When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in his bid to take control of Rome, he is reputed to have said “alea jacta est” (the die is cast). Matteo Renzi, soon-to-be Rome’s new master, has also rolled the dice. In doing so, he is taking big risks. Given Italy’s mess, one can only pray that his gamble pays off.
There are a lot of good things about Renzi, who became leader of the centre-left Democratic Party in a landslide election last December. He is young, energetic and pro-enterprise. He wants to shake up a political and economic system that has been gridlocked for a couple of decades or more – the consequence of which is an economy that has shrunk 9 percent since 2007, youth unemployment of 42 percent and government debt at 133 percent of GDP.
Still, Renzi has embarked upon a high-risk strategy by kicking out the prime minister, Enrico Letta, who is a member of his own party. His majority is unstable, he knows little about governing and he is relying on Silvio Berlusconi, arch-rival of Italy’s centre left, for a critical reform of the constitution.
Renzi’s initial plan was to work with Letta for a year or so and then become prime minister. The idea was that Letta would do some of the dirty work of cleaning up Italy, leaving Renzi to go to new elections as a largely untarnished figure.
An election can’t be called immediately since Italy’s constitutional court has declared the existing voting system unconstitutional. Hence, the importance of Renzi’s pact last month with Berlusconi – which, hopefully, the latter will not renege on. Not only would the new voting system they agreed be constitutional; it would virtually guarantee stable governments instead of the endless merry-go-around that has characterised Italian politics since World War Two.