CLASHES AT MASS EVICTION IN ROME AS CRISIS BITES

Protesters clash with police during the occupation of a building by associations that campaign for housing rights on April 16, 2014 in Rome (AFP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli)

-

By Ella IDE

Rome (AFP) – Riot police dragged away some 350 squatter families from abandoned offices in Rome amid violent clashes on Wednesday — the latest in a rising tide of forced evictions in Italy fuelled by the economic crisis.

Several people were injured as police used truncheons to break through a large group of protesters outside the building, where squatters had barricaded themselves in and taken to the roof.

An AFP photographer saw between 100 and 150 officers then entering the building — a former state-owned insurance agency — and escorting the residents out, nine days after the occupation began.

The families were loaded into around 10 waiting police vans in the area south of the city centre, which was entirely closed off to traffic for the operation.

“They clubbed us wildly, it was brutal,” Cristiano Armati, a member of the Coordinamento association which had helped occupy the building, told AFP by telephone from hospital.

“It doesn’t end here though. The fight for housing rights will go on,” said Armati, who said he was being treated for a broken elbow and cuts to the head.

Another protester injured in the clashes broke her leg and was seen being taken away in an ambulance.

Rome city council said around 90 properties in the city are currently occupied by squatters. The number of evictions in the capital is on the rise as families struggle to pay rent amid record-high unemployment.

The council carried out 3,346 evictions in the first six months of 2013 — a 10-percent increase from the first six months of 2012, according to the latest data.

A steady increase since 2008 “shows just how grave the impact of the economic crisis has been, dragging ever greater swaths of the population into the emergency housing phenomenon,” a council official told AFP.

The squatters were a mix of Italians and immigrants, many of whom lost their jobs in the economic crisis.

“They broke in, throwing our belongings out of the window, dragging us along the floor and kicking those who resisted,” one squatter, who did not want to be named, told La Repubblica daily.

The government last month launched a new housing plan that promised to double rent subsidies for low earners to 200 million euros ($280 million) for 2014 and 2015, but it also cracked down on squatters’ rights.

Critics say the subsidies are not enough and insist the government should do more to free up empty properties.

An investigation by Italy’s Panorama magazine last month put the number of lodgings currently lying empty in the Italian capital alone at 50,000 units.

Rome’s council said it was cracking down on those abusing the system, seizing council properties from high-income earners, who pay an average of 79 euros ($109) a month for apartments in the city centre — often despite owning yachts or secondary properties.

PRESIDENT OBAMA MEETS WITH PRIME MINISTER RENZI OF ITALY

-

OBAMA HOLDS TALKS WITH ITALIAN PRESIDENT

-

OBAMA’S VISIT TO ITALY, QUIET BUT CRUCIAL

by Riccardo Alcaro | Brookings

Barack Obama’s meeting with Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi today is a side event in a Rome agenda dominated by the U.S. President’s more politically significant visit to Pope Francis at the Vatican. For Obama, the political expediency to show some common ground with the highly popular Francis, with whom he shares an interest in promoting the cause of fighting global poverty and inequality, is evident. This is not to say, however, that Obama and Renzi will only exchange diplomatic courtesies.

For Renzi, it would be important to have Obama openly endorse his agenda to revive Italy’s economy. A blessing from the U.S. president, who is still very popular in Italy, would help Renzi build domestic support for his planned reforms of the labor market, the tax system, and government administration – all issues on which he faces significant opposition. The U.S. president has an interest in obliging, not least because Renzi aims to mitigate the German-championed austerity course the EU has been bent on for years. The U.S. administration has never favored the German approach as it is convinced that it has curbed Europe’s recovery, indirectly harming the U.S. economy.

Obama, for his part, has his own priorities concerning Italy. He will remind Renzi of the imperative for Western allies to keep a firm line on Russia following the latter’s forced takeover of Crimea. The U.S. wants Italy to be ready to support restrictive measures that go beyond the modest set of sanctions already agreed at the EU level. This is a thorny question for Italy, which has extensive trade and energy relations with Moscow. One issue U.S. officials will look on with concern is whether Italy will remain committed to the development of South Stream, a gas pipeline under the Black Sea which is being developed by Russia’s Gazprom in cooperation with Italian energy company Eni. The planned pipeline has originated much controversy in the past because it bypasses Ukraine and runs counter to the EU-stated goal of reducing Europe’s reliance on Russia’s energy supplies. In light of the recent events in Crimea, it is safe to say that the U.S. expects Italy to put the project on hold – if not to scrap it altogether.

The crisis with Russia could also give Obama the opportunity to call on Italy to avoid cuts to military spending that could further downgrade its defense capabilities. This is a tall order, however, as Renzi’s cabinet is actually debating a 3 billion euro reduction of defense expenditures. U.S. requests that the axe fall more on personnel costs (which absorb 66% of the defense budget), rather than equipment and investments, are likely to fall on deaf ears. Italy’s parliament has just approved a defense reform which does little to address this problem, and is unlikely to re-open the file anytime soon.

