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You are here: Home > Diritto di Voto / EU, Italy, Turin > Taking sides: a couple of thousand of years of tribal bipartisanship- lessons from #Italy to the #European #Union

Viewed 3457 times | Published on 2022-01-24 07:35:00



The title this time is quite a mouthful- reminds the title of a movie from an Italian director, "FF.SS. - Cioè ...che mi hai portato a fare sopra a Posillipo se non mi vuoi più bene?" (will let you seek the translation and movie outline).

Anyway, following the same style, leaving in just the first two words would be too cryptic, so I added, within the title, a short summary of the whole article...

...while staying still cryptic enough to entice having a look.

The concept is quite simple:
_you are here- navigating the shopping mall of Italian politics
_around two thousand years of tribal politics: voting in Roman Republic times
_a twisted definition of bipartisanship- leave it to the poets
_the tribalism of European choices: a cameo from Brussels
_heading into the European Union evolution storm
_a step forward, two steps backward: implementing what you are preaching

You are here- navigating the shopping mall of Italian politics

On Monday 2022-01-24 there will be the first vote for the Italian President, as the seven year mandate of the incumbent, President Mattarella, is ending soon, and, also when repeatedly pressed, he said that he would not be available for a second mandate.

I returned to Italy full-time in 2012, and therefore the first Presidential Election that I followed locally in the "social media era" was the one when, for the first time in the history of the Italian Republic (since WWII), President Napolitano in 2013 ended his first term and started a second term, that was shorter than the usual seven years, as he handed over to President Mattarella in 2015.

Generally, the vote is cast by elected Members of Parliament, plus representatives of the regions- and you are not really supposed to express your interest in getting elected, you should be called up.

In Italy, we have a saying about the Pope election: those who enter the "Conclave" as Pope, exit is as Cardinals (i.e. in Italian we say, both the leading roles in politics and Pope, that any "sure thing" before the election is a way to "burn" a name while testing the waters to see where there is a convergence).

You are called to the role (there is a funny movie of few years ago that I quoted before, about somebody with the name Giuseppe Garibaldi who, by accident of this "testing the waters" gets elected).

Currently the key debate is if President of the Council of Minister (and former head of ECB) Draghi will move to Quirinale, leaving anyway in place his government under different leadership (and de facto still under the oversight/guidelines of President Draghi- a slight shift toward a semi-presidential arrangement).

Yesterday's newspapers reported that the office of President of Council of Minister was offered to former President of the Camera dei Deputati (the lower chamber of the Italian Parliament) and, as I wrote in the past, eternal candidate.

According to at least one newspaper, he turned down the offer.

Offer that, in my view, could actually have been presented only so that he could refuse it, i.e. confirming in an indirect way his interest in another arrangement- himself at the Quirinale, leaving President Draghi at Palazzo Chigi (the Italian equivalent of 10 Downing Street), and allowing all the interested parties to be entitled to state their support (or lack thereof) of a President Casini in Quirinale.

Incidentally: in a previous article, as a transition presidency, also if I never voted for him, I wrote that probably he could fit the bill- nobody has been preparing for the role so long, and therefore he would do his best to go within history books with decency in the office and "super partes" (in a way, bipartisan or, better, acting independently from all the "tribes").

But the vagaries of Italian coalition building for the presidential election while we are just one year (or even less) from national general elections, at a time when we have a pivotal crisis and an equally pivotal set of choices to be made (NextGenerationEU, and the PNRR) might result in a different prioritization.

Also because, according to recent polls, we have a handful of political parties in Parliament, whose choice about the President could turn them into "kingmakers", that have a number of seats significantly larger of what they could expect to get if there were an election.

My personal assessment? Wait until the end of this article, as the following sections are background supporting what I think.

Back to the mechanics of the vote: due to the COVID restrictions, out of over 1,000 as few as 50 at a time reportedly will be allowed to vote at the same time, with no more than 200 within the Parliament during the vote, and all those entitled to vote will have a single vote a day, instead of the usual two.

