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Published on 2024-01-31 22:10:00 | words: 5258
The title of this article is already quite long- but the real title would have been much longer: "Intermezzo: local and national structural political change in Italy in the first European Parliament election after the normative paradigm-shift unleashed by NextGenerationEU".
Actually, this article is more an ideal continuation of Overcoming cognitive dissonance on the path to a real EU-wide industrial policy and Legislative reforms and direct democracy in a data-centric society: lessons from business and politics in Italy.
I will start with the first concept: "intermezzo".
If you look at longer movies from the 1960, often started with a long musical piece, and then had a further one more or less at the middle- "intermezzo".
Now, in my latest article on cognitive dissonance announced that that was actually the first part of a much longer article, and that the "coda" (to stay with the musical lingo overtone) would follow in few days.
The reason of this intermezzo is because, while the European Parliament elections will be held within six months (in Italy, early June), the current political debate in Italy looks a lot like the movie "Radiodays".
Including, of course, the routine revolving door of politicians coming and going from one political formation to another.
Therefore, I saw that this week would be a good time to share a bit about Italian politics, local (as in 2012 had to return to Turin, Piedmont) and national (as since 2012 observed a structural and cultural disconnect between what local élites assume, and national reality)- avoiding too many digressions within the next article.
Incidentally, I will add within each section links to both prior articles that I published and other material- this will help to keep the article short.
The sections (each one less than 250 words, except the last one):
_ representative democracy within a tribal individualistic society
_ NextGenerationEU / PNRR and the lack of a "common good"
_ disclosure: what I will (probably) vote (Regional and European)
_ contracting reality, expanding expectations
_ a decision-making palmarès that many would do without
_ "questo è l'ombelico del mondo" and the "Tafazzi tunnel"
_ think positive? no- think proactive starting from reality
_ leaders are not parachuted, but developed
_ moving forward vs. jumping forward
Representative democracy within a tribal individualistic society
Frankly, I stopped long ago following where in the Italian Second Republic elected politicians actually "reside" (politically), as in recent years we had some who switched party a handful of times.
Italy is a representative democracy, but in an individualistic yet tribal country, once elected many assume that it is their duty to stay in office, whatever it takes.
I know- some American friends say that this is nothing new to them, but in our case the "tribal" elements adds some twists.
The key element is always the one I described within the Il Paese dei Leader: once selected and elected, few do just a term, and many assume that it is their manifest destiny to be appointed again and again.
Actually, in Italy members of Parliament receive also a subsidy to be "reinserted into society"- akin to what international institutions give to employees who leave, to cover for non-competition and work restrictions.
But many actually land a sinecure within foundations, board membership, etc- basically ensuring that once in, never out.
Pity, as those who were elected to the Parliament could actually develop a systemic thinking and understanding that, in a complex society, where being competent in your own domain is not enough, would teach that you need to surround you with competent people.
Which is something sorely needed within Italian society, where we lack structural development of management capabilities on a par with the complexity of our society.
NextGenerationEU / PNRR and the lack of a "common good"
A prime example of the consequences of a lack of a systemic perception and overall concept of common good is the Italian side of the NextGenerationEU and Recovery and Resilience Facility.
Since 2020, wrote often about the PNRR (piano nazionale di ripresa e resilienza as of today published 68 articles discussing the theme), including during its development.
Routinely I heard from around Italy talks of "spending", as if the aims of the PNRR were mainly to "recover" from COVID, and not also increase the "resilience" by investing.
In countless of webinars in Italy, heard platitudes blending the NextGenerationEU and PNRR with the two transformations, digital and climate.
And there was too much "digging in drawers" for projects sidelined even decades ago, but still political appealing.
Will Italy, after the various renegotiations and some creative tinkering, formally fulfill the demands to obtain all the 200+ bln EUR? Probably yes.
Will this massive injection of funding in a short time (exceeding what was often the national annual budget on government and local authority projects) generate a significant improvement on sustainability and inclusiveness of the Italian society? Allow me to be skeptical.
And it is not just this government: since 2020, Italian Governments, due to the way Italian politics works, actually involved all the political parties- so, while the routine political discourse is made of daily mud-slinging, notably before elections, it is just theatrics.
Theatrics that, from a bipartisan viewpoint (mine) is just annoying and distracting from reality.
Disclosure: what I will (probably) vote (Regional and European)
In Piedmont (where my birthplace, Turin, is the main town) we are going to have regional elections along with the European Parliament elections.