Another issue on which the U.S. would like to see more Italian activity is Libya. The country is near total collapse. The political process has stalled (recent elections for a constitutional assembly have recorded a depressingly low turnout). Armed militias fight each other for controlling portions of the territory – one of them even managed to snatch an oil tanker from the government and bring it into international waters, where it was seized by U.S. Special Forces and given back to Tripoli. Illicit trafficking is rampant. An authoritarian turn or, worse, a new civil war, are concrete possibilities. As Italy has huge energy and security interests at stake in Libya, it is only natural to the U.S. that Rome should take on greater responsibilities in the region. Renzi should profit from U.S. backing and make a sustained effort to mobilize international resources to help Libya’s government to accelerate the democratic transition, train its security forces and restart the economy.

A further issue on the U.S.-Italian agenda is Iran. Under the previous government, Italy’s overtures towards the Islamic Republic raised eyebrows in Washington. U.S. officials worried that the flurry of Italian-Iranian exchanges – between cabinet members, lawmakers and businessmen – could lead to a premature erosion of the Iran sanctions coalition. While U.S. concerns were exaggerated, the Renzi government has not shown the same level of activism and may never do so. Renzi has little foreign policy experience but is a shrewd politician. He could be unwilling to further irritate Washington by authorizing further overtures toward Iran because he knows that the crisis in Western-Russian relations has the potential to strain U.S.-Italian relations.

ALL ROADS LEAD OUT OF ROME? SARDINIA PLANS SECESSION REFERENDUM

-

PUSH IN SARDINIA FOR ONLINE VOTE ON INDEPENDENCE FROM ITALY

-

View of Gennargentu, the highest massif of Sardinia (Image from wikipedia.org)

-

by RT

The island of Sardinia plans to hold an online referendum on independence from Italy, following in the footsteps of country’s northeastern Veneto region, where a similar vote revealed high separatist moods.

Over 2 million people in Veneto took part in the internet referendum on March 16-21, with 89 per cent of them voting in favor of cutting ties with Rome.

Despite the plebiscite having no legal power, it inspired the Sardinian Action Party (PSdAz) to organize an independence online vote in Sardinia, Nuova Sardegna website reports.

PSdAz advocates withdrawal from Italy and the cultivation of Sardinian traditions and values.

“We’ll just ask the Sardinians if they want independence,”
said John Hills, the Sardinian Action Party’s national secretary. “Their opinion is important. We believe that this issue has become very relevant today and we want to clarify what exactly is the will of the people.”

A motion to stage an online referendum will be presented before the regional council in Sardinia on Thursday.

Most likely, there’ll be just one question put before the islanders if the vote is given a green light: “Do you want Sardinia to become an independent state?” Hills said.

Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with a population of over 1.6 million. It is currently an autonomous region of Italy.

A survey performed by the University of Cagliari in 2012 revealed that four out of 10 Sardinians favored independence from Italy.

A total of 6,000 people took part in the survey, with around 10 per cent saying they wanted to withdraw not only from Italy, but from the European Union as well.

Some political forces in Sardinia say they already know what should the island do after gaining independence.

The Maritime Canton movement is pushing for Sardinia to become part of Switzerland, paying no attention to laughs from the skeptics.

“The madness doesn’t lie in putting forward” a suggestion to join a landlocked country 1,000 kilometers away, Andrea Caruso, the movement’s co-founder, told the Guardian. “The madness lies in how things are now.”

The “inefficient and sick” administration, which Sardinia gets as part of Italy, forced the region to start looking for look for “an expert partner, who can show us how to create an effective, efficient and mature system of local government,” a petition on the Maritime Canton’s website said.

“This partner is, we think, Switzerland,” the petition says.

The online petition, which Sardinians and Swiss citizens are urged to sign, has attracted signatures of 2,500 people so far.

The rise of separatist movements across Europe “isn’t a negative process,” Anna Arque from European Partnership for Independence told RT.

“Well, actually, it’s a positive note. As European citizens, we feel the trust in democracy because we actually feel Europe is mature enough to cope with democracy and to cope with the will of different nations,” she said.

According to Arque, the purpose of the independence movements on the continent is “reorganizing internally the European Union; reorganizing ourselves by the principle of democracy to resolve… the conflicts that are still not resolved in the 21st century.”

