Sometimes translation is not too difficult. The headlines on Corriere Della Sera’s website at one point tonight said it all:
Caos Senato, non c’è maggioranza, Boom di Grillo, rimonta di Berlusconi…
Chaos in the senate (where there’s no majority), a Grillo “boom”, and a Berlusconi revival . . .
And that’s not the end of the story. As mentioned here over the weekend, to form an effective government in Italy, it’s necessary to have some sort of control over both houses of the legislature. That’s not now on offer. In the lower house, the center-left coalition prevailed, Berlusconi’s grouping did better than expected, and the Grillini won the largest single share of the votes. They already appear to have ruled out joining a coalition (although how cohesive this party of unknowns will turn out to be is anyone’s guess). Meanwhile, at least one major figure on the center-left looks to be ruling out a grand coalition with Berlusconi on the grounds that this would hardly be an example of the “change” that so many Italians want.
A vote against the euro, then?
No, not exactly. Italians have long been supporters of closer European integration, primarily, I believe, as a way of extricating themselves from their own deeply dysfunctional state. They generally welcomed the adoption of the euro, even if, given the realities of the Italian economy and of Italian politics, it was clearly the wrong currency for Italy. That uncomfortable reality was underlined by the fact that the country only appears to have met the (ludicrously crude) test for membership with the help of some very creative accounting (allegedly, allegedly). No matter. On the one hand, interest rates fell, and on the other, savers benefited from the fact that their savings were now in euros, a far better store of value than the lira. Everybody wins! Except that everybody never does. There was a price to be paid for signing up for this currency, a price that was never honestly discussed at the time, and which has become heavier as the euro zone’s innate imbalances have dragged Italy further and further down.
And so we get to today. Voters are disgusted by the corruption so evident in their domestic political class, but they are also outraged by the imposition of austerity from abroad (the fact that much of this austerity is counter-productive does not exactly help either) and the unraveling of Italy’s economy. I still reckon (if less confidently than if you’d asked me a year ago) that, if it came down to it, Italians would prefer to stick with the euro rather than switch back to an ever-depreciating lira, but at the same time they do not want to pay the price that that involves. Irresistible force, immovable object, you know how it goes.
What’s next is an almighty mess, but the form that that mess might take is, for now, anyone’s guess.
And as to where it might spread, well . . .