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Decline, Italian-Style

- Abstract

The national elections in Italy this past April ended in an even split. By the narrowest margin in Italian history (.06 percent), an aggregate of leftist parties fronted by Romano Prodi, a former prime minister, edged out the center-Right coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party—a coalition that, in slightly different incarnations, had governed Italy for seven months in 1994-95 and then without interruption for the past five years. In Italy’s Senate, the Berlusconi coalition received a slight (0.2 percent) majority but lost anyway as a consequence of a complex system of seat allotments. But Forza Italia, which itself garnered 24 percent of the national vote, actually emerged from the elections as the largest single political party in Italy.

This Florida-style outcome, which has thrust Italy into profound confusion, could not have come at a worse time. The country’s economy has been in a gradual but relentless tailspin that is now approaching the point of national emergency. As recently as the 1970’s, Italy could boast of having displaced England as the third most productive country in the world. Today it finds itself at the very bottom of the group of industrialized nations, on the verge of falling into the ranks of the developing world. Last year, it occupied the slot just above Botswana in the World Economic Forum’s annual index of economic competitiveness.

About the Author

Mauro Lucentini served as New York correspondent for a number of Italian publications, including Il Giornale from 1974 to 1984. His most recent book, Rome, has just been published in English translation by Pallas Athene of London.