89% OF VENETIANS VOTE FOR INDEPENDENCE FROM ITALY, WILL WITHHOLD TAXES TO ROME

Zero Hedge

Inspired by Scotland’s hopes for independence and hot on the heels of Crime’a 95% preference for accession to Russia, 89% of the citizens of Venice voted for their own sovereign state in a ‘referendum’ on independence from Italy. As The Daily Mail reports, the proposed ‘Repubblica Veneta’ includes the five million inhabitants of the Veneto region and has been largely driven by the wealthy ‘who are tired of supporting the poor and crime-ridden south’ (Venice pays EUR71bn in taxes and receives only EUR21bn in services and investment). The ballot appointed a committee of ten who immediately declared independence from Italy. Venice may now start withholding taxes from Rome. Wonder why the US, Europe, and Japan have not announced the referendum “illegal” and announced sanctions yet?

Via The Daily Mail,

Venetians have voted overwhelmingly for their own sovereign state in a ‘referendum’ on independence from Italy.

Inspired by Scotland’s separatist ambitions, 89 per cent of the residents of the lagoon city and its surrounding area, opted to break away from Italy in an unofficial ballot.

The proposed ‘Repubblica Veneta’ would include the five million inhabitants of the Veneto region and could later expand to include parts of Lombardy, Trentino and Friuli-Venezia Giulia.

Wealthy Venetians, under mounting financial pressure in the economic crisis, have rallied in their thousands, after growing tired of supporting Italy’s poor and crime ridden Mezzogiorno south, through high taxation.

So how long will it before Barosso, Van Rompuy, Obama, Abe and th rest declare this referendum “illegal” and seek sanctions against the people of Venice…

Tile image: Iselines / Flickr

VENICE REFERENDUM: CRIMEA ENCOURAGED VOTE TO TAKE PLACE

Hot on the heels of Crimea breaking away from Ukraine, the Italian city of Venice has voted for independence from Rome. An overwhelming 89 percent of Venetians voted for going it alone, in a referendum… and the city could now start withholding taxes from the Italian government. Local professor Paolo Bernardini spoke to my colleague Bill Dod, and broke down the reasoning for the historic move.

INDEPENDENCE FROM ROME? VENICE ATTEMPTING SECESSION FROM ITALY

While the Crimean referendum tops world media headlines, an attempt at secession is going on in Veneto, Italy, with its major city Venice.

But as it is being virtually ignored by media, people in Europe are hardly aware of what’s happening next door.

-

by RT

While the Crimean referendum tops world media headlines, an attempt at secession is going on in Veneto, Italy, with its major city Venice. But as it is being virtually ignored by media, people in Europe are hardly aware of what’s happening next door.

Do you mean the independence of Crimea?” says a Berlin resident when RT’s Irina Galushko asks him of what he thinks of the current referendum in Veneto, Italy, where people are voting on whether to break away from Rome.

No, I haven’t heard of it” was the most common answer Galushko received.

The online referendum in the northern Italian province was launched on Sunday, the same day the majority of people in Crimea voted yes to seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia. But unlike the Crimean referendum, the Veneto one has not quite found itself in the media spotlight.

Nevertheless, about 3.8 million eligible Veneto resident voters will now be able, until Friday, to say if they would like to see the region an independent, sovereign and federative Republic of Veneto.

Veneto is one of the biggest and wealthiest provinces in Italy with a population of more than 5 million people. One of the main reasons for the vote is that the region is tired of the backbreaking burden of taxes imposed by Rome.

We would like to continue the economic ties with Italy,” Lodovico Pizzati, the spokesman for the independence movement, told RT. “But from a fiscal standpoint there’s a huge gap between what we pay in taxes and what we receive as public service. We are talking about a difference of 20 billion euro.”

The latest polls, suggesting that about 65 percent of the population is in favor of becoming independent, have encouraged the independence movement leaders finally to have the region’s fate decided.

We have to fight for it [independence],” Giovanni Dalla Valle, head of the Veneto independence movement, told RT. “We will do it in a peaceful, diplomatic way. We do strongly believe that when the majority wants to be independent there is nothing they [the Italian government] can do.

Veneto independence activists say they have been inspired by secession movements in Scotland and Catalonia.

MORE SOVEREIGNTY VOTES: SUNSAY REFERENDUM MAY SEE VENICE ELECT TO SECEDE FROM ITALY

italyThis Nov. 9, 2013, photo shows the view looking east from the Academy Bridge in Venice, one of several free sights in the city.  AP Photo/Michelle Locke

-

by Nick Squires, The Telegraph

Voting begins Sunday on a referendum on whether Venice and its surrounding region should secede from the rest of Italy, in an attempt to restore its 1,000-year history as a sovereign republic.

La Serenissima — or the Most Serene Republic of Venice — was an independent trading power for a millennium before its last leader was deposed by Napoleon in 1797. The republic encompassed not just Venice but what is now the surrounding region of Veneto and it is there that the vote will take place from tomorrow until Friday.

Campaigners have been inspired by the example of Scotland, which will hold its referendum on independence in September, and Catalonia, where around half the population say they want to break away from Spain.

Activists say that the latest polling shows that 65% of voters in the Veneto region, which includes historic cities such as Treviso, Vicenza and Verona, are in favour of cutting ties with Rome.

