A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Thursday, 17 November 2011

Italy's Cabinet Has Changed Beyond Recognition

Two of the new ministers meet the President. Picture by Presidenza della Repubblica.

There's little left of the Italian governmental system - save for President Giorgio Napolitano - that the appointment of EU-backed Prime Minister Mario Monti hasn't driven a freight train through. The President, traditionally seen as being above direct involvement in political affairs, has now created a government from scratch. The office of Senator-for-Life , formerly reserved for eminent persons in their respective fields who have made a marked contribution to Italian life, is now a springboard for propelling people into high office. And an unelected man - technocrat, expert, official, what does it matter? – now holds the second and third-highest offices in Italy. Prime Minister Monti, or ‘super Mario’ as he’s been prematurely nicknamed, expects to stay on as Italian premier until 2013 - an idea that may sound like bluster, until you realise that, in absence of elections and as the head of a government of national unity, there’s no-one to argue with him.

His cabinet, which was announced yesterday, consists of technocrats, bankers, diplomats, and soldiers. Out of sixteen ministers, none of them are elected. Only one or two of them have ever held elective public office in their lives. Many of them have also crossed paths previously, at some point in their professional or political careers: two of them worked at the same bank. One of them - a laywer, now justice minister - once counted Romano Prodi amongst her clients. He was the President of the European Commission, throughout Mario Monti’s time there.

It’s not only the faces that have changed, but the cabinet itself. Mario Monti actually holds three separate posts: one, as Prime Minister. Two, as Finance Minister. Three, as the newly-created minister for international co-operation and integration. Quite what that is remains to be seen. Six ministerial posts have vanished, including the implementation of executive policies, the civil service, youth, federal reforms (a post previously held by Umberto Bossi, the leader of the Northern League, Berlusconi’s coalition allies, who has accused the Monti administration of lacking democratic legitimacy and has thus refused to support it). There was also a ministry for the simplification of legislation, and another for families, both of which are no longer extant.

Then there are three new ‘super-ministries. One is a combination of industry and enterprise and transport links and infrastructure, headed by Corrado Passera. The other combines employment and equal opportunities under Elsa Fornero. Another combines sport and tourism under Piero Gnudi. Civilian control of the army has been removed, with the promotion of Admiral Giampaolo Di Paola, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee and key founder of relations between NATO and empowered EU institutions that were created by the Lisbon Treaty.

Overall, the government has been streamlined, simplified, and placed into the hands of a few unelected, mostly unheard-of individuals who have never faced a public ballot. They are former EU officials, bankers, consultants, chief executives, and military men. If anyone defines this as anything other than undemocratic, they don't need debate: they need a dictionary.

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