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ANALYSIS: Phase Two will be the real test for Italian PM Giuseppe Conte

Italy has reduced its cases of infection and begun loosening lockdown measures – yet for Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, the problems could be just about to start, writes politics professor Martin J. Bull.

ANALYSIS: Phase Two will be the real test for Italian PM Giuseppe Conte
Italy is officially in the second phase of its coronavirus lockdown. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Italy has been on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic since it exploded there in late February, and it was the first European country to impose lockdown on its citizens.

Now the peak of the pandemic has passed, with the total number of positive coronavirus cases in decline since April 21st. The “R0” figure (infection rate) has been brought down to below 1. Intensive care beds are being freed up, and 50,000-60,000 coronavirus tests carried out per day.

LATEST: Italy's coronavirus deaths fall to lowest since lockdown began

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, moreover, is coming out of the crisis with his reputation enhanced.

Despite Italy having the third highest number of coronavirus cases in the world; the highest number of deaths save for the United States; a significant loss of medical personnel; and a veritable capacity crisis early on, Conte’s personal approval ratings are at an unprecedented 71 percent.


Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: Aris Oikonomou/AFP

The far-right opposition League, although still the largest party in opinion polls, is disoriented. It has been left shouting largely redundant anti-immigration and anti-EU messages from the sidelines while its ratings decline.

Yet Conte’s real problems could be just about to begin. The economic impact of the continued lockdown is on a scale that has no precedents outside wartime.

READ ALSO: Could Italy's coronavirus crisis boost euroscepticism and the far right?

The projected figures for 2020 of the ministry of the economy, largely in line with those of the IMF, forecast big trouble ahead. GDP is projected to contract by 8 percent (against a pre-Covid predicted rise of 0.6 percent), the public deficit to rise from 2.2 percent to 10.4 percent, public debt to GDP to rise to an astronomical 155.7 percent (from a pre-Covid forecast of 135.2 percent) and the rate of unemployment to 11.6 percent.

Forecasters estimate that 10 million Italians, a fifth of the total number of adults, will be thrown into poverty, unable to meet essential expenditure on food, medicines and a roof over their heads.

The south of the country is predicted to be especially hard hit, which is ironic since the pandemic has hit mainly the north and especially the industrial heartlands of Lombardy. Cases have been far fewer in the south, yet regional leaders there are aware that it is the lockdown that has kept those numbers low and their fragile health systems intact.

The northern regions, spurred on by the Confederation of Italian Industry, are leading calls to reopen the economy. The challenge for Conte is how to achieve this without provoking further spikes in Covid-19 cases.

READ ALSO: 

Exiting “phase 1” (lockdown) and going into “phase 2” (living with the virus) will be gradual.

Although some industries such as automobiles, components, clothing may be given special permission to start early, May 4th will mark the reopening of the manufacturing sector, including textiles, construction and wholesale commerce.

From May 4th people will be free to travel beyond their municipality for limited reasons and with a self-certification document.

Parks and gardens will reopen. Exercise with other people will be possible, but not team sports, recreational activities or sunbathing. Bars and restaurants will be permitted to sell takeaways, if ordered online. Funerals will restart but will be limited to a maximum of 15 people. 

The wearing of masks will be compulsory inside public places, on public transport or wherever social distancing cannot be guaranteed. Public transport will be adjusted to carrying fewer people at any one time.


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

On May 18th, it will be the turn of retail shopping, museums, libraries and cultural centres to reopen; and on June 1st bars, restaurants, hairdressers and wellness centres, as long as they all meet stringent requirements regarding regular disinfecting and social distancing.

Excluded from the list for now are schools, which are not expected to reopen before September; religious services (to the open fury of the Catholic church), cinemas, theatres and nightclubs.

Phase 2 will be accompanied by extensive testing and contact tracing of the virus, and restrictions will be quickly reimposed on a zonal basis if necessary.

READ ALSO: Conte apologises to Italians as lockdown nears end

The formulation of phase 2 has, inevitably, been a severe test for Conte.

His government has been split between those advocating extreme caution in line with the scientific advice, and those wanting a more rapid reopening of the economy. There has been criticism of the lack of clarity in several of the measures.

This leaves Conte in a fragile position. However successful phase 2 works out in striking a balance between protecting public health and reopening the economy, there will, at some point, be a reckoning – and Conte could still find himself a scapegoat.

For Conte is an independent technician, and politicians will be quick to abandon a man without a political party when it suits them.

Martin J. Bull, Professor of Politics, University of Salford

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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POLITICS

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Brazil’s former president may soon face legal charges after last week’s attempted coup. Here’s why he’s considering becoming an Italian citizen to escape extradition from the US.

Analysis: Could Bolsonaro get Italian citizenship to avoid extradition?

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has figured heavily in international news lately after hundreds of his supporters stormed government buildings in the capital Brasilia on Sunday, January 8th, in what has now been widely recognised as a failed coup. 

