or How to Realize Fast that You Cannot Eat the Pasta and Have It.
The Trumpist revolution of narcissism, denial of reality, national egocentrism, and pre-dominance of lies has reached a new climax in Italy – although admittedly briefly outshined by Trump’s letter to cancel the nuclear summit with North Korea. It looks like Italy did not study the Greek adventures of Professor Varoufakis, another case where a self-declared expert wanted to save the country by denying basic economic laws. Alas, we will take front seats in the Colosseum, watching how Professor Conte – whom a French magazine already attested to show all characteristics of a professional crook – will explain, how Italy can avoid bankruptcy while spending additional billions of Euros on the back of an already bursting deficit and debt status of its public finances. While the German Hausfrau is developing an immediate allergic reaction, even the French are scared big time now. Given this situation, the political life of the Professor might be as short-lived as his academic visits to the US.
Following bigger footsteps from across the Atlantic, the Italy First Movement wants to eat the Pasta and make the World (first Europe) pay for it. This undertaking is doomed to fail dramatically. Obviously, the Italians do not have the USD, the strongest military in the World and also not the consumption power of the US. The bullying potential is limited in this case. Remember the Greek experience of trying to enforce on Europe and the Euro-System a carte blanche spending spree for Greece. It ended in an economic disaster that left the Greeks with a prolonged crisis, a humiliated Government, stronger controls, more unemployment and additional lost years. They had to swallow the savings dictate from Brussels and Frankfurt.
The real choices for Italy are very simple. Restructure profoundly or leave the Euro and devaluate. All else is another aria, that nobody wants to listen to anymore: the French have to look for themselves, the Brits are no more interested, the Germans do not want to pay, and the Spanish have run through the painful experience, why spare the Italians the same? And all Governments face at home the identical outcries of Germany, France, England, Dutch, Whoever First. Nobody is willing or able to come to the rescue. Perhaps the Italian drama will finally enforce on the EU to have the discussion that Macron started, but nobody wanted to lead and decide on: further integration or looser association.
The real scary part of the story is, that the Italian voters wanted to have exactly the Government, that they have received now, implementing the very same agenda, that is now promoted. This is contrary to Brexit, where one could argue, whether voters were just tricked by BoJo and alike. No, this time, all was clear and stated during the campaign, and the announced political program reflects a soft version of the election promises. Here are the main reasons for this situation:
- The political bunga bunga elite failed completely over the last 20 years to reform the country and work for the long-term success of Italy. This has led to a lost generation of 18/35-year-old people without job, experience, and perspective. A perfect breeding ground for the extremists.
- The credibility level of traditional parties and established politicians after 20 years of complete mismanagement was below zero. Many Italians preferred to vote for a journey into the unknown than to live on with their un-performing status quo system leading to a slow but steady decline. And they were right.
- The EU showed no(!) solidarity with Italy to control and manage the refugee invasion on Italian coasts. Colorful declarations to strengthen European maritime commandos or threats to close down the Brenner border, the over-arching symbol of European free movement, have not helped, but have been taken understandably as cynical in Italy.
- The Italians have a top-line mentality and a tendency to bend rules (in a positive way!), they are revenue, not cost-driven. In this mentality, the system and philosophy of a common, strictly rule-based currency with frugal Dutch and German Protestants, is completely counter-productive; austerity not compatible with Italian lifestyle and drama.
All this has led to a profound change of the political landscape, the Government will stay longer than many expect and implement the will of the voter. However, Italians cannot expect other nations to pay for this emotional overreaction and the following political experiment. What does this all mean for the EU and Italy in specific:
- ECB directors get nervous in Frankfurt. Their overly relaxed willingness to buy Italian bonds without guarantees for sound state finances is in severe danger of backfiring, it has rendered the ECB too dependent on national Governments and prone to financial blackmailing. The falcons have started to take off their hoods. In case that the situation with Italy would escalate, it could herald an inglorious departure of Mr. Draghi.
- The new Italian Government will start to implement their program and raise spending levels, putting huge pressure on both the EU Commission and the ECB to relax budget restrictions and grant debt relief/write-offs. Finally, we will see a show-down on the Euro. And while Greece had to surrender, Italy has a much stronger bargaining position: they are a founding member of the EU, they are the third strongest European economy and the ECB has an Italian debt stock-pile on its books. Nevertheless, it is inconceivable that other countries, the commission and the ECB would open the Pandora box of further softening debt ceilings and/or financing Italy through ECB debt write-offs.
- This situation has all potential for big drama with only two potential outcomes: Italy leaves the Euro or faces new elections very fast. Renzi and Berlusconi could celebrate a surprise comeback in the latter case.
Italians voted for change. They are sick of their political elites. They are sick of the most inefficient public service in Europe. But they lack the strength and perseverance to go through radical reform programs. Spending the way out of this crisis does not work within the Euro System. The departure from this system is, therefore, the only credible, viable and productive way forward. Everything else is a lie and illusion. A devaluated Italy leads to a restructuring of the country through lower standards of living for a certain period (less German cars), a relative reduction of wealth and pain for the old and poor in the country. But after this period of pain and the revaluation of the Italian asset base, it would also lead to much stronger competitiveness, an orientation towards the future and attract big streams of foreign investment into the country, which would, in turn, reduce unemployment.
Other Governments and the ECB need to wake up to this new political reality. If not now, at a certain point in the near future, the economic development of Italy and/or financial markets will force a decision on them. As Turkey and President Erdogan are currently realizing: economic laws cannot be denied ad infinitum. Professore Nebuloso and his masters will soon have to decide, whether they surrender, lead the EU to an institutional crisis or their country out of the Euro. We bet they will first try with the crisis.