67 governments in 76 years: What you must know about Italy before its elections

Italy is considered a country of contradictions. Being the third-largest economy and the second-largest industrial power in the EU's single currency area, it is the only European country where wages fell between 1990 and 2020

Agence France-Presse September 22, 2022 16:18:17 IST
67 governments in 76 years: What you must know about Italy before its elections

Right-wing party Brothers of Italy's leader Giorgia Meloni addresses a rally as she starts her political campaign ahead of the 25 September general elections. AP

Rome: An economic powerhouse plagued by unstable politics; European football champions unable to qualify for the World Cup — Italy is a country of contradictions.

Here are five things to know about the European Union member state ahead of Sunday’s general elections:

Governments come and go

There have been 67 governments led by 29 different leaders since Italy was declared a republic in 1946, in the aftermath of World War II.

The most recent is Mario Draghi, a former European Central Bank chief parachuted in to lead a coalition government in February 2021 as Italy grappled with the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

Billionaire media mogul Silvio Berlusconi has served the longest as prime minister, with 3,291 days in power over four different governments between 1994 and 2011.

The shortest term was Fernando Tambroni, who hung on for just 115 days in 1960.

Alcide De Gasperi holds the record in terms of governments led — eight between 1945 and 1953.

Giant with feet of clay

Italy is the third-largest economy and the second-largest industrial power in the EU’s single currency area, the eurozone.

But it is the only European country where wages fell between 1990 and 2020, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), mainly due to weak growth and productivity.

There is also no national minimum wage.

The employment rate for women stands at just 55.4 per cent, compared with an average of 69 per cent in the eurozone (74.6 per cent in Germany and 70 per cent in France).

There is still a vast gap between the rich north, with its wealth of small- and medium-sized family-run businesses, and the south, blighted by poverty and high unemployment.

Italy’s unemployment rate, at 7.9 per cent, remains well above that of the eurozone average, which stood at 6.6 per cent in July.

The country is also saddled with a colossal debt of more than 2.7 trillion euros — that is around 150 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), the highest ratio in the eurozone after Greece.

‘Japan of Europe’

Nicknamed the “Japan of Europe”, Italy is the oldest country in the EU, with an average age of 47.6 years old, according to the bloc’s Eurostat agency.

With a falling birth rate (1.25 children per woman in 2021) combined with a rising life expectancy (82.4 years), the peninsula could see its population fall from 60 to 47.6 million by 2070, a loss of 20 per cent.

The country is also facing a brain drain, with young people leaving to work abroad.

These factors jeopardise both the country’s financing of its pension system and its health coverage, according to the national statistical institute Italian National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).

NATO ally and friend to Russia

Italy, which has been part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since its creation in 1949, hosts several NATO military bases, including in Naples, Sigonella in Sicily and Aviano in the north.

It has been a staunch supporter of Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February, under the leadership of Draghi. But Rome has traditionally nurtured friendly relations with Moscow.

Ex-Prime Minister Berlusconi treated Russian president Vladimir Putin as a friend, while his ally Matteo Salvini, leader of the anti-immigration League party, has previously worn T-shirts featuring Putin’s face and has criticised sanctions against Moscow.

But Giorgia Meloni, their coalition partner and leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party — which is leading in the polls — supports both sanctioning Russia and sending arms to Kyiv.

European champions denied World Cup

After a humiliating 0-1 loss to North Macedonia in March, Italy’s national football team — Euro champions last year — will miss the World Cup in Qatar later this year.

Serie A was the best league in the world until the early 2000s, but is attracting fewer and fewer stars.

Failing to make the cut was even more painful because Italy sat out the last World Cup in 2018, following a defeat against Sweden that would be remembered as “the Apocalypse”.

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