What Italy’s left-wing coalition is fighting over in the pandemic

Dhe pandemic year 2020 started badly for Italy and it didn’t get any better towards the end. In February, the coronavirus from China hit Italy as the first country in Europe. In mid-March, the “Bergamo trucks” with the coffins of the Covid victims became a symbol of the devastation that was soon to be observed in other countries. The left-wing coalition in Rome under Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed the longest and strictest lockdown in Europe from the beginning of March to the end of May.

Matthias Rüb

Matthias Rüb

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta, based in Rome.

When, after a quiet summer and autumn, the second wave of infections rolled in at the beginning of November, Rome again imposed a nationwide lockdown, this time with gradations according to regional infection rates. Over Christmas and the turn of the year, the whole country was again declared a “red zone”. The review on New Year’s Eve fell on a country that was once again haunted: in the second wave of infections, even more people died than in the first. There were more than 74,000 Covid victims by the end of the year, more than in any other country in Europe. As in spring, the deaths in the second wave of infections were on average over eighty years old. Italy again failed in its task of protecting the most vulnerable from the virus.

The country pays an immense price for what, according to the WHO, is “inspiring” measures taken by Rome against the pandemic. The Italian economy is likely to have shrunk by around ten percent in 2020, which is also a sad peak in Europe. The government’s announced aid measures will push the state debt burden to up to 160 percent of annual economic output. The solidarity demonstrated in the spring – with collective singing from balconies, with national flags everywhere, with the motto “Tutto andrà bene” (Everything will be fine) – has evaporated into the usual trench warfare of social groups. And the cockfights within the fragile left-wing coalition are as fierce as they were before the pandemic.

At the moment, the main focus is on the use of around 209 billion euros that Italy is to receive from the EU’s so-called reconstruction fund. At his press conference at the turn of the year, Conte verbally demanded that the country should “not let this historic opportunity slip by” and that the government “should not gamble away the credibility it has built up”. But it is precisely this accusation that the former head of government Matteo Renzi, who belongs to the left-wing coalition with his small party “Italia Viva”, founded in September 2019 as a split from the Social Democrats.

The former major social democratic reformer Renzi is notoriously unruly because he does not seem to have got over his own fall from December 2016 to this day. But his arguments are sound, even if Renzi with his offensive at the turn of the year apparently wants to squeeze out more influence for himself and his party in the joint coalition with the Social Democrats and the left-wing populist five-star movement. Renzi accuses Conte of disempowering the cabinet, in which Renzi’s party has two of 24 ministerial posts, as well as parliament, with more and more expert bodies and task forces that are supposed to decide on the use of EU funds.

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