In Italy, at the regional level, you can vote for a candidate President not linked to the political party you choose ("voto disgiunto")- and so I did also in the previous regional elections.
Back then, voted for the candidate of the centre-right, while voting as usual PD (the Italian Democratic Party, an evolution of the Second Italian Republic that blended both former-Christian Democrats and former-Communists).
This time, probably will vote for the same candidate as President of the Region.
Also because, no small feat, the opposition (including PD) is bickering and quarreling, and still has no firm candidate.
European Parliament? Still no idea, frankly.
Personally, I would switch vote, to vote for the PD candidate as President of the Region, if he were to be the former Dean of Turin Polytechnic: going "solo" with the PD instead of the whole mixed bag of oppositions he would lose (being the candidate for President, he would anyway enter the Regional Assembly), but could actually be a viable bipartisan partner to help attract companies in the way too many "empty boxes" in town.
Entering history books as the one who relaunched the region by attracting FDI.
I shared within The human side of sustainability: looking at the demographic trends of Turin some information.
Turin was called the "European Detroit"- and there are some lessons worth taking from what happened there.
>b>Contracting reality, expanding expectations
As will discuss in the next section, and shared in previous articles, there is a mindset that probably was already there in Turin and Piedmont, but noticed only by observing day after day since 2012, when I had to return to Turin.
I really started living and working elsewhere in the 1980s, first in Italy then abroad- so, I would say that was a "locally-born foreigner" for most of my life.
The lessons from Detroit? Well, have a look at the last 10-20 minutes of Detroit Burning, a movie that contains material shot over 12 years- you will see how former industrial areas and buildings became gardens.
When I visited occasionally Turin long before the 2006 Olympic Games, and later while I was living in Brussels, saw a town contracting in terms of population but expanding its infrastructure
Half-jokingly, said that seemed as if were preparing a town for 2mln inhabitants.
Today has much less than 900k, down from a peak long ago of almost 1.5mln, and is foreseen to reach close to half that.
The expectation would be to tune resources accordingly, but instead a side-effect of the building activities related to the Olympic Games of 2006, from those that I met locally since 2012, apparently was to reinforce a cognitive dissonance, as if Turin were still the HQ of the largest industrial company and the manufacturing capital of Italy.
In the next section will share few examples- both of choices and consequences.
A decision-making palmarès that many would do without
So, you had the Winter Olympics in 2006, but let in disrepair some of the facilities: not really a good omen to apply to host the 2026 Winter Olympics.
Yet, as I shared in a 2018 article (Controcorrente: olimpiadi sì, ma non da soli), when it was suggested that Milan might be selected, from Turin the message was "alone or nothing", only to then continue until few weeks ago to backbite to extract some events (and associated budget) to be transferred to Piedmont.
Then, after the merger of FCA with Peugeot into Stellantis, curious statements from local authorities and public figures almost dictating what should be the business plan of Stellantis and why should realunch Turin.
Results? Few days ago the CEO confirmed that Modena (nearby Bologna) is going to be a reference site for one of the brands.
Other example: Turin obtained the ATP Finals, and wanted to become permanent location- so, a renew was discussed and everybody locally discussed as it were a fait accompli.
Results? Now the discussion is to have it in Milan.
Different domain: Turin announced that it would be the best location for the national AI competence centre. and even after it was reduced to automotive and few others, and was to be one of the many that will be set in Italy...
...locally, news more than once presented it as if it were the one and only.
But in these cases, were at least possibilities.
"questo è l'ombelico del mondo" and the "Tafazzi tunnel"
When cognitive dissonance really creates issues?
When such a distance from reality generates a series of self-defeating choices, i.e. a string of decisions each based on previous misguided ones.
It might be something minor- as when, after hosting Eurovision, an even that switches location each year, it was proposed (by locals) to shift it permanently to Turin.
At last, also local newspapers once in a while interview somebody who utters the (locally) unthinkable: they ask to "please stop stating that for whatever Turin is the natural location".
The title of this section refers to two bits of Italian culture: a disco anthem of you decades ago (meaning: this is the belly button of the world), and Tafazzi, a character from a stand-up TV comic who was commenting on decision-making (notably by politicians) that was really self-defeating by...
...banging a plastic baseball where it hurts.
The first part of the title of this section is the attitude of considering that the universe must converge with your plans.