In Italy, after the third vote the number of votes needed to elect a new President lowers.

The political game, now that we have a government led by Mr. Draghi that covers most of the political spectrum (extreme left and extreme right aside), is to have a show of solidarity, and have the new President elected within the first few rounds.

Would it be feasible? Depends.

Anyway, one vote a day leaves too much time for commentary and backroom negotiations between votes, and also leaves time for newspapers to report gossip or spin rumors fed by interested parties.

It will be also interesting to collect not just the commentary from traditional media, but also the commentary on social media that have been used with gusto by political parties and candidates to share "signals".

Yes, it was done also in the past, but, pre-social-media, most of that commentary, innuendo, spinning, was quickly forgotten and lost, while now will be there for anybody to collect, analyze, disseminate, integrate.

Forgiven and not forgotten will be tested repeatedly- also if, in pure Italian tradition, newspapers reported e.g. former President of the Council of Ministers Conte (i.e. roughly Prime Minister, but with some significant differences in terms of power), and current official political leader of M5S...

...talking with Salvini, leader of the Lega and who actually pulled the plug from the Conte I Government.

At the same time, in the same style, there are rumors that the other supposed partner of a new centre-left, PD, has its leader, former President of the Council of Ministers Letta talk with former President of the Council of Ministers Renzi (he was then leader of PD, now he has his own political party), who actually...

...is reminded by everybody for his hashtag tweet just before pulling the plug from Letta's Government: #EnricoStaiSereno (which in Italian could actually have more than just the meaning "don't worry"- in that case, resulted to be really "take it easy").

My interest in Italian politics, beside the past in the 1980s I already wrote about extensively?

Let's just say that in the late 2000s, during an election, while I was resident in Brussels and registered to vote abroad (and, incidentally, also registered to vote for Belgian administrative elections in Brussels), I had built a website with the political platform of all the political parties (was called "DirittoDiVoto.com"- hence, the name of this series of articles).

What do I mean? I went on their websites, looked around with some digging, and built a "repository" of all their material.

Reason? Was tired that Italian candidates showed up with us resident abroad only at election time, then disappeared in Rome, never to be seen or heard, and never sharing what they wanted to do (at least nominally).

So much for those who heralded the "two blocs system" (centre-right and centre-left, plus various splinter cells) as a way to have Member of Parliament directly answerable to voters and getting closer to them.

The repository received some attention, and then published my one and only book in Italian, that you can read online here for free, with some humble advice on how to marry traditional politics Italian style with social media, and pointers to bibliography to brush up some coherent set of operational approaches in using social media for campaigning and advocacy (I had contributed in late 2000s to a book on the integration of social media within the corporate marketing mix, while in Brussels, and that resulted in 2013 in a book that had over 40,000 (free) readers while available on slideshare>.

Actually, over the last few weeks I saw more frequent readership of that Italian material (as well as other material about local and national Italian elections since 2015).

Why the title of this section? When I visited American friends in the USA, outside tourist areas, I saw a curious phenomenon that anyway made a lot of sense.

Over the week-end, the shopping mall was the equivalent of what in Brussels, Paris, London, but also in Turin and other European cities is common: youngsters going there to see and be seen and meet.

The "shopping mall" of Italian politics is often on TV channels, with their endless stream of "political" containers, where actually politicians intervene to talk about anything but politics.

Personal digression: I do not watch TV, except via Internet during elections, but sometimes, while travelling around in the past in Italy, watched some of those shows live, and... confirmed my choice not to watch them (also because, if something really happens and is reported by newspapers or becomes part of the political debate, the following day you can find it on YouTube- no point in wasting 2, 3, 4 hours to watch nonsense followed by platitudes- there are enough "antennas" around that will share if something relevant happens during those "talking shops").

Nonetheless, I like to study sometime the "communication styles" by watching videos etc.

