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Has the quality of life in Rome got worse?

Rome's Mayor Virginia Raggi may face an uphill battle ahead of municipal elections in spring, as a poll finds most of the capital's residents feel things are getting worse.

Has the quality of life in Rome got worse?
Residents sit in the shade of buildings along a narrow street in Rome's Jewish quarter. Photo: AFP
Raggi's local government has begun campaigning for a second term, saying its priorities include transparency and clamping down on corruption.
 
But many Rome residents gripe instead about more fundamental problems – piling rubbish, unreliable public transport and holes that are the demise of many a high heel or scooter tyre.
 
These problems are far from new in the Italian capital.
 
However, most Romans consider their quality of life today to be worse than it was five years ago, a survey in August of 2,000 residents by the Piepoli Institute found.
 
Only one neighbourhood out of the sprawling city's 15 boroughs cited improvement.
 
 
“There exist two schools of thought about Virginia Raggi. Those who think that she has done rather well as mayor of Rome. And those who live in Rome,” quipped La Repubblica political journalist Stefano Cappellini.
 
Political experts say that 42-year-old Raggi has struggled to communicate a vision for the city of three million inhabitants, beloved by tourists but viewed as provincial on the international stage.
 
“The citizens haven't understood what Raggi's plan is,” pollster Antonio Noto told AFP.
 
“She hasn't managed to bring enthusiasm to her city.”
 
 
Rome mayor Virginia Raggi watches the Women's Italian Tennis Open at Foro Italico on September 21, 2020 in Rome. Photo: AFP
 
Rome's first female mayor, Raggi swept onto the national stage in 2016 after serving on the city council for three years.
 
The lawyer was a fresh face put forward by the maverick Five Star Movement, the anti-establishment party, anxious to show itself capable of bettering a city many deemed ungovernable. 
 
With the city reeling from a vast contract-peddling scandal whose tentacles reached to the heart of city hall, sapping its coffers, Romans elected the relative political neophyte by an unprecedented two-thirds majority.
 
But the honeymoon was short-lived.
 
Within months, infighting and resignations within Raggi's team and the arrest of a former close aide on corruption charges had newspapers decrying chaos within the highest ranks.
 
Her decision to pull the plug on Rome's bid for the 2024 Olympics – to avoid new debt and “rivers of cement,” she said – enraged those who hoped the games would elevate the capital's status globally, while creating investment and jobs.
 
Raggi instead tried to tackle more prosaic, yet intractable, problems caused by decades of corruption and mismanagement.
 
 
Top of the list was Rome's scandal-ridden garbage collection agency as well as the inefficient transportation network that was 1.3 billion euros in debt at the end of 2018.
 
Ageing buses are known to frequently start smoking and bursting into flames.
 
No less troublesome have been falling trees – due to neglect – or wild boars that invade the city.
But despite her efforts, Raggi has failed to counter the narrative being hammered home by the opposition that Rome is even worse off now than it was before.
 
Some say she has not been given enough credit where due, such as for speaking out against the mafia and neo-fascists, unlike her predecessors.
 
For others, it still wasn't enough.
 
“What she talked about was mundane,” said Arianna Montanari, a sociology professor at Rome's Sapienza University.
 
“We've fixed up some streets, we've put in some benches.' It's like being a condominium manager.”
 
Mayor of Rome Virginia Raggi visits Rome's new Line C subway station Colosseo-Fori Imperiali on July 23rd. Photo: AFP
 
Supporters point to Raggi's efforts to improve conditions in Rome's long-neglected suburbs.
 
They say that backing in those districts for a Five Stars-led national referendum on September 20-21 to cut the number of parliamentarians shows that her work has paid off.
 
Raggi admitted “errors of inexperience” in September but insisted progress had been made.
 
Hundreds of new buses have been ordered, roads repaved and the city's cash-strapped agencies are on the path to recovery, she stressed.
 
“There's a relaunch operation under way that unfortunately cannot be done overnight,” she told La7 television.
 
Yet, her poll numbers are currently at their lowest since her election.
 
And she cannot bank on the support of Lazio regional leader Nicola Zingaretti – despite him being head of the Democratic Party (PD), which shares power in the national coalition government with Five Stars.
 
He said in August that the city's current administration had been “Rome's main problem in recent years”.
 
Such is the PD's dislike of Raggi that backroom bargaining has already begun with Five Stars over a joint candidate, according to Italian media.
 
Meanwhile, Raggi's Facebook page is filled with photos of freshly poured asphalt, green spaces and shiny new buses.
 
But, warned Noto: “If the city is dirty it's not enough to start cleaning it at the last moment.”
 
“It could be too late.”
 
By AFP's Alexandria Sage
 

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POLITICS

Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.

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