For decades there has been deep-seated dissatisfaction in the rich northern regions of Italy with what is widely regarded as inefficient and venal rule from Rome, as well as resentment that hard-won tax revenues are sent south and often squandered.

About 3.8 million people in Veneto are eligible to vote. Campaigners want a future state to be known as Repubblica Veneta — the Republic of Veneto.

They acknowledge that the vote is not binding on the national government in Rome and could cause a big constitutional upheaval, but insist that if it passes, they will start taking steps to withhold taxes, in what would effectively be a unilateral declaration of independence.

“If there is a majority yes vote, we have scholars drawing up a declaration of independence and there are businesses in the region who say they will begin paying taxes to local authorities instead of to Rome,” Lodovico Pizzati, the spokesman for the independence movement, told The Daily Telegraph.

ROME AT RISK OF DETROIT-STYLE BANKRUPTCY

ITALY-

By Marc Wells

The newly appointed, unelected government of Democrat prime minister Matteo Renzi has approved a decree last Friday, the so-called Salva-Roma ter (Rescue Rome 3), which provides a temporary relief of €570 million (US$786 million) for Italy’s capital in the form of an advance on future revenues on the backdrop of a budget hole worth €816 million (US$1.12 billion). Additional tax increases on basic services are left to the city council’s discretion.

The rescue decree temporarily staves off the city’ s bankruptcy, allowing it to briefly continue its operations and pay salaries to some 25,000 employees. Comparisons with Detroit have become common in the last few days. The day before the decree passed, the Wall Street Journal commented, “The Eternal City [is] now teetering on the brink of a Detroit-style bankruptcy.” International Business Times headlined a column, “Rome on the Brink as Detroit-Style Bankruptcy Meltdown Looms.”

The comparisons are certainly apt. Like Detroit’s federal bankruptcy proceedings, the decree unequivocally prepares the framework for an unprecedented and devastating assault on public workers and services as well as the potential sell-off of its invaluable assets, while only postponing an even larger crisis and possible default.

The implications of this savage attack will go well beyond the territorial confines of the city of Rome, serving as an example for the rest of Italy and the European Union (EU). The head of Rome’s city council, Mirko Coratti, admitted, “A default of Italy’s capital city would trigger a chain reaction that could sweep across the national economy.”

Two previous Salva-Roma bills didn’t pass—one in December, one earlier in February—as the political elite sought to increasingly create a climate of phony emergency that prepared the field for more drastic measures.

The approved decree specifically sets draconian conditions that resemble the diktats imposed by the Troika on Greece last year. Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, also a Democrat and a US-trained transplant surgeon, is tasked with presenting a budget plan that would effectively close the financial black hole that’s swallowing the city.

Importantly, the decree imposes a “reconnaissance of the personnel requirements in the companies” affiliated to the municipality. The language spells out redundancies, layoffs and speedups. The two major service companies being immediately targeted are Atac, which provides public transportation, and Ama, which ensures waste management services.

The two companies have been targeted by a relentless campaign of vilification aimed at placing responsibility for the city’s budget crisis on them, or, more correctly, on their workers, often portrayed as inefficient, lazy and guilty of absenteeism on the job.

Under the guise of “adopting innovative models for service management,” including “resorting to liberalization,” the measure will launch the privatization of crucial social services such as transport and garbage collection.

Other city services will undergo “disposal or liquidation,” with consequent layoffs. Among these, culture is being directly targeted. Zetema, a company operating on about a US$40-million-a-year budget for cultural activities and services, will be downsized, if not shut down.

Significantly, the diktat threatens Rome’s immense historical and cultural heritage, as it establishes terms to sell off some of the city’s precious real estate, a move that greatly resembles the sale of art planned for the Detroit Institute of Arts by Detroit’s emergency manager, Kevyn Orr.

Since the onset of the 2008 world financial crisis, the city of Rome has been faced with increasing challenges. Its administrators have either sought to find short-term solutions or been involved in shady financial derivative transactions that have further deepened the Eternal City’s budgetary crisis.

Contrary to the common mantra echoed by the servile media that workers as well as inept administrators are the main cause of Rome’s budget imbalances, the role of finance capital and derivative schemes is emerging as the main component of the crisis.

Two years ago, evidence surfaced that many Italian municipalities had acquired derivatives and similar financial instruments, greatly destabilizing public accounts. Rome is no exception. A preliminary investigation by congresswoman Carla Ruocco (Five-Star Movement or M5S, Beppe Grillo’s organization) found that in 2008 the city reported losses of €147 million from nine derivatives it had contracted.

In 2012, Special Commissioner Massimo Varazzani had terminated seven out of the nine. His office was probed by the inquiry and rejected on two occasions any release of information, considering the inquiry “an inadmissible monitoring on the administration’s performance.” The language shows a striking contempt for democratic rule.

