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Inside Italy: The truth about jobs and why Berlusconi lives on

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Inside Italy: The truth about jobs and why Berlusconi lives on
Who's that sitting next to Meloni? Even his own party doesn't expect voters to know. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP.

In this week's Inside Italy we see why no amount of positive employment figures mean the Italian job market is really thriving, and how Silvio Berlusconi continues to dominate Italian politics from beyond the grave…

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Unequal opportunities

From a lot of recent headlines in Italian media, you could be forgiven for thinking the economy was on the up: Italy’s GDP has been climbing, while according to the latest employment figures more people in the country are working than ever before: 23.8 million. 

And that’s not to mention the enthusiasm from German economists, of all people, who suggested recently that Italy was experiencing an economic “growth miracle”.

But Italy’s national statistics bureau, Istat, poured cold water on any excitement about the economy this week when it published its annual report giving a snapshot of the state of the nation.

Istat’s demographic and economic data paints a clear picture of a country where the older generations may be doing somewhat better than they were, but where the outlook for young people is getting decidedly worse.

“Permanent employment, which between 2004 and 2023 grew by +9.7 percent, has increased only among the employed over the age of fifty,” Istat noted, partly attributing this to a squeeze on pensions in recent years which means many are retiring later.

Meanwhile, the country has one of the EU’s highest rates of youth unemployment, which had risen further to 22 percent as of February 2024.

Recent rises in Italy’s GDP have merely put it back to levels last seen in 2007, Istat said. Overall, Italian workers of all ages are actually getting poorer and have less purchasing power than their counterparts in other major EU economies.

READ ALSO: Two-thirds of young Italians now living with parents as unemployment rises

The report should make sobering reading for government ministers who were this month urging Italians to have more children as part of a Vatican-backed campaign to reverse the plummeting birth rate.

Unsurprisingly in the current economic climate, Istat’s data showed that people are putting marriage and babies off until later and later, and are having ever fewer children. It's not really an option for a rising number who remain living at home well into their 30s - and not by choice.

Italy’s job market also remains the most glaring drawback for foreigners of working age who move here - or try to - and who would happily contribute to Italy's economy and settle here if they could.

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Tackling the economic causes of the country's demographic decline would obviously be complex, but there are some steps that could be taken.

As many political commentators pointed out following the publication of the Istat report, Italy doesn’t even have a national minimum wage, and the government remains dead set against introducing one.

The 'immortal' Berlusconi

Speaking of things that never change: Silvio Berlusconi may be dead, but his political legacy very much lives on - not only in the form of a government he all but hand-picked and a political landscape he played an oversized part in shaping, but in the fact that he now appears to be standing in the upcoming EU elections.

His face beams down on us from election campaign posters for candidates from his Forza Italia (FI) party, which are emblazoned with his name, rather than that of the current party leader - and actual EU parliamentary candidate - Tajani, who few people know anything about.

It’s somewhat surprising that FI still exists at all. Berlusconi’s personal party was created entirely to support his own bids for election, and following his death it had appeared to be, as Italians say, alla frutta: many had expected it would slowly disintegrate as its power wanes and it haemorrhages votes. But for now, as it forms part of the ruling coalition, every effort has been made by the party’s allies to prop it up and prevent a government collapse.

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If you follow Italian politics, you will have heard of Tajani: he’s both foreign minister and a co-deputy prime minister in Meloni's government. A close ally of Berlusconi, Tajani took over as party leader after his death. Politically moderate Tajani was almost unknown to the public before, and is no outlandish media personality.

So if you don’t follow Italian politics closely, you may well have no idea who he is - and this goes for plenty of Italians, too. The party seems to be betting on Berlusconi’s fame and popularity far outstripping Tajani’s, attracting more votes than he ever possibly could, even from beyond the grave.

A Forza Italia European parliamentary election campaign poster pictured in Rome in May 2024. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Tajani: not only is his former boss’s name still on the party logo, but he merely features alongside the deceased Berlusconi in campaign posters like the one above, spotted in Rome this week (complete with the Roman graffiti caption vota col morto, or ‘vote for the dead’.)

Elsewhere in southern Italy, things are hotting up ahead of the local and European vote, with a surprising number of campaign posters featuring food.

One poster from the Five Star Movement’s local campaign in Puglia featured a dish of pasta with the caption ‘Is this what your vote is worth?’ in reference to a recent vote-buying scandal in which politicians in the region were accused of having paid voters either with dinner or 50 euros each in cash.

Meanwhile, in the Pugliese city of Bari, one candidate from the right-wing list simply posed with an outsized tray of grilled meat and potatoes, with no explanation given.

https://www.twitter.com/Excursusvitae/status/1790804745562575316

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