All systems go for reform but first Monti should tell Italians about them
It’s disturbing that until January 23rd we will have only rumors about growth measures for Italy because the President first wants to inform European leaders. We are not a protectorate
by Giampiero Cantoni*
The Monti government is entering the phase of measures it wants to take instead of those it had to take, as the president of the Council of Ministers noted. Crescitalia [the name given to the government's growth measures for Italy - eds.] has a nice ring, even something Berlusconian to it. It's what each and every one of us would want for the country.
But, for the moment, the measures that will be taken are somewhat nebulous. Mario Monti's year-end press conference was a good lesson in economy: a lucid explanation of the reasons why we are in the clutches of and menaced by the crisis.
And yet, Monti refused to talk about the future. For the moment, Monti is being an economist, and this is nothing new. Politics is not only about what you think and say, it is above all about what you do - and we are still waiting.
It should be said what the most positive aspect is of the premier's method: the conscious and deliberate refusal to make announcements. Monti's communications strategy is not to announce how many chickens you have until they've hatched.
Of course, it is a lesson he learned by experience in these first few weeks during which our technocrat president realized that it is not possible and never will be unless a broad-based consensus is created among the parties. And it could not be otherwise because these are the rules of the game of democracy.
However, the fact that in terms of Crescitalia the country will be forced to accept gossip and rumors until January 23rd is worrisome. It's worrisome because of how democracy works. It is of questionable wisdom to first inform the other European leaders and only secondarily Italians. Monti was not elected, but Italy is not a protectorate. It is a sovereign state that participates with conviction in the project called Europe.
But without writing any blank checks. And it is also worrisome for the credibility of the prime minister himself. In order to begin growing again (as our friend Antonio Martino never tires of saying during his speeches before the House), Italy does not need measures, it needs reforms.
Reforms are different from measures for many reasons. One of the key ones is this: measures can be put together fairly quickly. Actually it's better if they are done quickly. They involve important - and often painful - decisions regarding public finance. But they never enter into the whys and wherefores of the measure in any profound sense. You either spend less or tax more. But the way and reasons why we spend do not undergo change and the instruments used for taxation are never examined.
In fact, reforms impact on the form of the state and, therefore, they influence citizens' long-term expectations. It changes what the latter can or cannot expect from those who govern them. This is why they must be communicated - and communicated with tremendous efficacy.
To promote reforms, Monti must not speak with Merkel, Sarkozy or the European Central Bank (to whom he needed to demonstrate the seriousness of his maneuver). He must speak to Italians. He must convince them that it is possible change.
He must convince them that we must quicken our step. And if we don't change our step, we are doomed to not growing, and if we don't grow we are basically inevitably doomed to a decline that we would all hope could be prevented.
The Monti government is a government of technocrats, but it is the government of a democratic republic. We should not forget this, nor should the President of the Council of Ministers. It's true that the range of conflicting interests and different opinions that characterize democracy could, sometimes, appear to be a tremendous obstacle to needed reform.
But it is also true that every reform is destined to remain merely words on paper if it doesn't first cross the threshold of public opinion. A government that is not tied to parties and interests has an extraordinary advantage in being able to talk with everyone. This is what Monti must do. So that Italy can begin to grow again, thanks to the determination and conviction of all Italians.
*professor of international economics, PDL senator and president of the Defense Committee