It must be noted, Carla Ruocco’s intention is to corroborate her party’s position that the city’s finances must not be rescued, since any such maneuver would only protect “the caste,” referring to the political elite. In particular, M5S focuses on various privileges, such as the so-called golden rents and other perks enjoyed by politicians.

While M5S presents itself as a champion against corruption, the true aim of its policies is to throw 25,000 workers into misery. Grillo’s group continues to campaign in favor of cutting “waste” and for the abolition of local municipalities and provinces, thereby wiping tens of thousands of jobs considered by Grillo to be “parasitic” (see “The political significance of Beppe Grillo’s Five-Star Movement”).

But workers have no friends whatsoever in the political establishment. Renzi’s undemocratic nomination has enjoyed the support of trade unions and the entire pseudo-left.

Fully aware of Renzi’s destructive Jobs Act, a policy that will effectively obliterate basic workers’ rights such as a contract, benefits and salary protection, the ex-Stalinist CGIL president Susanna Camusso confirmed her support for a recent agreement with Confindustria, the industrialists’ association, which essentially provides sanctions against workers not complying with regressive clauses such as the avoidance of strikes.

Every organization of the pseudo-left supports trade unions and their open collaboration with governments and bosses. What remains of Franco Turigliatto’s Anti-Capitalist Left, a Pabloite conglomerate of political opportunists, acknowledges the betrayals of unions like CGIL. It nonetheless maintains that workers must form a “united front” with all those forces of the “left,” from within the very union that is proving instrumental in every attack against them.

Left, Ecology and Liberty’s (SEL’s) leader Nichi Vendola is more blatant in his zig-zags. Until about the time Renzi took power, Vendola had been one of his staunchest supporters, declaring, “A turn is needed with Renzi’s Democratic Party,” or “Renzi has broken all old patterns,” or even “With Renzi we must work to build an alternative coalition.” Then, in an attempt to fake a leftist posture, Vendola’s party voted no confidence to Renzi’s government on February 24-25.

Rifondazione Comunista (PRC) poses as a defender of Rome against privatizations and layoffs on the basis of Renzi’s decree. In reality, the party is openly negotiating with the prime minister. PRC’s local administrators Maurizio Acerbo and Francesco Marola signed an appeal supporting Renzi’s “intervening in this [public education] emergency which is a product of the disproportionate cuts voted by his party.” In other words, they agree on the need to cut social programs.

Roman and Italian workers must assimilate the lessons of their brothers and sisters in Detroit. The SEP-sponsored Detroit Inquiry must serve as the opening shot for a political international mobilization against any and all agents of capital.

ROME DAYS AWAY FROM BANKRUPTCY

Eternal city warns it will go bust for the first time since it was destroyed by Nero

Ignazio Marino, Rome mayor, said city services like public transport would come to a halt and that he would not be a

Ignazio Marino, Rome mayor, said city services like public transport would come to a halt and that he would not be a “Nero”  Photo: GETTY IMAGES

-

By AFP

Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, came under pressure on Thursday as the city of Rome was on the brink of bankruptcy after parliament threw out a bill that would have injected fresh funding.

Ignazio Marino, Rome mayor, said city services like public transport would come to a halt and that he would not be a “Nero” – the Roman emperor who, legend has it, strummed his lyre as the city burnt to the ground.

Marino said that Renzi, a centre-left leader and former mayor of Florence who was only confirmed by parliament this week, had promised to adopt urgent measures to help the Italian capital at a cabinet meeting on Friday.

The newly-elected mayor faces a budget deficit of 816 million euros ($1.1 billion) and the city could be placed under administration if he does not manage to close the gap with measures such as cutting public services.

“Rome has wasted money for decades. I don’t want to spend another euro that is not budgeted,” Marino said, following criticism from the Northern League opposition party which helped shoot down the bill for Rome in parliament.

The draft law would have included funding for Rome from the central government budget as a compensation for the extra costs it faces because of its role as the capital including tourism traffic and national demonstrations.

Other cash-strapped cities complained it was unfair.

But Marino warned there could be dire consequences.

“We’re not going to block the city but the city will come to a standstill. It will block itself if I do not have the tools for making budget decisions and right now I cannot allocate any money,” he told the SkyTG24 news channel.

Marino said that buses may have to stop running as soon as Sunday because he only had 10 percent of the money required to pay for fuel in March.

He added: “With the money that we have in the budget right now, I can do repairs on each road in Rome every 52 years. That’s not really maintenance.”

MEET THE MEN WITH THE PLAN BEHIND ITALY’S BLOODLESS COUP

Another Conspiracy Theory Becomes Fact

By Tyler Durden | zerohedge.com

The chart below is very familiar to anyone who was observing the hourly turmoil in the European bond market in November of 2011, when Italian bonds crashed, when yields soared to record levels, and every downtick of the Euro could have been its last.

