Sunday, 1 March 2015

Giving another Meaning to Mare Nostrum

These are FREMM Italian navy frigates.  Along with a San Giorgio LPD and one (or perhaps two, the Defence Minister was unspecific) other ships with characteristics that also seem really useful  - admittedly aircraft carriers have a certain grandeur but sometimes grandeur is not what is needed - they have set off towards Libya.

The Sabratha platform and Greenstream  are attracting more commitment to  "un ruolo di sicurezza, deterrenza " e di  "dissuasione" in General Claudio Graziano's words, than the migrants being trafficked in rubber boats.

Monday, 23 February 2015


'Constructive ambiguity' is a prerequisite of political utterance.  Changing your tune is rarely politically  advantageous.  For the German ruling parties it was essential to maintain their stance towards 'Greek' debt or suffer a major shift in strength between the right of the grand coalition and the social democrats (with behind them their potential coalition allies in any administration of the centre-left).  But the world of 2010 and its political needs  is long gone; the  language that 2010 world needed for German interests and coping with German fears is rigidly inappropriate; to get that language toned-down has taken too much and far too long -  from the exit of inadequate political actors (the members of the IMF 'team' were hopelessly under-qualified for what they were doing, indeed even for what they thought they were doing) to the  exit of governments.

Any competent economist can state how to deal with 'Greek' debt, within a eurozone framework and without disturbing treaties;  indeed a whole range of means can be offered (and are readily available within the gloriously constructive ambiguities of those treaties.)  It's not the economics of it all that's defective: it's over-defined political statement masquerading as  (under-defined) political  stance and objectives.  Still, austerity and its associated utterances  has been gagged if not yet bound at last Friday's meeting, of itself a considerable achievement.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Greek Fire

The Greeks are doing well: they have split the Troika with the ECB handing out emergency loans, the IMF being reined-in by the US president, and the EU generally wanting to abandon the hard-line German position; and within Germany itself there is now a Greek wedge between the parties to the Grand Coalition.  The SDP is calling for further negotiation and support for Greece while in the meantime  the Right (itself a coalition) is  split between the German Finance minister's demands for fiscal discipline conditioned by his 'historically (mis)informed view' and the German Chancellor's 21st century understanding of geo-political as well as economic requirements that need to be met.

This realisation  of a threat to Merkel's ruling party and its hegemony over both German and European policies is a very high price to pay for mistaking Greece's need to renegotiate the terms of its economic submission for 'can't pay won't pay' irresponsibility.

Bernini Meets Dutch Visitors

This is Bernini's Fontana della Barcaccia

and this is what was done to it.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Police Action is not War

Exemplary murder by criminal organisations is very familiar to the Italian state.  Mafia acts of the utmost ferocity have been suffered.  The North African fundamentalist scenario is not that of gunned-down magistrates, of mass executions in stables and cellars, of disrespect shown to the remains of the slaughtered that no-one needs to read of again here; instead we see the borrowings from popular media representations of the religious wars of centuries ago.

The immediate response to the murder of tens of Christian hostages on the North African coast has settled into a weary recognition here that Italy is dealing with another Mafia scenario, different in its imagery but identical in its criminality and the level of threat it presents to the state; to be met with police action, not the war response so eagerly sought by the criminals.

The Italian state must deal with two flows from North Africa: oil and gas -  to be secured and maintained, and migrants - to be saved, controlled and channelled out of the Peninsula and across the entire European area where there are more resources to deal with more reasonable, spread out numbers.

The oil and gas needs a sensible interlocutor to be installed in Libya who can maintain order round the fields and pipelines and guarantee the security of the technicians.  The migratory flow requires an international response, first to save the migrants from drowning in the winter waters onto which they are being driven at gunpoint, thousands of them  (and the Italian coast guard and navy deserves every recognition for the determination and courage with which they have saved so many); second to sift  some very deprived people from the criminals among them and then to find them settlement.  They cannot be left to continue through Italy and on, into the European countries with the highest social wage, and there be no concerns or response from the recipients other than to keep them out if possible.  Keeping them out is neither possible nor Christian.

None of this is war.  Apart from the glaringly obvious that war in North Africa needs tanks and soldiers on the ground  (when the World was made North Africa must have been designed for tank warfare) war implies a post-war colonial status for Libya that is acceptable neither to northern Africans nor to Europeans.  Europeans can no more want the reinstatement of a colonial 18th, 19th and 20th century world than they will accept a medieval culture and mindset expressing itself over the lives of others.

The Italian government fully recognises the need for international intervention,  in Libya, on the high seas, and to cope with the migrants, and is ready to take its part.  Europe, perhaps, is fortunate in having a front line state so experienced in dealing with primitive honour and shame social groupings devoted to criminality. 

