December 13, 2016
Pretending as though nothing had happened in Rome
These are not the headlines a new government wants to read: "Gentiloni, governo fotocopia" was La Republicca's this morning, and it says it all. So does the front page cartoon in Corriere della Sera, showing President Sergio Mattarella going through the list of ministers and proclaiming that the name of Matteo Renzi was missing. In all other respects it is the same government, slightly reshuffled. With Paolo Gentiloni’s move from Palazzo Farnesia to Palazzo Chigi, the new foreign minister will beAngelino Alfano, formerly interior minister. And Elena Boschi, Renzi’s reform minister - and author of the failed constitutional reforms - has been promoted to arguably the most important job of all, that of under-secretary to the prime minister, coordinating all strands of policy including the secret service.
We don’t often agree with Massimo D'Alema, the former Italian prime minister and standard bearer of the left of the PD, but he was right saying that this response to the referendum will have lost the PD a further four or five points of electoral support. He also dismissed Renzi's extraordinary claim that the 40% who supported yes would be the core constituency for the PD at the next elections. D'Alema rightly pointed out a comparison to a previous referendum in 1985, where the Communists achieved 45%, but only managed 27% at the subsequent elections.
We are going to say this outright: Gentiloni is a weak transitional leader. And there is already ample evidence of this. When asked about his "photocopy government" he said that, if he had tried to do more, the government would not have been ready in time for the European Council on Thursday. Gentiloni also said that he would not oppose Renzi’s ambition to have elections by the summer, hoping that Renzi would not criticise him too severely - although he said he would fully understand if he does. One does not get the sense that Gentiloni is his own man. This sentiment was also expressed, albeit more cautiously, in a comment by Lucia Annunziata in the Huffington Post Italia last night, who writes
"Despite the good intention of Matterella and the list of objectives outline by the new premier, it is impossible to pass this government off as a fresh start in a country that has just voted no to a previous government. The Gentiloni administration is born with fragility in its DNA.”
Renzi, meanwhile, expects to have elections by the summer with a proportional voting system, the idea being to prevent the Five Star Movement from forming a government coalition. As we have written before, no electoral law can ultimately overcome the Italian electorate’s disillusionment with the traditional parties, and this pathetic ministerial reshuffle will only strengthen that disillusionment.