As for the "tunnel" part... it is when, instead of learning lessons from experience, more of the same is done, but actually piling up on previous mistakes (i.e. the planned results), not on the lessons (i.e. the actual results).
Which, actually, increases the "filtering out" of anything that does not confirm the perception.
How to get from a self-generated swamp?
The secret: to get a few out of the loop, and listen when they announce that you are actually entering the "Tafazzi tunnel".
Think positive? no- think proactive starting from reality
Nothing is more boring, to me, of those who quote continuously phrases from "self development" or "business case studies", with phrases that would not be out of place in...
...either fortune cookies or chocolate wrapping.
The typical "think positive" is a form of placebo that does not alter reality- but, of course, if you have means and are surrounded only be courtesans, it might deliver short-term results.
My experience before official business in 1986 was in other fields that were closer to the "human side"- both by listening and talking.
And in business, my main experience was in change, recovery, and, while doing that, helping develop talent: yes, I delivered courses, but those attending my courses already had plenty of expertise in their own domain that my training was just augmenting.
Therefore, I think that replacing platitudes or "new-ageish" attitudes that are a bit patronizing requires accepting to lose, not retain, control.
It is a matter of continuous learning, and not just continuous improvement- at both the individual and organizational level.
Starting from reality implies, in our data-centric world, something akin to what my Latvian friends said to me in the late 1990s: university professors said to them that they, by travelling abroad, had to teach them, not anymore the other way around.
And the most reviled professors were those who delivered the courses closely linked to the former orthodoxy of the party.
Where this change is more critical is in leadership approaches.
Leaders are not parachuted, but developed
If you look online, notably on Linkedin, there are plenty of posts with platitudes about what is the difference between management and leadership.
When I was assigned the former, I considered if and when the latter was needed, as often we had to "evolve" the initial plans.
Not just when the purpose was to recover or phase out a derailed activity, but also when the activity was designed by cutting corners on the assessment of starting conditions, real capabilities, etc- in Italy, quite a common case.
Privatizations in Italy generated self-referential organizations that, frankly, more than once remind me of something I read in The Sale of the Century, about USSR privatizations, and other books plus personal stories from contacts.
The idea of privatizing by giving vouchers to all those involved was sound- but then, as the only ones with access to liquidity were managers, they became de facto owners in many cases.
In Italy, we still retained the spoiling system where in many formally privatized companies senior management roles are appointed by politicians.
But both in fully and formally privatized companies, management in reality became self-referential.
What is missing from the picture, is, with few notable exceptions, management development- not by appointing them to roles where are supported to move then to the next role (what in Italy is called "scalino", a step on the staircase), but by developing many potentials.
And this opens the door for the next section.
Moving forward vs. jumping forward
The "Tafazzi tunnel" is recoverable- you have just to acknowledge that it exists.
The key issue, in Italy, is that it is not just Turin and Piedmont (that observed since 2012), but with varying degrees, once appointed, those appointed assume to have been selected because they are the best, and proceed to perpetuating their stay.
The net result is visible: in various cases, in Italy to recover a privatization, a further round was done- which resulted only in more funding from taxpayers.
It all boils down to variants of confusing reality and perception- be it in managers' capabilities, market conditions, or even the state of the assets to be privatized.
In Italy moving forward is difficult, as would require shifting from finding scapegoats, to accepting that we share the same boat and at various degrees those in a position to decide or influence decisions all failed.
Also: and accepting that change might negatively affect your own tribe.
So, we prefer announcing yet another "paradigm shift"- implemented then by tinkering and more tinkering: hence, the gusto with which we issue laws, decrees, regulations.
It is in part due to the concept of leader as sole knight leading the masses- something quite common in Italy.
I remember a book published when Monti was appointed President of the Council of Ministers, and there was significant hype- the title was Monti ha fatto pagare l'IVA a Chuck Norris (i.e. "he made Chuck Norris pay VAT").
This section will be longer than 250 words.
And will start with a cultural detour, converging then with the current political climate in Italy.
Let's just say that, while not as dramatic as the one expected for Turin, the population contraction of Italy is going to be significant.
Today's newspapers reported that, while we are now less than 59mln (were 60-61 at peak), the expectation is to switch to less than 46mln by 2080.
Or: 25% less in 50 years.
