither Europa?
Many uncertainties hang over the Italian national election, including the date. Will it be March? April? The ever-dysfunctional Italian Parliament has been unable to decide. More substantively, it has yet to resolve whether to leave in place the “Porcellum” (a neologism for “dirty tricks,” with overtones of piggishness), an electoral system whereby the leading party gets a disproportionate premium of seats to give it ballast. On the parliament’s decision hinges much strategic planning about electoral alliances as Italy’s dozen or more parties gear up to compete. Equally unclear is whether the 76-year-old Cavalier Berlusconi, still endowed with a core of admirers, vast personal wealth, and media ownership, will return to the hustings despite a corruption conviction, numerous outstanding indictments, and a string of retirement announcements. In spite of the best efforts of earnest straight-arrows like Vendola, Bersani and Monti, Italian politics still retains much of its opera buffa character. Witness the persistent popularity of anti-politician and stand-up comic Beppe Grillo, who may be Italy’s most popular national figure and whose Cinque Stelle movement—Italy’s version of a ‘Pirate Party’— could render any future parliament ungovernable.
A more serious unknown are the intentions of Mario Monti, a formidable figure whose austerity policies have made him more feared than loved, but have gained him grudging respect even from Bersani’s Democrats. When Monti launched his unelected government of technocrats last November, it was understood that in return for bipartisan support he would stand down … when the time came. He was in fact made a senator for life, a position that in the judgment of head of state Giorgio Napolitano makes him ineligible to run for premier. But that was then, and now Monti has begun to hint that il Paese may need him to serve another term after all. Napolitano’s ruling came with a wink: Monti can’t run for the office, but he can confer with whomever he likes, as Napolitano broadly suggested, and if the center-right parties win a majority and designate him their choice for prime minister, he would be free to serve. So Monti’s path is slightly circuitous, but he can’t be ruled out, and may turn out to be the front-running non-candidate.
Such is the enormously complicated field of play on which Bersani, nomination in hand, sets out in search of a governing majority. In its unpredictable, disorderly, and multi-faceted splendor it is a quintessentially Italian configuration. And yet the future of the European Union, so delicately poised between collapse and consolidation, may well hang on what happens in these elections.
Bersani’s first move is to placate Renzi’s more centrist following, and his victory speech included a promise to open up the party to “the young.” Indeed, the Florentine mayor has already made conciliatory gestures in support of Bersani. The Democrats will need to reach even further to the center, perhaps drawing on the Christian Democrats of Pier Ferdinando Casini, or the republican Italian Values party led by star anti-corruption prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro. But through all these efforts at coalition-building Bersani has suggested that he will insist on the frankly leftist social values he shares with Vendola: first of all, a tempering of Monti’s austerity policies to promote employment and growth; secondly, greater emphasis on sustainable economic strategies and renewable energy; and not least, full support for women’s equality and gay marriage.
Just as Candidate Bersani must walk a fine line to draw support from the center while keeping faith with Vendola on his left, a Bersani government would have to find a way to implement its social policies without displeasing the bond markets. Monti has renewed the faith of those markets, as declining rates bring cheers to the lips of business investors and financiers. While Bersani and Vendola are both strong supporters of the European idea, they are no friends of the austere consensus around Angela Merkel, the FANGs (Finland, Austria, Netherlands, and Germany), and the European Central Bank.

Could a Premier Bersani become the leader of a different Europe, the ‘social’ one European leftists have put on hold for twenty years? It is worth recalling that the charismatic pragmatism of Matteo Renzi, so strongly reminiscent of Tony Blair, failed to win him the nomination but showed signs of a much broader popularity across Italy beyond the precincts of the Democratic Party. In one symptomatic maneuver Renzi declared himself ready to follow the US lead by opposing the UN’s recognition of Palestine in a vote that took place on the same day as the final Bersani-Renzi debate. Bersani, on the other hand, proposed to join his neighbors across southern Europe in supporting the Palestinian request. Might that position—admittedly on an issue of secondary importance to most Italians—prefigure a broader alliance with the ‘southern tier’ of EU neighbors including Greece, Portugal, and Spain, but perhaps Socialist France as well?
Of all the possible outcomes of the Italian election, that might be the most surprising one of all. Can Pier Luigi Bersani, a plainspoken party functionary better known for his contorted metaphors than for soaring rhetoric, rise to the task of leading Europe back to its social democratic legacy? Can this modestly educated son of a village auto mechanic outmaneuver the powerful bankers in Frankfurt and reorient the EU’s priorities to favor workers’ rights, growth, and full employment? Can he gather a ‘United States of Europe’ around that vision?  It may be a long shot, but building a stable, progressive Italian government on the ruins of Berlusconi’s failed state would be excellent preparation.