As I wrote above, the lack of clear consensus on who the next President of the Italian Republic should be, produced the usual rounds of dancing around- enemies turn into temporary friends, allies turn into temporary competitors.

So, even tribal loyalty in our times is being tested- but current Italians are individualist with marriages of convenience with one or more tribes.

Personally, I still do not see that our past social structure and "tribal" attitude is really attuned to the times, but let's have a small digression about how tribal politics was played historically.

Actually, I will be writing about Roman history but, as discussed later, even somebody from UK around a decade ago shared it as an approach for the whole European Union.

Around two thousand years of tribal politics: voting in Roman Republic times

Imagine a town founded in a marginal area, and integrating few tribes.

Then, imagine that the surrounding areas, the whole of Italy, is now de facto part of your own territory.

How do you manage the political contributions?

If you suddenly give the vote to all those by purely "one person, one vote", the incumbent ruling tribes are carrying out a political suicide.

If you keep the old "vote by tribe" and put all of the "new Romans" into a separate tribe with as many votes as each one of the others, you are denying them access to power- e.g. it might well be that choice will be made when others tribe vote, and the new tribe will never matter.

If you spread them across the existing tribes, you get another set of problems.

Now, I will not share a summary of over a dozen of books I read about the subject over the years, but all the above was part of the various attempted reforms of vote in Ancient Rome, when it was still a Republic.

Eventually, after de facto three rounds of civil war (the famous book by Caesar is about the second one), here comes the Empire.

Well, of course is a little bit more complex than that, but just to give you a flavor of what happens when you mix tribes based on blood or ancestry and politics.

In current Italy, we still retain a whiff of the old "blood/ancestry" political allegiance, but urbanization, e.g. the post-WWII massive migration to the industrial areas of Northern Italy, took its toll.

In the 1980s and early 1990s I still remember a visible and strong "ethnic" element in politics, even in Northern Italy, with politicians from various regions coming to call to vote emigrants from their area.

It is still there, but in the 1990s and 2000s saw increasing relevance of the "settling area" allegiance, coupled or not with calls to ancestry.

After elections, usually the former mattered more than the latter, e.g. a Southerner living in the North might find expedient to call to the vote those with the same ancestry, but would then blend with the local ruling tribes to retain what was won with those votes.

Oh, yes, because in Italy we do not just lack a fully developed "civil service" that needs oversight but has no political allegiance- everything is part of the "spoils system" (the winner does not just take it all, also plants seeds for the future).

We also are an "incumbent" society: once you enter (better, are appointed by your tribe), you never leave, unless demography calls and somebody else enters and... decades later still lingers on (maybe balancing between tribes to retain a seat).

Call it "multidimensional tribes"- I could suggest few books in Italian about Italian politics, but also some notable foreign social and political scientists dissected Italian politics and its blend with national (if such a thing exists) and regional/local (it does exist) attractors.

In such a scenario, my personal American-style "bipartisanship" is not the standard one invoked by others.

In Italian would say "super partes", from Latin, that actually is more comprehensive than just "across two parties", as in Italy also when we tried really to have two blocks, due to some issues with funding, in Parliament in a short while we had each "bloc" spawn at least half a dozen subgroups or new political parties each.

In my case it extends also to business- but that was due to my early exposure to the overall organizational interest, well before I was head of a specific unit within a specific branch, while usually that happens much, much later.

A twisted definition of bipartisanship- leave it to the poets

Well, as I started with Ancient Rome and talked about Caesar, I will stay on subject.

As the title of this section says, I will leave it to a poet- specifically Catullus

I selected Carmen 93:

Nil nimium studeo, Caesar, tibi velle placere,
nec scire utrum sis albus an ater homo


Allow me- I do not like more modern translations that in my view do not deliver the "Sturm und Drang" of the sounds, so my translation is a little bit "pop" and probably translitterating for our political times:

Caesar, I do neither really care to be appreciated by you,
nor which color you are


And, actually, when I was first taught about this Carmen in high school in the early 1980s, I took it that way- it is not a literal translation, but was closer to my political (mainly observation and limited) experience and inclination.