Turin will have to make choices that, from recent news, is still unable to even consider: a building that was occupied for over 25 years, and converted into an informal antagonists' headquarters in Turin, is now in such a state of disrepair (easy, if you have no maintenance for few decades on an old building) that... local authorities are discussing how to receive part of the building back and renovating it, to align to current e.g. fire regulations, but already those proposing the intervention stated that part of the building is beyond recovery.
In Turin, we already have other buildings that belong to the industrial past (i.e. including logistics when manufacturing was on a higher volume and intensity) that have been abandoned for decades and, with this contraction, more will probably follow.
Those projections about Italy actually refer to a limited contraction in the centre of the country, a stronger contraction in the North, and a massive contraction in the South.
Anyway, if you were to listen to politicians, or even read (as I did) the contributions from civil society while preparing the PNRR, few spotted the issue, and even fewer proposed something.
You can let one building go away, but if you let whole areas, beside the issue of making it sustainable (in terms of services and just sheer security) for those remaining, the issue becomes how to reorganize.
While many are focused now on the end of the PNRR, 2026, or at best 2030 (due to climate and UN SDGs), probably the potential consequences of that demographic contraction on the infrastructure and sustainability of Italian cities have to become part of the picture.
Fifty years seems a long time span: but, frankly, the beginning and the end of the First Italian Republic was less than that (late 1940s, early 1990s), and at least for the last decade I remember discussions about how to revive the post-WWII "Economic Boom".
Hence, considering that within the timeframe from 2030 and 2080 there will be also to take care of the results of the PNRR and its payback (as well something that many seem to forget: maintenance), maybe it is worth starting at least assessing scenarios outside statistical research entities, local and national, and within politics.
If you remove 15mln inhabitants, what do you do with buildings and infrastructure and services that served them? How will need the State itself to scale down? And how will the age mix vary?
As I reminded today, since 2012 whenever I had a mission in TUrin took a temporary dwelling there- actually, from late 2015 became resident in Turin for few years.
Well, between Spring 2019 and my next mission in summer 2021 there was COVID- therefore, Turin was a desert- as nobody was going to offices in the centre or opening shops catering for them, as I wrote back then, when discussing the sustainability of mild "reopening" measures that did not consider the average size of places, and the impact of social distancing on economic viability of some.
Also later, from 2021 most people worked remotely (I too was requested to be based in Turin, but mostly worked remotely)- and the centre was half a desert, if I compared with before.
But when I visit it weekly now, within the centre I see routinely shops, cafés etc that used to visit on a daily basis until recently closed, or replaced by others that close after few months.
Capability planning is a concept that in Italy should be probably taught in schools, as we are long on announces, and short on delivery.
And, unfortunately, whenever there is a crisis we are not too far from blaming a target of opportunity, not our own structural inability.
But conformism can have worse consequences- and just few days ago we remembered what happened in WWII.
I just watched a chilling documentary that reminded me a controversial book of few years ago, Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germany and Holocaust".
The documentary? Ganz normale Männer - Der 'vergessene Holocaust'.
It is fact-based, and reminded me the visit to the Wannsee Museum nearby Berlin, in 2012, where the "Wannsee Konferenz" deciding the industralization of killing was held.
The documentary is a chilling story of how, also when it was feasible, ordinary policemen did not refuse to go around Eastern territories and kill children, women, men for the crime of existing.
If you watched The Century of Self you recognize the pattern: conforming to the group and authority takes over rationality and ethics.
As in the famous Milgram experiment (that became also a song by Peter Gabriel We Do What We Are Told).
The compliance to the of the 1930s Italian racial laws implemented by Mussolini's government, resulted in a large number of deportations and deaths.
Luckily with much less impact, even recent news showed that, despite all the praise for Italian creativity and innovation, we are still a tribal country where conforming is more important that sustainability, innovation, creativity.
And tribal conformism justifies anything- increasing the distance from reality.
Italy risks to be heading into its own "sale of the century" of its assets formerly funded by taxpayers, due to its inability to overcome tribal boundaries and converge on national priorities.
A further risk is actually that, as current political communication is about tinkering on a weekly or even daily basis (as shared yesterday on Facebook), the detachment from citizens will increase, and could further fracture Italian society by creating new micro-tribal allegiances.
If you switch "critical theme" each week, eventually citizens will simply ignore what your advisors claim to be the theme to use- it will be perceived as just another way to grab the headlines.
Obviously, preaching to the choir and using it in lieu of a "Devil's Advocate" can only... make the "Tafazzi tunnel" I referred to above deeper.
