“Those wanting to prevent change are willing to do anything,” firebrand Beppe Grillo griped. “They are desperate. Four people, Napolitano, Bersani, Berlusconi, and Monti, met in a living room and decided....” They’d ganged up on him and restarted the corrupt political machinery he’d brought to a stop. The one that is strangling Italy's economic core.
Entries in Europe - Italy (26)
Contributed by Chriss Street: Italians are electing their 63rd government in 68 years. Normally, Europeans chuckle about this. But Italian political trouble just became EU economic trouble as its debt was downgraded to BBB+ and a bank run seems to have begun. The realization that it's too big to bail out is heating up the Eurozone debt crisis.
The Stunning Differences in European Costs of Labor: Or Why “Competitiveness” Is A Beggar-Thy-Neighbor Strategy
The ominous term “competiveness” is bandied about as the real issue, the one causing Eurozone countries to sink deeper into their fiasco. To address it, “structural reforms,” or austerity, have been invoked regardless of how much blood might stain the streets. And a core element of these structural reforms is bringing down the cost of labor.
The ECB and the national central banks of the Eurozone set out to collect “micro-level information” on household wealth. A massive bureaucratic undertaking. Surveys went out in 2010. Results are now ready. No one in Europe had ever done a survey on that scale before. And no one might ever do it again. Because, in the era of bailouts, the results are so explosive that the Bundesbank is keeping its report secret—and word has leaked out why.
Euros entered circulation on January 1, 2002. For six years, they grew on trees in southern Europe. But the bubble got pricked. Since then, the monetary union has been in crisis. Almost half of its existence! Until suddenly, its problems were solved. But now confidence in the monetary union is weaker than ever. With a hue of resignation in Germany.
Former Italian senator Sergio De Gregorio confirmed: “The Cavaliere paid me,” he said about the €3 million he’d received in 2006 from Silvio Berlusconi. “Of course I took the money.” Frustrated with this daily display of corruption, 8.7 million angry Italians voted for Beppe Grillo’s 5-Star movement. While it wasn’t enough to govern, it was enough to give the political establishment conniptions—and show that anger and frustration finally count.
“I’m appalled that two clowns have won,” said the man who'd try to knock German Chancellor Merkel off her perch this year. He was referring to former comedian Beppe Grillo and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. One of them is “a professional clown who doesn’t mind being called that,” he explained; the other is “a clown with special testosterone boost.”
The announcement couldn’t have been more glorious in crisis-struck Italy: Ferrari booked records sales and profits in 2012. Dazzling in every aspect. Not a single cloud darkened the horizon. Except in Italy where sales collapsed. And in the rest of the world, where central-bank printer ink stained the records.
By now we should have gotten used to the odor emanating from banks—bailouts, money laundering, Libor rate-rigging, the other misdeeds. But in Europe over the last few days, it was particularly dense. “In this uncertain world, I cannot exclude anything,” said Deutsche Bank co-CEO reassuringly.
It started on Monday. “Poverty is returning to Europe,” said Jan Zijderveld, head of Unilever’s European operations. The third largest consumer products company in the world was adjusting its commercial strategy to this new reality, he said, by redeploying to Europe what worked in poor countries of the developing world. Other stars of the industry affirmed it. “The logic of pauperization,” L’Oréal CEO Jean-Paul Agon called it.
It has been an onslaught. Eurozone heads of state, top politicians, unelected kingpins, and bureaucratic honchos threatened everyone in sight with the demise of the euro, or promised to do “everything” or “whatever it takes” to save it even if it violated treaties or the foundation of democracy. In between the lines, the mammoth costs of continuing the bailouts or of breaking everything up oozed to the surface. But it got even worse.
Contributed by George Dorgan. Silvio Berlusconi is back. In a June poll, his party “Polo della libertà” would obtain 17.3% of the vote in the 2013 elections. The anti-euro movement “5 stelle” would obtain 20.6%. The pro-Euro left-wing Partito Democratic would get 25.7%. This would result in an anti-euro majority, given that Berlusconi’s PDL is tempted by an Italian euro exit. Among Eurozone countries, Italy is the most opposed to the euro.
Spain’s banks are getting bailed out with €100 billion. It won’t be enough, but it’ll buy time—a Eurozone mantra. Three of Spain’s seventeen heavily indebted regions asked for a bailout from the central government, and more are coming, but the central government can’t bail out anything because it’s broke. It needs a bailout for itself and for its regions. A bailout far larger than any of the prior bailouts. And then there's Italy.
“The euro is irreversible,” said ECB President Mario Draghi as a whiff of panic began sweeping over the Eurozone. Everybody was supposed to enjoy their long vacation, and nothing important was supposed to happen. But, like a group of disruptive homeless guys, the ECB, the International Monetary Fund, and politicians have apparently gotten tired of kicking the Greek bailout can down the road, and they stomped on it instead.
One thing Greek politicians have taught other European leaders: fear mongering for the purpose of extortion is the way to go. It might not work, and it might be counterproductive, and it might destroy confidence in the economy and give investors goose bumps and blow up markets, and it might cause spooked consumers to hold back on purchases and worried businesses to freeze hiring plans, thus exacerbating the situation, but it’s nevertheless the way to go.
“I believe, no,” is how Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti answered the question if Italy would seek a bailout—lacking the bravado and vehemence with which Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy had claimed for the longest time that Spain wouldn’t need one. Until it needed one. The question was hot. It followed the kerfuffle that ensued when Austrian Finance Minister had let it slip that Italy might also need “support.” But Italy is too big to get bailed out.
Economic reforms are tough. While they’re supposed to open opportunities, put budgets on sounder footing, or make the country more competitive, they invariably cut into the flesh of some groups, who then react with demonstrations and strikes to put pressure on the reformers to preserve the status quo. But in Italy, pharmacists have come up with an ingenious and tongue-in-cheek strike aimed straight at the reformers personally.
Europe with its relatively affluent population of 500 million has turned into a nightmare for the auto industry. And the R-word—restructuring—unpalatable and almost illegal as it is in Europe, is being bandied about, this time by Fiat-Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, who, as President of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association, spoke for all EU automakers. It was a dire warning and a cry for help.
The Costa Concordia was launched on September 2, 2005, with a mishap that back then didn't mean anything: the champagne bottle thrown against its hull didn't break. But on January 13, at 10 pm, the mega cruise ship hit a reef near the small island of Giglio, off the coast of the Tuscany. So far, 11 bodies have been found and 23 people are still missing.
Satellite image by Digital Globe
“The fact that we profit massively from the euro doesn’t mean we have to accept every political horse-trade to save the common currency,” said Anton Börner, president of Germany's Association of Exporters—a swipe at the Italian prime minister who’d demanded that Germany dig deeper into its pockets to reduce the debt burden of other countries, such as, well, Italy. When the German industrial elite talks about exiting the Eurozone....