And though there is currently no evidence that Bolsonaro directly ordered Sunday’s insurrection, Brazilian media reports suggest the former president may, in the words of Brazilian Senator Renan Calheiros, have to “answer for his crimes and be interrogated on the terrorist acts he always incited”.

It is precisely the prospect of legal prosecution that, in a turn of events very few would have been able to anticipate, might tie Bolsonaro’s fate to Italy.

Brazilian news media Istoè and O globo both recently reported that Bolsonaro, who has Italian origins, is currently planning on formally requesting Italian citizenship – a process which two of his five sons, Flavio and Eduardo, started back in 2020.

But why would becoming an Italian citizen allow Bolsonaro to evade prosecution in Brazil?

Bolsonaro is currently in Florida, USA, which he entered on December 30th, two days before his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, was sworn in as the new Brazilian head of state. 

Aftermath of failed coup in Brasilia, Brazil

Hundreds of Bolsonaro supporters stormed Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, on Sunday, January 8th. Photo by Carl DE SOUZA / AFP

But his position in the US is shaky, to say the least. A single criminal charge – Bolsonaro is already under investigation in at least four pre-coup criminal probes – and sufficient evidence to show probable cause would be enough for the States to accept Brazil’s extradition request. 

Conversely, as an Italian citizen residing in Italy, Bolsonaro would be most likely shielded from extradition as the current agreements between Rome and Brasilia exclude extradition for crimes of political nature and the Italian Constitution (article 26) bans the “extradition of [an Italian] citizen unless international conventions command so”.

So, it seems Bolsonaro would effectively be able to evade prosecution by acquiring Italian citizenship. But should he ultimately choose to request citizenship, how likely is it that he would be successful?

While there’s no way to predict what the final outcome would be, he’d have good chances, at least in theory.

Italy is far more lenient than other countries when it comes to allowing people to claim citizenship via ancestry (also known as ‘right of blood’ or jure sanguinis).

In fact, there are no limits on how far back up the line of descent the applicant’s Italian ancestor is located as long as the Italian national in question was alive on or after March 17th 1861, when the Kingdom of Italy was officially born. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Italian passport if born in Italy?

Bolsonaro’s paternal great-grandfather, Vittorio Bolzonaro, moved to Brazil from Anguillara Veneta, Veneto in the late 1880s or early 1890s at the very latest.

Other than that, the issue of Italian citizenship is dependent on one remaining condition, namely that no Italian national along the line of descent formally renounced their Italian citizenship prior to the birth of their descendant. 

Italy's foreign minister Antonio Tajani

Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani has recently confirmed that no request for Italian citizenship has been made yet by Bolsonaro. Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP

There’s no way to know whether this requirement is actually met in Bolsonaro’s case, though, if it were, his path to acquiring Italian citizenship would be pretty clear. 

As with all things Italian, the process of getting an Italian citizenship application approved is usually very lengthy (taking over three years in most cases). However, there is a ‘fast-track’ option which, while requiring the applicant to relocate to Italy and become a legal resident, cuts overall processing times to around one year. 

So, should Bolsonaro ultimately go for the fast-track route – and provided that he applied immediately and all his documents (including birth, death and marriage certificates of all his relevant ancestors) were in order – the earliest he could become an Italian citizen would be at some point in 2024. 

READ ALSO: What’s the difference between Italian residency and citizenship?

This is of course all purely hypothetical at present, especially as Italy’s foreign minister Antonio Tajani confirmed on Wednesday that Bolsonaro hasn’t (yet) submitted a request for Italian citizenship. 

But the mere prospect of Brazil’s former president applying for citizenship has caused a stir within the Italian political landscape – several left-wing forces have already asked that the request be immediately rejected should it ever come through.

Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro in Italy

Bolsonaro already has honorary Italian citizenship, which was granted by the small town of Anguillara Veneta in 2021. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Some Italian social media users also highlighted the fact that it’s relatively difficult for children born in Italy to foreign parents to obtain Italian citizenship.

“Before (possibly) giving Italian citizenship to the Bolsonaro family you must give it to all children born and living in Italy who wish to be Italian citizens,” said one.

The former president already has honorary Italian citizenship, granted by Anguillara Veneta, the small town Bolsonaro’s great-grandfather originally emigrated from. However, the town’s mayor is now under increasing pressure to revoke it.

Making Bolsonaro an honorary citizen was a “grave error then” but failing to revoke the award after Sunday’s events would be nothing short of “incomprehensible”, stated Veneto regional councillors Vanessa Camani and Andrea Zanoni, both with the Democratic Party.

As for the Italian government, PM Giorgia Meloni took to Twitter on Sunday to condemn the insurrection in Brasilia. However, neither she nor any other member of her cabinet have so far taken a stance on Bolsonaro’s contentious citizenship issue.

Also, at the time of writing, no member of the League, which largely supported Bolsonaro during his tenure as president and praised him as the “pride of Veneto” in October 2018, has spoken out on the topic.

Whether it’s just a bad bout of forgetfulness or deliberate reticence, the silence is deafening.

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