Italian politics

George Negus asks the MPs how they're going to represent, and inspire, the Italians in their constituency.


Have the pair been handed their dream jobs? Or a political nightmare?


Last week, Italian politics, even for those of us besotted by the place, got more curious than ever. Silvio Berlusconi – he of the perennial tan, seemingly ever-smoother skin and more and darker hair, scrillionaire magnate of you name it, including the country's media and accused corporate cheat – somehow managed to get himself returned to power. Only via Italy could it happen, but two Australians were also re-elected to the national parliament in Rome, to represent a massive off-shore electorate of Oceania that takes in not just this country, but also Africa and Antarctica. Get your mind around that. For a local take on the political conundrum that is Silvio Berlusconi, George Negus talked with Nino Randazzo and Marco Feddi, ex-pat Italian MPs, in our Melbourne studio.

GEORGE NEGUS: Gentlemen, first of all we have to explain to other people in this country have come at you two dinky-di Australians have found yourself members of the Italian Parliament. Nino, remind people of how it happens that you guys can be members of the Italian national government's Parliament.

NINO RANDAZZO, ITALIAN MP: Quite easily explained. For the very first time in 2006 Italians were able to vote overseas for their own representatives so there are I think members of the Italian Parliament elected overseas. If there is one member in this part of the world of the upper house and one member of the senate and one member of the lower house are elected. So, we went into Parliament in 2006 for the election. We, Marco Feddi, in the House of Representatives and I in the Italian Senate have been re-elected this time, again.

GEORGE NEGUS: Marco, I think it is all to do with the fact that you people have dual citizenship but as I understand it, it is a pretty good gig. The rest of us have to pay a lot of money to go to Italy. You get paid to go to Italy.

MARCO FEDI, ITALIAN MP: We do. That is very good travelling too. We enjoy doing it because, guess what, we represent Italians living in Australia and it is a very good feeling.

GEORGE NEGUS: Is it about seven trips a year?

MARCO FEDI: It is probably more, but it really depends because parliament in Italy is in permanent session so we work very hard when we are there and we travel back to Australia probably every six weeks on average, but also keep in mind that we have to travel to the other parts of the world, such of our electorate needs us.

GEORGE NEGUS: You are both, as I understand it, from the Democratic Left. Is that the best way to describe ideologically we you coming from?

MARCO FEDI: Democratic Party. The Partito Democratico was born out of two parties – a centrist party and a left party – so democratic left would be a very good way of describing to our audience. We played a very good card in the Italian elections in 2008. I think that the Australian electorate recognised our strong message about stability and governability in Italy – give Italy a opportunity to become a normal country where there is a majority that governs and an opposition that does what it is supposed to do – to keep the bastards honest, if I'm forgiven for that simplistic way of doing it.

GEORGE NEGUS: You would have to say at the moment, Marco or Nino, that you appear to be out of step with the majority of people in Italy because, somehow or other, Harry Houdini, the master magician, Silvio Berlusconi has got himself re-elected, despite his record, so are you out of step?

NINO RANDAZZO: May I say that Italians in Australia in many cases are better informed than some in Italy and they are more aware of the real situation of Italy and they have watched exactly what we have been doing in Italian parliament and they have in a way rewarded us with re-election in Australia with a larger number of voters.

GEORGE NEGUS: How come – what is your explanation for a man like Berlusconi getting re-elected?

NINO RANDAZZO: The point of this is that in Italy there is an anti-politics movement which has hit most politicians. There is also the desire, a need, to have a normal government that runs a normal country – as Marco just said. We're moving. This is the important thing. We are moving towards a sort of Anglo-Saxon type of democracy with two major parties, instead of having 30 parties. Just remember that in the past parliament, we had 30 parties altogether. So, we are moving forward and the democratic party is leading the way towards the normalisation of politics and the normalisation of living.

GEORGE NEGUS: In the meantime, Marco, has Italy moved to the right? Is that why people have decided they want to give Silvio Berlusconi another go?

MARCO FEDI: My understanding is that we have seen a very different Silvio Berlusconi in this campaign. He has been very, very careful. On the Alitalia issue, he applied a few tricks because I am sure that Alitalia is still in bad shape and will need market intervention. The Italian airliner will need market intervention, certainly not political interference. Otherwise we have seen a very careful Berlusconi who has played his cards very, very well. He has attracted the centrist vote. Believe it or not, up north, even votes from the left have gone to his party.

GEORGE NEGUS: What is the explanation for this though Marco, he is a man who has been accused of all sorts of things but somehow or another, with lots of parts of Europe moving back to the centre-left, Berlusconi, who we thought was yesterday's man, suddenly finds himself back in the chair. It is pretty astounding.

MARCO FEDI: It is. The message that Veltroni was trying to bring to the Italian people was a very sophisticated message. He was talking about stability – give Italy an opportunity to become a country where the opposition can have a say and the majority can govern on a specific, clear mandate. That sophisticated argument was not a tangible argument. Berlusconi was very clear in his campaign on specific objectives. He said we have to be very, very careful – extremely careful. The centre-right has been accused over the last five years, when he was in government, of not paying enough attention to the public deficit, to the accounts. He has said that he wants to fight tax evasion, which, in my opinion, is the very first time we have Berlusconi saying he wants to fight tax evasion when in fact in the previous government in the five years he was in the government, tax evasion increased. He also said that we have to look at that accounts very closely and remain in Europe. So, a very different Berlusconi that probably has helped him to sell his message which was much more tangible and concrete than the one that Veltroni was trying to sell.

GEORGE NEGUS: Is that the case that Silvio Berlusconi just outsmarted anyone to his left.

NINO RANDAZZO: Well, that could be the case too but I am saying that he has tried that trick before and at the end we found ourselves in a rather disastrous situation. I am worried at the thought that the same thing might happen this time. I can see some rather bad signs, some dark signals coming from the new majority in the wider dealing with security problems, with the foreign press and so really, he has succeeded in tricking Italians to support him and in the end, Italy has found itself on the verge of economic collapse. If it were not for the Prodi government, the centre-left government last year, Italy would have been kicked out of their Euro area, for instance. It would have become another banana republic if that had happened.

So, let's wait and see. The opposition is there exactly to scrutinise every piece of legislation and to keep a watch on the direction that the new government will take.

GEORGE NEGUS: Gentlemen, we're just about out of time, but speaking of Italian politics in general, explain to Australians, if you can, how come not only is Italy the champion of the world in football but the champion in the world of throwing out governments – 61 governments since the Second World War. How are the rest of us expected to understand Italian politics when it is so volatile?

MARCO FEDI: The new parliament will be a very different place. On April 29 when we go back to Italy we will find a parliament in the chamber of deputies with only three parliamentary groups. So Italy has changed forever and Walter Veltroni and the Partito Democratico has at least achieved that because Berlusconi went to the election with an old-style coalition made up of parties. It is not a new party – it is an old-style coalitions. Veltroni made a courageous decision that changes Italy forever. Only for that, I am glad to be in parliament and be representing the Italians that live overseas and in Australia.

NINO RANDAZZO: This is going to be a rather exciting and rejuvenating experience for everyone in the majority and on the opposition benches.

GEORGE NEGUS: This is what you meant by Italian politics becoming more normal?

NINO RANDAZZO: Exactly. Put it this way – more Anglo-Saxon.

GEORGE NEGUS: Indeed, it has been anything but normal up to now. Enjoy your next trip to Italy. I envy you.

MARCO FEDI: Thank you.


GEORGE NEGUS: Grazie – buona sera.