What the chart may not show are the dramatic transformations in Italy’s government that took place just as the Italian bond spread exploded, which saw the resignation of career-politician Sylvio Berlusconi literally days after yields soared, and the instatement of Goldman technocrat Mario Monti as Italy’s next Prime Minister.

In fact as some, and certainly this website, had suggested the blow out in Italian yields was merely a grand plan orchestrated to usher in a new Italian government that would, with the support of yet another Goldman alum, the ECB’s then brand new head Mario Draghi, unleash a new era in Italian life, supposedly one of austerity (ignoring that two years after Berlusconi, Italy’s debt to GDP ratio has never been higher), and which would give the impression that Europe is being fixed all the while preserving the broken European monetary system for at least another year or two. In other words a grand conspiracy theory of a pre-planned bloodless coup. That all this would take place under the auspices and with the blessing of Italy’s president Napolitano, only made things worse since Italy is not a parliamentary republic but a parliamentary democracy, where such cloak and dagger arrangements are certainly not permitted under the constitution.

And so, as lately so often happens, courtesy of the narrative by Alan Friedman of what really happened that summer, this too conspiracy theory has just become conspiracy fact. Thanks to the FT’s “Monti’s secret summer“, we learn with painful detail (especially for those of our readers who may be Italian), just how the grand conspiracy to out Berlusconi took shape, and how it was deviously executed with the assistance of none other than the European Central Bank.

It all started on In the summer of 2011 when Carlo De Benedetti, the Italian industrial tycoon, hosted Mario Monti, Italy’s then former prime minister and an old friend of De Benedetti’s in the St Moritz-based alpine retreat of the industrialist for dinner, and a private chat to discuss “a development that was to have profound public consequences.” We go to the FT for the full details:

“Mario asked if we could get together, and I chose a typical little Swiss trattoria for dinner, just outside of St Moritz. But at the last minute he said he wanted to talk in private and so I said ‘Sure, stop by my house before dinner’ and so he came by,” Mr De Benedetti says. “And it was then he told me that it was possible that the president of the republic, Napolitano, would ask him to become prime minister, and he asked my advice.

Mr De Benedetti says the two men “discussed whether he should accept the offer, and when would be the right moment to do so. This happened at my house in August, so in fact he had already spoken with President Napolitano.”

The offer from Giorgio Napolitano, the Italian president, to Mr Monti of the job of prime minister – a post that was still very much occupied by Silvio Berlusconi, the billionaire centre-right politician – is at the core of serious questions of legitimacy in Italy. What happened in Italy that summer and autumn as policy makers battled the crisis gripping the eurozone is still a subject of intense debate.

Here, the story takes a detour to a glimpse of the denouement, by advising readers that the president’s “planning the replacement of the elected Mr Berlusconi by the unelected technocrat Mr Monti – months ahead of the eventual transfer of power in November – reinforces concerns about Mr Napolitano’s repeated and forceful interventions in politics. His outsized role since the crisis has led many to question whether he stretched his constitutional powers to their limits – or even beyond.” Of course, he did – and so did all other European bankers and business tycoons who knew they had to perpetuate the legacy status quo as long as possible or else their fortunes would come crumbling down before their eyes. But we already knew that. What we did not know were the explicit details of how the immaculate plan to wrest control of Italy from the playboy billionaire and hand it over to what essentially were Goldman’s key European tentacles, were conceived. So we read on:

Outside the calm of St Moritz that summer, the eurozone crisis was raging. Market speculation against Italian and Spanish sovereign debt was rampant and the spread between Italian Treasury bonds and German Bunds was rocketing. As its borrowing costs rose there was talk that Italy could default. Italy was in crisis – politically as well as economically.

In Rome, Mr Berlusconi was presiding over a rancorous, unstable coalition and increasingly distracted by allegations over sexual relations with Karim el-Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer. All of Europe seemed to be lambasting him.

Yet despite the controversy engulfing Mr Berlusconi, he was still the sitting prime minister and his government was legitimate under the rules of Italy’s parliamentary democracy.

How long that might last was a subject of conversation between Mr De Benedetti and Mr Monti that August.

“I told Mario that he should take the job but that it was all a question of timing. If Napolitano formalised the offer in September then that was fine, but if he left it until December then it would be too late,” recounts Mr De Benedetti.

So now we know the timeframe for the upcoming coup: ideally sometime, in October or November of 2011. But before that, it was the turn of another element – this time the European connection Romano Prodi – to give his blessing and to explain to Monti why he would soon be the “happiest man alive:”

Romano Prodi, a former president of the European Commission and another old friend of Mr Monti’s, recalls a similar conversation, but even earlier, towards the end of June 2011. “We had a long and friendly conversation,” Mr Prodi says, “and he asked for my thoughts, and I told him, ‘look here Mario, there is nothing you can do to become prime minister but if the job is offered to you then you cannot say no. So you should be the happiest man alive’.”