And my few decades on the dual cultural/organizational change plus business number crunching simply expanded the analysis capabilities, but did not alter my view.

I know that there are many way to read the Latin original, and gossip was not invented in the XXI century.

I shared a while ago a review of a funny book about how political campaigning in Ancient Rome used some colorful expressions, innuendo, and outright fake news about the morals, life, corruption of opponents- in a time when getting office implied often having the money to support you to that point.

So, I found quite funny the otherwise wonderful Polybius that at last read fully recently, when he extolls the virtue and absence of corruption of Roman politics, if I consider all the books about the history of corruption that I read...

The point is: bipartisanship in Italy, and not just today, is not really "no matter the source, if it is bad, is bad, if it is good, it is good".

It is not even just "benefit the competing tribe" or "damages my tribe", but also the potential unsettling of long-term (if there is such a thing, in Italy) balances.

Therefore, over the last couple of decades (as I first considered returning to Italy in the early 2000s) saw both in the private and national/local authorities that what is presented as "bipartisanship" should be read in a different way, considering also the posturing long-term.

In Italian politics, we do not play chess, with a final winner, or even Go, by taking territory that we can firmly defend or make unassailable.

Sorry for the Go joke, but in Italian politics the "two eyes" are always fake eyes, as those at the border could switch side if the territorial gain on the other side(s) is larger.

Yes, and even in Italian politics we do not play with just white and black- we have a whole palette.

The tribalism of European choices: a cameo from Brussels

But "tribalism" Italian style (both the Ancient Rome variety and the current "multidimensional tribes" is not just for Italians.

While I was living in Brussels, over a decade ago, once attended a book presentation from a UK diplomat.

The funny part: it was held at a new Italian place, called "La piola" (a Piedmontese nickname for a wine bar), of all places.

The interesting part was the Q&A session, where he actually said something that echoes the "Yes, Minister" TV series episode when the "Mandarin" snior civil servant explains how the idea was to join the European Communities to tear them apart from inside.

No, he did not say so- but he explained that the idea was to join, and then spin or spawn different "coalitions of the willing" on each different dossier, having always UK as the pivotal (yes, I am using this word on purpose- some observers of UK politics will remember why) vote.

Which reminds me a personal cameo.

When I was in the Army for my compulsory one year service in 1985-1986, there was a training period in Liguria.

To keep some degree of independence, I used a small trick: I shaved my beard for the last time a little while before taking the train to the barracks, knowing that, due to an eczema that I had since I was a kid (I had plenty of cortisone for a while), if I left my beard grow would have some skin marks all around my face.

Why did I do so? As I expected that no dermatologist would visit me, and therefore... I could use my skin marks as an excuse to avoid shaving (i.e. flipping the information).

It worked, and got a temporary permit, and then kept my beard for all the year, as anybody asking would be told that I had had a permit when I was during the training period.

So, we were trained to march (I was in Artillery, but we were trained by a Bersagliere- who usually have much lighter equipment).

For reasons that were the source of many jokes by officers, the Commandant of the barracks decided to do a full cerimony with march etc instead of the routine "quick oath" of loyalty to the Republic.

So, we had to train a lot marching around.

I had told my parents, coming for the cerimony, that, due to my beard and height (172cm), I did expect to be on service duty, not marching, so maybe I would just say hello.

Well... I ended up being at the center of the first line of my company, the only one with a beard, and assigned the role of "pivoting" to make us turn left, turn right, halt, present the gun during the oath- just because I had a beard and had a good tempo and had shown on service duty that I could organize work without having any formal power.

So, that was my "pivotal" moment- a first of many that happened later in business.

The point is: what happened to me in the Army in that training, and what was described by the UK diplomat was, in both cases, "tribe setting", or, better, "tribe building".