Yesterday's Italian newspapers report a warning from Calabrian magistrates that the jihadist people-traffickers are attempting to link-up with 'Ndrangheta to provide secure bases for both in north Africa and on the Peninsula.      

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Never Mind Ukraine, This is Serious

Italian civilians are on board vessels escorted by marines and over-flown by drones as the Italian embassy in Tripoli is closed.  The Foreign Office has been advising all Italians to leave Libya since 1 February.  These last should arrive in Sicily early tomorrow.  At the same time at least 10 large vessels loaded with migrants are off the island of Lampedusa calling for rescue from the Italian coast guard and other marine resources.  The leader of the Lega Nord is demanding that they should be monitored, supplied with food and water but not permitted to land.  It is known that migrants have jihadisti among them.

The Christian churches in various Libyan cities are under attack and many of their clerics have refused to abandon their faithful.

Jihadisti forces have over-run areas in major Libyan cities, including Sirte, demanding submission to their rule.  In Italy Matteo Renzi, supported by Opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi and by other political leaders is calling for an immediate armed response to the threat to Italy and its interests only 200 miles from the European coast.  Jihadi are naming the Italians Crusaders.   

Monday, 2 February 2015

Sub-texts in Familiar Scenes

Looking at the photographs (Corriere della Sera) of the new president, on Saturday with his family watching the results coming in live from the Parliament, there is a feeling of returning to normality.  The sitting room with the pretty china in the display case, the ornaments, the decent lithographs and family paintings, the furniture with older (and smaller) pieces brought from the family house elsewhere, and most of all the certainty that lunch is ready to serve immediately this count is over.

Gone is the bombast of Napolitano and his accompanying anti-constitutional power grabs, seated amongst the glories of the Quirinale palace.  Gone his 'dossiers' on 'reform' of democracy dressed in the language of propriety but filled with contempt for every expression of choice by the people.  Napolitano, still talking, even now, has announced his dossiers will be handed on to be acted upon.

Yesterday, after Mass, President Mattarella called upon Napolitano (he had spoken at length with former President Ciampi, a distinguished economist and sometime Governor of the Bank of Italy the day before.  "you will understand my concerns....." the President is reported to have said).  But yesterday's call was 'to thank the former president for his efforts..'  On the doorstep of Napolitano's Rome house Matarella formally kissed Napolitano goodbye.  He left carrying only his gloves. 

Saturday, 31 January 2015


    The President of Italy Sergio Mattarella, and doesn't he look the part?

Italy Chooses Its President Today

They're off.  Led by the Life Senators (4 of the 6 as Ciampi is permanently incapacitated by ill health) Elena Cattaneo,  Monti,  Napolitano,  Rubbia,  (Renzo Piano isn't there).  The Partito Democratico, united behind their leader Matteo Renzi, are voting for Mattarella; as is the whole centre right in their various manifestations; the Lega Nord;  and the 'Rabbit and his Friends and Relations' group of autonomous regions with a particular determination from all the Sicilians (no-one will forget Mattarella's elder brother, gunned down on the streets of Palermo by the Mafia on his way to Mass, dying in his brother's arms in the 1980s).

Berlusconi has recovered his temper and his manners enough to realise that deserting the hall during the voting for the President of Italy might finish off his party completely and has asked Forza Italia to vote blank.  But his Party has fractured under the strain of many southern members' desire to support Mattarella and some 40-50 will vote for the candidate.

The Five Stars have declared an intention to vote for another candidate, but already a dozen of them have deserted Party discipline (and perhaps even the grouping)  and will vote for Mattarella.  The 5-Stelle, too, has made a huge political blunder, then, in attempting to gain quite petty advantage from this presidential election.

This has been a masterly demonstration by the Italian Prime Minister of how to do politics: the best candidate; an overwhelming support base; a unification of his own fractured Party; the destruction of an embarrassment of an alliance to his right while detaching many of the Right to his support; the rendering irrelevant of Italy's Podemos - Europe will be challenged but from Renzi's programme, not that of the wilder shores of the Left/anarchists -; the maintenance of his own drive to more prime-ministerial style powers into his hands (he cannot, directly, even dismiss one of his ministers though he did remark, sharply and publicly to Minister of the Interior Alfano 'You cannot be such a Minister and fail to vote for such a candidate' when Alfano tried to withold his minority coalition party's support for Mattarella in his own, narrow political interest.); the seeing off of the arch-Europeanistas -Amato, Prodi leading the pack.

Europe may be worried by Greece: they should be much more concerned at Italy.