This could result potentially in a democracy of the bullies, where micro-tribes represent a "voting group" for elections, few outside those micro-tribes bother to vote, and the interests of these micro-tribes would transcend ordinary common good.
At a time when Italy is within an increasingly structured EU.
Because make no mistakes: NextGenerationEU is something potentially more structural than the funds it provides.
Incidentally, as are collected from market, those funds will have to be returned.
Also the "grant" part will have to be apportioned in return, and Italy obtained only to avoid staying a net contributor (i.e. this time will get more than it will contribute).
This "benefit" will hold true only if Italy will access all the funds it has been entitled to, i.e. if all that was agreed to be within the PNRR or its authorised revisions will be done.
The structural changes will imply more collective choices- and how that approach will evolve could alter what in Europe is called "subsidiarity", basically the concept of making choices at the level more appropriate (and hopefully closer to the implementation point).
In Italy, we can devolve to regional governments whatever we want- but, if then at the EU level we sign up for something less federal and more centralized, the risk is that many choices made at the regional level will be challenged as violations of what signed up for as a country.
This would actually require a common good concept of what is the negotiating position adopted by Italy: it might be on the two layers of national and political convergence, but we are still electing Members of the European Parliament on a nation-by-nation basis.
When we will instead vote for European Parliament candidates presented by political parties that will appear across the EU, candidates that will be list irrelevant of country of origin, then we should be, at last, be able to state that we have a "European Parliament", and not a "Parliament of EU Member States".
Obviously, my view is at best marginally shared by others.
Therefore, the Italian habit of electing at the European Parliament national leaders (to attract votes) who either barely set foot beyond the few official sessions (or even less), or are then replaced by others, is not really what is needed right now to influence the shape that the EU will take.
And this past habit actually was both on the left and the right side of the political spectrum: but in 2024, treating Membership of the European Parliament as a sinecure is not really the best way forward.
Since 2012 routinely saw laws created without considering how they would be implemented, or coming with a superficial assessment of the context and impacts.
I will let to political hacks to compute the number of billions mis-allocated since 2012 but, as I wrote in a previous section, it makes sense to consider how to improve.
The starting point? Acknowledging that there is a cognitive dissonance.
It will not be pretty, it will not be easy, but my idea is simply that change is made step-by-step, and if you know what you want to achieve, you can actually integrate different parties along the journey, without losing track of the initial objective.
Anyway, it takes more courage and stamina to make change through iterations, than sell a "revolution".
And at least since the 1990s, in Italy we had more announces than reality- as shown by the over 3,000bln EUR in debt (if you include everything at the national and local level- and I consider also the PNRR largely "debt").
The next article will return to the track of the Change Vs Tinkering - evolving data centric project, program, portfolio frameworks
The rationale is always the same that I followed since I had to return in Italy in 2012: as I do not see potential to work at the level I worked before, I would consider to waste it, also because I think (and saw since 2012) that it can still be useful.
I prefer to apply my experience to publishing and research on change and share some of my results, ideas, concepts, etc in a public forum whose content I can control- and eventually maybe create or contribute to new activities.
Therefore, unless there is something long-term, it makes more sense to do as I did since 2012: each mission lasts as long as the initial commitment is reached or there is a further commitment worth staying for, basically to self-finance publishing and research.
Did in 2018 the mistake of assuming that would be feasible to develop locally, but, unless there at least a framework agreement backed up by an operational commitment, i.e. a mutual commitment, my experience in Italy has been the same I had since the late 1990s, when I was first living abroad and called up occasionally for missions.
I could share a long list of "tremendous opportunities" that I was offered locally (i.e. those that did not accept)- but would need a whole book, and it is the "genius loci" of my birthplace, Turin, as I kept receiving similar offers until recently.
The upside? Even my former customers or former partners who would need something probably could find some ideas in this website that is easy to recycle- including in articles such as this one, that apparently are only on social and political change, but derives lessons from both business and non-business experience.
Incidentally: I added to the banner of my website a summary of what it is about: hand-written content where the only use of AI is for number crunching and creating visualizations- not to write my articles on my behalf, as seems to be trendy now.
I do not know about you- but I am frankly getting tired of articles, papers, even presentations in webinars that seems all "son of GenAI" in terms of value-added: notice how few share experience and new concepts or ideas, and how many seem rehashing boilerplate material.
But if you read so far, you probably understood that already...