In my case, was a "temporary tribe", focused just on delivering that final march to the oath delivery.

In his case, was actually describing how his "tribe" was trying to create different temporary tribes, all focused on a different combination, but all with the same element covering a pivotal role, de facto increasing the value of his own "tribe".

Heading into the European Union evolution storm

The current COVID19 crisis has been the motivation for the Recovery and Resilience Fund and NextGenerationEU.

But, frankly, the more you read the initial material released in summer 2021, the more you could consider that it was yet another "Monnet moment", i.e. a crisis giving the opportunity to push through some reforms that have been on the drawing table for a while.

Hence, the concept of having the same approach designed for NextGenerationEU and associated package for the next budget, and a revision of oversight as well as other discussions that, on the two main pillars of digital and green transformation, is turning increasingly political.

I wrote in the previous article my position on nuclear energy- I am not against, but would like to see the whole lifecycle considered, including the obvious disposal and dismantling, but also what would imply keeping up monitoring waste for longer than any human society with written laws, regulations, statutes has been around with a kind of "organizational continuity".

Yes, China has been around 5,000 or more- but do not forget that there too there were a couple of moments where destroying written knowledge was trendy.

There are many reforms that could smoothen the operational side of the interaction between Member States, regions that span across multiple Member States, and the European Union institutions (from the Court, to Commission, Parliament, Council, Committee of the Regions, etc).

Still, what I read over the last few days reminded what that UK diplomat said in Brussels: we different groups on each issue, and the "jumping forward" of the Treaty of the Quirinale, along with the older Treaty of the Elysée, is still unfinished business- will take some time before it can turn really into something blending Germany, Francy, Italy into e.g. a single voting block with shared interests.

The discussions about energy, border control, immigration have all the appearance of tribalization on multiple negotiating tables.

It is a kind of "mercenary tribal politics"- nothing is ever final, as each "tribe by dossier" might find expedient to (politically) live to fight another day (and maybe with another mix of partners).

Reminds me something that a former military told me in a South African pub in London, decades ago, about what could happen if you "meet" somebody you served with but on the other side... keep moving.

The "nothing is ever final" reminds me when, while living in London, was asked to act as part-time Project Manager and Business Analyst on an audit project on knowledge management and retention practices in Turin for an automotive company, in 2002- were my partner reduced the rate after the project had started.

At the time, I had not yet considered returning to Italy, but decided anyway to accept the slightly lower rate.

Well, a decade later it happened again the same- it seems to be a local habit- but that time turned down the "tremendous opportunity".

While I was living in Brussels, I had from Italy various "tremendous opportunities" on that line (or even asking to work for free to set up a company that they I had to turn over to others, when the riskier first two years had passed, or work for free on business projects "for future goodwill in being involved in future projects").

Let's just say that, at the time, my articles about the evolution of the European Union once in a while involved the theme "fair weather friendship" to describe the cohesion between Member States on various decisions.

More than a decade later, we are still way too often sounding as if we were a "fair weather friendship", i.e. we reach agreements, but when reality requires choices, it ends up as my "tremendous opportunities" in Italy.

A step forward, two steps backward: implementing what you are preaching

All the above could be quite interesting in and by itself, but should also be contextualized with something else.

During the pre-Brexit brouhaha and debate, it was quite common to read on some UK newspapers commentary on "decisions taken elsewhere", e.g. Brussels or Strasbourg, as a reason to leave.

Over the last few days, European Union got some mud on its "human rights champion" role, with the discovery not just that some overzelous bureaucrat extended the data collection and retention approach adopted, but also that, despite all the promotion of the "whistle blower rights" in Europe, there have been reported attempts to lean on the Data Privacy watchdog to go easy on another part of the bureaucracy, and even attempts to "fix it" by making the extended data collection legal ex-post.

You can read more within this article on The Guardian.