Finally, the only missing link was the codification of the “reforms” that Italy would undergo the second Berlusconi was booted out.

Corrado Passera, a leading banker who was to become Mr Monti’s minister for economic development, infrastructure and transport, was meanwhile given the green light that summer by Mr Napolitano to prepare a confidential 196-page document containing his own proposals for a wide-ranging “shock therapy” for the Italian economy. It was a programme of proposed government policies and reforms that went through four successive drafts as Mr Napolitano and Mr Passera discussed it back and forth that summer and into the autumn.

With all that in place, it was time to put the plan into effect.

Italy’s crisis intensified throughout the autumn of 2011. All Italians still remember the smirk of scepticism on the faces of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, when they were asked at a press conference in October if they had confidence in Mr Berlusconi’s ability to cut the deficit or reduce the debt, which was then at 120 per cent of gross domestic product. (The latest figure is 133 per cent.)

So yes, for anyone still confused – since total debt/GDP has risen by 13% in the past two years, the last thing Italy engaged in was austerity designed to moderate its out of control public spending. What it did engage in, was epic capital misallocation, even greater corruption, and gross incompetence. All of these, however, were conveniently scapegoated on the only well-known traditional fallback.

At this point, we should remind readers of a concurrent story, one involving Italy’s then-member of the ECB executive council, Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, who revealed in a recent book that at just around this time Berlusconi was realizing that the trap was closing. Bini-Smaghi revealed that Berlusconi had “discussed (threatened?) Italian withdrawal from the euro in private meetings with other EMU governments, presumably with Chancellor Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, since he does not negotiate with underlings.”

And so the ECB went to task, and under its new boss, yet another Italian, former Goldmanite Mario Draghi, allowed Italian bond yields to crater and take the country, and the Eurozone, and thus the entire developed world, to the edge of collapse. Just so Italy’s president had a pretext to accelerate the demise of Berlusconi and catalyze his replacement with a technocrat crony of the financial establishment. Once again, as a reminder, here is the dynamic of bond yields soaring just as Berlusconi was threatening to end the European dream in which “so much political capital is invested”:

What happened after that moment is part of the public record:

On November 9 2011 Mr Napolitano appointed Mr Monti a senator for life, thus making him a member of parliament. On November 12, at a meeting with the president, Mr Berlusconi resigned, ending his third stint as prime minister. Within 24 hours – rather than call for fresh elections – Mr Napolitano named Mr Monti, the economics professor and former European commissioner who had never held elected office, as prime minister. The full cabinet was sworn in three days later.

Mr Berlusconi’s supporters cried foul and made noisy claims that there had been a “coup”.

They were right, and now – from the horse’s mouth – we know the facts.

In a lengthy videotaped interview with Mr Monti, he confirmed the conversation with Mr De Benedetti in St Moritz. He also acknowledged the conversation with Mr Prodi in June 2011, though at first he played down these talks, saying that the idea of him becoming prime minister “was sort of in the air”.

He recalled with a giggle that “Yes, Prodi came to see me at the end of June and the spread [between Italian and German government bond yields] was then about 220 or 250 basis points, and he told me: ‘Get ready, because when the spread hits 300 you will be called in’. And then the spread hit 550!”

… as if by magic. Supposedly Draghi wasn’t quite willing to do “whatever it takes” just yet.

Mr Monti confirmed that he knew all about the Passera document being prepared for the president. “Corrado Passera told me he was working on this and he said he would show it to me, and he did, and he told me he had given it to Napolitano and would give it to me,” Mr Monti said. “And on one occasion I discussed the Passera document with Napolitano, and then later on, months later, when I was named prime minister, I immediately asked Passera to join the Cabinet.”

But when asked if it was made clear to him in the summer of 2011 in his talks with Mr Napolitano that the president was asking him to be ready to take over from Mr Berlusconi, Mr Monti hesitated. “Well, President Napolitano and I had been talking for a long time, for years, not about this, but then things sort of came to a head.”

When pressed further to explain if Mr Napolitano had explicitly asked him to be on standby during their talks back in June and July 2011 – four to five months before he replaced Mr Berlusconi as prime minister – Mr Monti demurred: “Look here: I will not reveal details of conversations that I had with the president of the republic.”

Pressed again, and asked if he wished to deny on the record that in June and July of 2011 President Napolitano had either asked him explicitly or had made it clear that he wanted him to be available to become the new prime minister, Mr Monti replied falteringly, in a voice that became almost a whisper: “Yes. He, uh, he gave me a signal in that direction.” After this revelation a look of extreme discomfort spread across Mr Monti’s face and he stared off to one side.

Perhaps because Monti had just realized he admitted that Italy had undergone presidentially-blessed government coup – one whose execution stretched far beyond any constitutional powers awarded to the president, and one which involved numerous foreign (and financial) interests (and conflicts thereof).

