Wednesday, 22 January 2014

IPSG Conference "2013 Italian general elections: Italian politics at the crossroads?"

On Friday 17 January, the Italian Politics Specialist Group organised a 1-day conference focussing on the results of the February 2013 election, and the effects these have had on the Italian Political system. The event attracted scholars and attendees from many UK and Italian universities, as well as members of Italian political parties in the UK, and practitioners.

Prof. Gainfranco Pasquino and Prof. Martin Bull 
The day started off with a great key-note address delivered by Prof. Gianfranco Pasquino. Quoting J.M. Keynes, the presentation opened with a deliberately controversial claim: "general elections are always dismal affairs". Drawing on this, Prof. Pasquino provded the audience with a compelling analysis of the most relevant data concerning the election and post-election scenario. Firstly, he argued that the February '13 election showed that the Italian society is highly fragmented, and the Italian political parties are particularly good at representing such fragmentation. Interestingly, drawing on primary data, he showed the audience that this trend is not a new one -- in fact, very little has changed between 1994 and 2013. Another interesting point raised by Prof. Pasquino concerns the number of new parties in the Italian political system. Between 1994 and 2013 a plethora of new parties have emerged, whilst many other have changed their name and/or structure -- so that, currently, the Northern League is the oldest party in Italy. On the whole, in 1993 the average age of the party system was 38.1, while in 2013 such average has dropped to 6.4. This shows the fragmentation and instability of the Italian political system in the post-tangentopoli era, and led Prof. Pasquino to develop a reflection on what it should take to overcome an instability that seems to be intrinsic to the logics and structures of Italian parties. In this sense, one of the key issues seems to concern what he defined the "partyness of governments", underlining how, especially in recent years, many Ministers do not have purely political expertise, resulting in the creation of governments made of non-party members -- i.e. inexperienced politicians who do not have neither the 'know-how' or the 'know-whom', as Pasquino put it, to deliver. Prof. Pasquino concluded his speech identifying two main consequences of the 2013 election: 1) Italy has now a "government of the Quirinale", which relies (and depends) on President Napolitano; 2) the system remains totally in flux, and is characterised by an unstable government with a PM (Letta) and three extra-parliamentary leaders: Grillo, Berlusconi and Renzi.

Audience & presenters
The day then continued with excellent papers being presented by some of the foremost experts in Italian politics.

The first panel (Political Parties and the Challenges ahead) looked at key topics such as:
1) the election of the new leader of the PD, through a paper presented by Prof. Fulvio Venturino and Dr Natascia Porellato;
2) the way in which the FiveStar MoVement is 'changing' now that it is in office, thanks to a paper co-authored by Dr Fabio Bordigno and Dr Luigi Ceccarini
3) primary elections within the PD, 5SM, and Left, Ecology, Freedom, with a paper co-authored by Marco Valbruzzi and Dr Natascia Porcellato

The second panel (Media & Campaigns) focussed on political communication strategies during the electoral campaign, and focussed on the role of entertainment media (paper by Dr Antonio Ciaglia and Dr Marco Mazzoni) and questions of issue ownership (paper by Dr Antonella Seddone and Dr Giuliano Bobba).

Dr Elisa Lello, Prof. Martin Bull and Dr Daniele Albertazzi
The third panel (Key Themes & Open Questions) looked at the way in which younger Italian perceive politic, thanks to a fascinating paper presented by Dr Elisa Lello. Then, Eva Garau presented a paper on the paradox of the rhetoric of immigration in Italy, and finally Prof. Martin Bull and Elisabetta Cassina-Wolff analysed in-depth the main issues surrounding the process of institutional and constitutional reforms in Italy.

The day came to a close with a thought-provoking round-table discussion on the future of Italy, focussing in particular at the short-term and long-term effects of 1) the reformation of Forza Italia: 2) the election of Renzi as the secretary of the PD. Prof. Guglielmo Meardi, Prof. Anna Cento-Bull, Prof. Gianfranco Pasquino and Prof. Martin Bull contributed to the debate with timely reflections.
Some of the main conclusions were: 1) that the reformation of Forza Italia is a way in which Berlusconi is trying to prolong his political life, and to 'mark his territory' -- showing former allies (and potential 'heirs' like Alfano) that he is still in the game. 2) that Renzi on the one hand is possibly one of the last hopes for the Italian left, and yet, quoting Prof. Pasquino he "does not know what he wants, he does not know what he thinks he wants, but he knows that he wants it now".

Round-table panellists.
From left to right:
Prof. Meardi, Prof. Cento-Bull, Dr Albertazzi, Prof. Pasquino and Prof. Bull

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