Marco Werman: The political meltdown in Washington brings to mind the dysfunctional politics of Italy. And in fact, the Italian government is potentially facing its own sort of shutdown this week. Reporter Megan Williams in Rome, we're talking two different types of government shutdowns, really. I can only keep my head on so many shutdowns at once, so what are the broad contours of what's going on in Italy this week?
Megan Williams: Well, what's basically happened is the government is being held hostage by Silvio Berlusconi, who of course is the controversial former prime minister of Italy. On Friday he decided to pull his five ministers out of the cabinet. Now it's a coalition cabinet, it's been a contentious cabinet, it's been fragile, so it wasn't strong to begin with, but it was composed of two different parties, the left and the right, and Berlusconi basically said, okay, enough of this, I'm going to pull out my support, because he wants the government to fall. Why? Because at the end of this week there was a senate vote scheduled to consider banning him from public office for six years. This was after his recent tax fraud conviction. So this whole crisis was brought about by Berlusconi trying to save his political future.
Werman: How's he still kind of being able to broker power?
Williams: You know, Berlusconi, for a few years now, has been like that outfit in your closet that you bought 20 years ago. It was really expensive and it seemed really glamorous and risqué, and it would make good things happen in your life. But as the years go by you realize that it was kind of cheap and a little tacky but you just couldn't bring yourself to throw it away because it cost so much. Well, Italians are now ready to throw it away. They're sick of him. He's just turned 77, he is not offering anything new. People just want him gone. They want to focus on the two main problems right now, reforming the economy and reforming the electoral law so that when people go to the polls, one party can emerge and actually govern Italy, as opposed to these coalitions that just fight and fall every few years.
Werman: It sounds like Italy's political parties, they've got different names, Left Democratic Party and the Center Right, People of Freedom Party, but it kind of sounds like Republicans and Democrats, not able to reach political compromise. Am I right?
Williams: Yes, and in fact, Enrico Letta, the prime minister, said as the crisis began, he said he feels like he's trapped inside the film "Groundhog Day," that it just keeps going around and around. And the players don't even change that much. There's a little shifting as to who leads the government, but for the most part it's the same old characters that are just recycled through a very similar scenario.
Werman: I get the sense here that Americans are seriously frustrated with the antics of politicians. How about Italians? Also frustrated with theirs?
Williams: Terribly frustrated. People don't have that much money right now, that's part of it, and I think the most tragic thing about this situation continuing so long in Italy is the younger generation. There's a 40 percent unemployment rate amongst young people right now. And when you say young people in Italy, that doesn't mean 21 year old, 22 year olds. It generally means people who are close to 40. These are people who are bright and creative who have never had a real full-time job and they're in their mid and late '30s, who want to start families, and who have a lot to give to the country but haven't been able to because there's not the necessary market reforms that are necessary to get these people employed.
Werman: Right, and a lot of pundits are saying the way forward is to find someone new to shake up the welfare and business culture. The mayor Florence, I gather, has been mentioned as a promising leader. Is it really about just finding the one leader who can restore confidence in a system that seems broken?
Williams: I think Matteo Renzi, the 40-something mayor of Florence, offers a symbolic change that's important for this country, to bring in someone who's younger, who's energetic, who's dynamic, who now has the ear of the Center Left Party. Didn't a little while ago. Will one person solve all of Italy's problems? No, I mean, he's bound to disappoint, but at least it will signify a shift within Italian politics that's desperately needed.
Werman: Megan Williams in Rome. Good to speak with you. Thank you.
Williams: Thanks, Marco.