How Renzi’s flying start slowed to a limp

Matteo Renzi, who formally quit as Italian Prime Minister on Wednesday, once gave himself 1,000 days to change the country and make it stronger and more competitive.

How Renzi's flying start slowed to a limp
Renzi announcing his resignation. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

He passed the 1,000 day mark but the pledge on the economy, made six months after he took office in February 2014, was not to be fulfilled. While Italy denounces austerity in Europe, the country is in a state of economic convalescence.

Growth: still lagging behind

After 1,000 days of Renzi's government, gross domestic product rose 1.6 percent and household consumption by three percent while the deficit fell 0.4 percent, according to official figures.

With growth projected at 0.8 percent this year, Italy lags behind many in Europe.

The main problem is a decline in competitiveness. While many small- and medium-sized enterprises are doing well, particularly in agriculture and luxury goods, other sectors, such as textiles, are not able to compete internationally

“It's a problem that one legislature cannot solve,” said Pietro Reichlin, professor of economics at Luiss University.

A banking crisis lurks

The other big structural problem in the Italian economy is the weakness of its banks, too many in number and wracked with debts – 360 billion euros ($390 billion) across the sector.

Faced with a messy system, Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan has moved to group many of them together.

The banks have set up their own relief fund, the Atlante Fund. But its resources are limited and the banks have said they do not expect to return to it.

The Italian banking index has fallen 50 percent on the Milan stock market since the beginning of the year and stocks remain febrile.

High unemployment

Despite opposition from unions and a leftish fringe, the Renzi government in 2015 adopted a “Jobs Act”, a labour market reform which made it easier for companies to make employees redundant but also allowed them to hire people on permanent contracts.

According to Renzi, Italy has 656,000 more people in employment, 487,000 of them on permanent contracts, but another 665,000 are graded as inactive. The unemployment rate fell more than one percent to 11.7 percent.

Massimo Gibelli, an official at CGIL, Italy's largest trade union, gives different figures. “In three years we gave about 35 billion euros to companies, some 18 million for the creation of jobs and little more than 250,000 were created. It's little compared to the cost.”

Same sex couples

In the most important social reform of recent years Italy granted status to same sex couples this summer, the last major European country to do so, having faced resistance from the Catholic Church. Stopping short of marriage, Italy allowed civil unions.

Though it grants rights similar to marriage it does not, as in the initial draft law, allow adoption of the spouses' natural children.

Other initiatives

Administrative reform simplified life for citizens and businesses, in what was a small revolution for Italians who often spent years waiting for answers.

The fight against corruption was also boosted with the creation of an ad hoc administration and a legislative arsenal to combat exploitation of agricultural workers.

Some taxes were abolished or lowered but the great promise of fiscal reform never happened. There was also some judicial reform.

By Olivier Baube

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Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents’ rights

Hundreds of people took to the streets of Milan on Saturday in protest against a new government directive stopping local authorities from registering the births of same-sex couples' children.

Protesters gather in Milan as Italy limits same-sex parents' rights

“You explain to my son that I’m not his mother,” read one sign held up amid a sea of rainbow flags that filled the northern city’s central Scala Square.

Italy legalised same-sex civil unions in 2016, but opposition from the Catholic Church meant it stopped short of granting gay couples the right to adopt.

Decisions have instead been made on a case-by-case basis by the courts as parents take legal action, although some local authorities decided to act unilaterally.

Milan’s city hall had been recognising children of same-sex couples conceived overseas through surrogacy, which is illegal in Italy, or medically assisted reproduction, which is only available for heterosexual couples.

But its centre-left mayor Beppe Sala revealed earlier this week that this had stopped after the interior ministry sent a letter insisting that the courts must decide.

READ ALSO: Milan stops recognising children born to same-sex couples

“It is an obvious step backwards from a political and social point of view, and I put myself in the shoes of those parents who thought they could count on this possibility in Milan,” he said in a podcast, vowing to fight the change.

Milan's mayor Giuseppe Sala

Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala has assured residents that he will fight to have the new government directive overturned. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Fabrizio Marrazzo of the Gay Party said about 20 children are waiting to be registered in Milan, condemning the change as “unjust and discriminatory”.

A mother or father who is not legally recognised as their child’s parent can face huge bureaucratic problems, with the risk of losing the child if the registered parent dies or the couple’s relationship breaks down.

Elly Schlein, newly elected leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, was among opposition politicians who attended the protest on Saturday, where many campaigners railed against the new government.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party came top in the September elections, puts a strong emphasis on traditional family values.

“Yes to natural families, no to the LGBT lobby!” she said in a speech last year before her election at the head of a right-wing coalition that includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Earlier this week, a Senate committee voted against an EU plan to oblige member states to recognise the rights of same-sex parents granted elsewhere in the bloc.