After a year in the job, Rome’s populist mayor is struggling

Rome mayor Virginia Raggi swept to power vowing to clean up the Eternal City and show the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) was ready to govern Italy.

After a year in the job, Rome's populist mayor is struggling
Virginia Raggi pictured during a press conference. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

But one year into the job, she is struggling under the weight of a mediocre report card that has dented the fortunes of comedian Beppe Grillo's opposition party less than a year from national elections.

A photogenic lawyer plucked from obscurity to become the poster girl for M5S's national ambitions, Raggi, 38, promised to improve failing public services, weed out endemic corruption and start repairing crumbling infrastructure in the capital.

But 12 months later, ordinary Romans can see no signs of progress as the city's international image becomes increasingly tarnished by negative commentaries on rubbish-strewn streets and trees keeling over for lack of maintenance.

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

On Viale della Moschea, next to the biggest mosque in Western Europe, and several other streets, the potholes are so bad the speed limit was slashed 10kmh (6mph) last week, on safety grounds.

Meanwhile the image of Raggi's administration has become pock-marked by the same kind of allegations of cronyism and sleaze that undermined its predecessors.

“Nothing has changed. Rome's problems remain the same only with time they're getting worse,” says Mariano, a restaurateur in the trendy downtown district of Trastevere.

Dirty old town

Elected with just over two thirds of the vote in the run-off second round of last year's mayoral election, Raggi now has a disapproval rating at the same level.

And according to political expert Giovanni Orsina, she is regarded by her own party as more of a liability than an asset.

“Raggi speaks little, appears little, and M5S tries to avoid discussing Rome, which is a smart move – don't do anything to attract attention to what's happening,” the professor at Rome's LUISS university told AFP.

Raggi's staff did not respond to AFP's requests for comment from her or a spokesperson.

Italian commentators have linked Raggi's woes to M5S's weaker-than-expected performance in this month's municipal elections.

“I voted for her in the second round last year, not with any great conviction but with a little bit of hope,” says city resident Massimo.

“I thought we'd have seen some progress after a year. But I have never seen a city as dirty as Rome is at the moment.”

Co-citizen Annamaria's biggest gripe is the “very, very bad” state of public transport, with overcrowded buses struggling to cover the service needs of the city's sprawling suburbia.

“Nothing has changed. I hope she can sort it out. She's got to give it everything she's got,” she told AFPTV.

Facebook page Rome fa schifo (Rome is disgusting) documents levels of degradation in the capital.

Broad backing lost

Raggi got off to the worst possible start. Her victory was anticipated but she still took months to put together a team amid serial resignations.

In December she was forced to apologise for trusting one official she handed a plum role after he was arrested for suspected corruption. And she is still without a chief of staff.

Invariably referred to as a fiasco, the situation at the Michelangelo-designed City Hall contrasts sharply with the positive impression made by Chiara Appendino, another M5S mayor who won power in Turin on the same night as Raggi.

Turin mayor Chiara Appendino. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

“You can say the report card is catastrophically bad from every point of view,” said Orsina. “There's no leadership team, the council does nothing. It is like a temporary administration dealing with issues on a day-to-day basis.”

Fabrizio Ghera, head of one of the opposition groups in the city council, the right-wing FDI, says: “Not filling the potholes, cleaning the parks, pruning the trees: it's like a choice has been taken to do nothing.

“It is obvious the mayor has lost the broad backing she had in Rome.”

Raggi's Five Star administration can at least claim credit for one decisive action: but pulling Rome out of the bidding for the 2024 Olympics did not go down well with everyone in the proud and ancient city.

By Ljubomir Milasin

READ ALSO: What is Italy's Five Star Movement?
What is Italy's Five Star Movement?

Photo: Giuseppe Cacace/AFP

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Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

Italy on Thursday night approved new measures worth around 17 billion euros ($17.4 billion) to help families and businesses manage the surging cost of fuel and essentials.

Fuel tax cut and help with energy bills: Italy approves inflation aid package

As expected, the final version of the ‘aiuti-bis‘ decree provides another extension to the existing 30-cents-per-litre cut to fuel duty, more help with energy bills, and a tax cut for workers earning under 35,000 euros a year.

The package also includes further funding for mental health treatment: there’s another 15 million euros for the recently-introduced ‘psychologist bonus’ on top of the 10 million previously allocated.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

There are also measures to help agricultural firms deal with this year’s severe drought.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi described the new package as an intervention “of incredible proportions”, which corresponds to “a little over 2 points of national GDP”.

However, he said, no changes were made to the national budget to pave the way for the new measures.

The measures will be funded with 14.3 billion euros in higher-than-expected tax revenues this year, and the deployment of funds that have not yet been spent, Economy and Finance Minister Daniele Franco said.

Italy has already budgeted some 35 billion euros since January to soften the impact of rising fuel costs.

The decree is one of the last major acts by outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi before an early general election next month.

Elections are set for September 25th but the former European Central Bank chief is staying on in a caretaker role until a new government is formed.

Draghi said the Italian economy was performing better than expected, citing the International Monetary Fund’s estimate of three percent for 2022.

“They say that in 2022, we will grow more than Germany, than France, than the average of the eurozone, more than the United States,” he told a press conference.

But he noted the many problems facing Italy, “from the high cost of living, to inflation, the rise in energy prices and other materials, to supply difficulties, widespread insecurity and, of course political insecurity”.

Inflation hit 8 percent in Italy in June – the most severe spike the country has experienced since 1976.