Frankly, considering that we are about to have the "Remembrance Day" about WWII deportations and the "final solution" genocide planned by Heydrich, I remembered what I had seen in Wannsee nearby Berlin in 2012.

The place where the "final solution" was discussed was actually also the HQ of the Interpol, that was led at the time by SS head Heydrich.

There is an interesting book (in German- you can see the link here on my LibraryThing profile) that I purchased at the end of the visit of the Wannsee museum, but you can find also a couple of TV dramatizations, one in German, and one in English with Kenneth Branagh.

The point here is: the "final solution" was not set up by Martians landed in Germany- it was a slow, continuous decay of small steps that each one made self-justify the other as "ordinary", a decay that we can do even today (e.g. look at what happened in the Balkans or in Rwanda, where we from the European Union were involved as peacekeepers).

Overall, this incident could actually be a blessing in disguise, thanks to the Data Privacy watchdog EU level choice to keep pushing ahead, and proposing a "phase-in period", to allow convergence toward compliance.

Why a blessing in disguise? Because it showed that, with the current legal framework within the European Union, it is possible to "walk the talk", instead of just preaching non-EU countries to follow our approach, while failing ourselves to do it.

Whenever there is a step forward, as I wrote in the previous article (Le DEFI - moving forward with European integration in COVID and NextGenerationEU times), historically transparency is the first to suffer, as decisions are at best explained after the fact, with a back-room consensus replacing democratic debate.

The risk is, overall, a tunnel vision whenever there is something that would require an approach different to those used (and more or less working) in the past.

It is quite normal: we think by patterns, and, in a crisis, those patterns could seem a shortcut toward resolution, while in reality reduce the degrees of freedom in doing a real analysis of the data available, by limited choice to those that have been considered in the past.

So, also the current crisis, while resulting in a new framework that is represented by the NextGenerationEU and RRF (Recovery and Resilience Facility) that could pave the way of something structurally different, generated something that amounts to a lot of bartering between tribes with a whiff of creative accounting.

Probably, a real progress, i.e. a step forward without two steps backward, would require identifying a stronger oversight structure.

The issue within the European Union is still the same: a democratic deficit that is structurally, culturally linked to the way the European Union precursors were created, e.g. the European Parliament was not directly voted by citizens (it started being so in 1979), and whenever there is a structural reform (or even expansion to new Member States), it was not up to the citizens.

So, we are still under the "quis custodiet ipsos custodes" (you can read an article on the theme that I shared in 2019, the #hype #alert on #4thindustrialrevolution and #reinventing the #business of #government : quis custodiet ipsos custodes).

And, as promised, here is my assessment on the current Italian Presidential elections.

Talking straight: I think that President of the Council of Ministers Draghi should retain his office- it is (you guessed) a pivotal historic moment for Italy, and a full-time inhoccupant of Palazzo Chigi focused on the current dossiers is needed.

Having a President of the Republic Draghi with somebody else at Palazzo Chigi to implement his programme would be the worst of both worlds, as we would have a President of the Republic splitting his time between his duties (and also the consequences and potential developments of the recent treaty with France), and President of the Council of the Ministers who would have to second guess, a kind of "What Would Draghi Do".

Hence, jokes on President Casini reasons for turning down the offer of Palazzo Chigi aside, I think that he was right: nobody would take over the Palazzo Chigi role at this time and expect to be micro-managed part-time from Quirinale.

It might have worked in the past, but the "tempo" needed by the current situation requires something firmly at the helm of Palazzo Chigi.

As for Quirinale: yes, we might end up with a transition presidency.

But a jump of political will might actually consider that it would make sense to have somebody able both to project what was set in motion by the recent treaty, the reforms embedded within the NextGenerationEU, a stronger and continuous oversight of the PNRR (a true "super partes"), and moral suasion toward structural reforms.

Again, another full-time job that would probably also require a team surrounding the President in this expanded role.

Stay tuned.