Kicking and Screaming: A Guide to Italian Politics

When speaking with any Italian, the conversation will consistently devolve into politics, and I don’t blame them: there is a lot to talk about.

I have observed far too many political inefficiencies that could be easily remedied, and have been, in North America, the UK, most of Northern Europe, and the urbanized Asian countries. To my knowledge, Spain is really the only other country capable of making similar changes that hasn’t, so hey, at least we’re not in it alone. Another country is making horrible decisions with us, and I’m sure that together we can pull Germany and the rest of the EU into crippling debt within the next ten years. But shhh, don’t tell them their politicians are all still Fascist – they don’t seem to know that. (While this article is technically observable opinion, I don’t make statements without doing my research. If you’d like to read more on Berlusconi and the continued dominance of right-wing thinking in Italy, please follow any and all links you see in this paragraph – the evidence is well-founded.)

Here is a swift break-down of Italian political theory, put in easy to understand click-bait-title terms: You Will Fall Out Of Your Chair In Shock At How Many Political Parties There Are In This One Small Country. God, how I despise click-bait.

To save you the click, which will redirect you to a Wikipedia list of every active political party in Italy, (and a list of past coalitions), I’ll just tell you the number of parties that the average citizen had the option to vote for in the last general election (2013):


I’ll just give you a moment to wrap your head around that number; in the meantime, let’s consider the politics of other first-world democracies. If you live in Canada, like I do, you know that there are really only three major parties to pay attention to, and of the three, the Conservatives and the Liberals have dominated much of the vote for an exceptionally long time. The same is true for Britain if you swap out the NDP for the Labour Party. If you live in the United States, you know that there are the Democrats and the Republicans, with the country almost literally divided in half between the two ideologies. I still struggle to understand how this can be when every week I see a new article about how Ted Cruz did something stupid, like insulting the current Vice President days after his son died. At the very least, American politics are entertaining, (#thanksObama).

My point here though is that there is an unhealthy amount of “choice” for Italian citizens where their governing body is concerned, and the result is that the country cannot, and has not functioned in a cohesive manner since the days of Mussolini. Consider that since 1945, no one party has ever had the chance of gaining power alone. Coalitions are the only reality that faces Italian governments, and the result is that decisions are seldom reached. Even if the current Prime Minister wanted to make changes, his Senate would inevitably be divided, as each member has his own loyalties already sworn to the man backing his position.

—-> *Just a quick fun fact, one of the more liberal parties is run by comedian Beppe Grillo, and the Love Party is run by an ex-porn star.*

To confuse you even further, Italy has both a Prime Minister and a President. The Prime Minister is essentially the leader of the country, and runs the Senate, which draws up and debates bills to be passed as laws – but first they must have the signed approval of the President. This man is the Commander in Chief, so to speak, and once the bill reaches him, he may send it back to the Senate with his changes. The kicker here is that the Senate may review the proposals, lob the bill right back over the fence to him, just as it was before, and the good ol’ Presidente has no choice but to approve it, as he is not permitted to send it back a second time. You can see why it might take a really long time to get anything done here when no one actually has any power.

Add to this the dilemma of taxes in this country. Now, because of a progressive tax regime, the more money you make, the more you pay in taxes. Sounds fair, right? Until you learn that Italians have been paying an average of 46.65% as a Personal Income Tax Rate since 1995, and the current rate is now 47.90%. It can reach up to 71% on the high end of the scale.

Remember this graph the next time you complain about taxes in North America.GRAPH

Arguments have been had over every family dinner about who is doing what, why they’re right or wrong, and the conclusions reached at the end of the night are always the same: Italy is an unorganized mess of politicians, corporations, and desperately needs reform. And as the arguments wind down, we quietly sip our espresso night-caps, and realize that with the current system as it is, change is about as likely as Matt Damon acting like a reasonable person on a spaceship.

I now understand why Italians drink.





Italians: a Study in Hypocrisy (Part I)

Were I asked to describe Italy in a single word, or at least my experiences of it thus far, my chosen adjective would invariably be “hypocritical”.

Thankfully, no one has asked me to describe this strange and awe-some country in a single word, and I have this article to provide you with exactly [insert word count here] of them. And so without further ado, allow me to provide you with the first “hypocritical” impressions that I have solidified in the last month by way of careful observation, (and under the influence of at least two Spritz-Camparis* at a time).

1) Fact one: there are 24 hours in a day. Fact two: an Italian will tell you there are only 16 hours in a day, but will live as if there are anywhere from 28-32.

The logic here is virtually literally non-existent. This sixteen hour idea seems to come from the frequent and extremely vocal complaint that they have eight hours to sleep, and the other eight to work. The irony here is that this grievance is shared and shouted over a café macchiato and brioche in the morning, a café ristretto in the afternoon siesta period, again in the aperitivo hours after work while sipping those famed Spritz cocktails, and finally once more while passing the grappa bottle around after a hearty, ten-o’clock dinner. (Side-note: whomever told North Americans that it was bad to eat past 8pm was not only cruel, but a verified testa di merda who will never deserve the luxury of partaking in Mediterranean cuisine.)

If you ever hire an Italian, expect that they will consistently be late. But this is no fault of theirs, of course. It is all due to their unspoken mantra: no matter what, there is always time for an espresso. If you point out this illogical course of action, most Italians will shrug at you while stirring the foam of their macchiato. Even if late for a meeting with the Pope himself, any self-respecting Italian would stop for at least another ten minutes at the nearest bar for a coffee and newspaper. (I mean, can’t walk in to that encounter uninformed of the latest political events now, can we? Because let’s face it, Church and State have never been a separate thing in this country.)

I should mention that I have now learned to always take time for an espresso. Beware, future employers.

I suppose this phenomenon is best exemplified by an experience I had with my ridiculously interesting grandfather a couple of weeks ago. We were leaving on a four-hour drive to Firenze to meet an esteemed 93 year-old art historian, and colleague of my grandfather. I was told to be ready to leave by 6am, so naturally, we left at 7am. Upon pulling away from the house, we turned a corner, promptly parked at the quaint café that sat there, and ordered espressos and pastries filled with various delicious cremes and fruits. I checked my watch – it was 7:35, and our meeting was scheduled for eleven. That was when my grandfather noticed the barbershop next to the café, and was of the mind that it might be prudent to get his hair and moustache trimmed properly, as he hadn’t had the time all week. Flash-forward another ten minutes, and my North American brain was screaming at the tardiness of our departure, while the rest of our party merely commented on the humidity at this hour. Lo and behold, after driving at break-neck speeds averaging 160km/h through the pouring rain on the autostrada, we arrived in the city of Firenze four hours later, now forty-five minutes late for our appointment.

Fear not, however — we made sure to stop there for a coffee before going to meet her.





*A Spritz is a delightful beverage made of one part of the finest Prosecco, one part carbonated water, and anywhere from 1-2 ounces of either Aperol or Campari, with Campari being the obvious choice.