At this point attention turns to Italy’s president, 89-year old Giorgio Napolitan0, whose direct intervention was instrumental in allowing this carefully laid “bloodless coup” plan of bankers and technocrats to proceed:

Mr Napolitano did not agree to an interview despite repeated requests. His spokesman had no comment on a series of written questions, including one about which month in 2011 Mr Napolitano had first sounded out Mr Monti to become prime minister.

But last week Mr Napolitano commented for the first time on the controversy over his naming of Mr Monti. During a visit to the European parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Napolitano said that while some had described his naming of Mr Monti “as almost invented by me as a personal whim”, in fact he had done so on the basis of indications given to him by parliamentary and political leaders “in the course of consultations as is required”.

This explanation could raise further questions in Italy, where such “consultations as is required” would typically have begun only upon the resignation of the prime minister. In Mr Berlusconi’s case, these would have begun upon his November 12 resignation.

We now know that all such consultations took place well before said resignation. But where it gets better is just how grand the chess game truly was:

The Monti government acted swiftly to introduce harsh austerity measures, spending cuts, a value added tax rise and new property duties as well as reform of the pensions system. Praise was duly heaped on him by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and financial markets.

Many Italians still despise Mr Monti for the austerity programme and see him as a pawn of the European Commission or of Ms Merkel. In retrospect he lacked a political touch but was a useful transition figure at a time of crisis.

Mr Monti says his greatest achievement was to jump into electoral politics during the election of February 2013 at the expense of Berlusconi’s party. “Had it not been for my taking votes away from the centre-right,” Mr Monti said in the interview, “Berlusconi today would be either the president of the republic or the prime minister, so I did achieve a concrete result in blocking that.”

Of course, Berlusconi’s star has now faded, and with it the danger that the supposedly irrational politician, who once had threatened to dissolve the Eurozone and thus saddle Germany with a TARGET2 bill amounting to almost $1 trillion. Which meant that the status quo of the “equity tranche” (read – the global banker aristocracy) had been preserved. In this way, Napolitano, Prodi and Monti, assisted by their fourth Italian friend – ECB’s Mario Draghi – effectively subjugated the Italian population to call it austerity, call it gross and premeditated capital misallocation, but certainly call it the will of the bankers. And all without firing a shot.

Which brings up the question of just how constitutional, if at all, was the overthrow of Berlusconi.

Adopted in 1948 after more than 20 years of chaos and brutal fascist rule, Italy’s constitution is one of the few documents universally respected by Italians. It guarantees their most basic rights. It is sacrosanct.

Planning in secret, even as a contingency measure, to appoint a new prime minister when a parliamentary majority is in place may be a prudent and responsible action for a president but it is not an explicit power assigned by the constitution, even if there is a financial crisis under way in half of Europe as was the case in the summer of 2011.

Most ironic, however, is that the only person who seems to care about the trampling of the constitution is…  a former comedian.

Whatever one thinks of Mr Berlusconi, serious constitutional questions are raised by the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring that resulted in the appointment of his successor. Perhaps the loudest voice to raise these questions is that of Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-politician who garnered 25 per cent of the national vote last year.

Mr Napolitano, an 89-year-old former communist, has reacted with anger at Mr Grillo’s incessant accusations of the subversion of democracy. Mr Grillo has frequently called for Mr Napolitano’s impeachment.

Today, Italy is emerging from recession slowly, with an exceedingly weak and uneven economic recovery. This year is expected to bring less than 1 per cent growth in GDP. 

Italy remains sharply divided over the events of 2011 and Mr Napolitano’s role in them. The issue of whether Mr Napolitano went beyond his constitutional powers during the summer and autumn of 2011 can be left to future historians. But what is clear now – thanks to Mr Monti’s own admission – is that he and the president had been discussing the prospect of his taking over from Mr Berlusconi long before his official appointment in November of 2011. For Mario Monti it had been a long and secret summer.

Indeed it had. And now we know that in order to effectuate the banker plan of preserving Europe’s “political capital” which is simply another name of trillions in wealth on paper (and on funny-colored pieces of European currency) that would evaporate if and when the Eurozone inevitably dissolves, it took just four Italians – Monti, Prodi, Napolitano and, of course, Draghi – willing to trample their constitution in order to achieve the goal of perpetuating the status quo no matter the cost.

As for the fallout, namely “youth unemployment is at a record high of 41.6 per cent, nationwide joblessness is 12.7 per cent and almost a third of families are near the poverty line. Productivity and competitiveness have dropped sharply in recent years. Mr Monti’s successor, Enrico Letta, another leader championed by Mr Napolitano, is under fire for his handling of the economy”… well, all those are problems of the “99%”. And as everyone knows by know, the 99% is the last thing on the mind of the global ruling class.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers