Italy: What Now?

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I received this question, an ideal starting starting point, from the always very perceptive Catocon:

where do Monti and this centrist coalition stand on the *really* important issues, that is, abortion, homosexual “marriage”, secularism etc…? My impression has been that he is what Europeans call a liberal, that is an economically moderate technocratic statist too timid to confront social issues but (if necessary) always a willing slave of the spirit of modernity. But my knowledge of Italian politics is certainly lacking, so maybe Italian “centrists” are different.

How certain are we that those centrists will not start to “evolve” as it is called in Obama’s language, as “centrists” all over the West inevitably tend to do when the pressure from the media and the established cultural revolution starts to mount?

As I understand the Italian electoral system, the strongest party/coalition is guaranteed a majority of at least 54% in one chamber of parliament and also, on a regional basis, in the Senate, right? Any split between non-leftist coalitions would be utterly disastrous in that case as leftists could win a majority of seats even if they lost the election in terms of the popular vote because of the split in the non-leftist vote between “centrists” and “rightists”. To support any kind of centrist coalition just to avoid endorsing someone like Berlusconi would be utterly irresponsible in this case.

Does not the Church hierarchy, by throwing her weight behind the center coalition, effectively help secure a parliamentary majority for the socialists and communists on the left even if the center does turn out to be relatively solid on the issues that matter most to the Catholic?

In order to give a better idea of how I see things, I will divide the answer in several sections: how the system works, what the Vatican is trying to do and why, and whether we can trust the Catholic parties.

Keep in mind the situation is at the moment extremely fluid and fascinating, with a very mobile electorate.  Also keep in mind hardcore Catholics are, for now, slowly dying.

At the Camera there is the majority premium Catocon describes: the strongest coalition gets 340 seats out of 615. It doesn’t matter if the strongest coalition only has, say, 20% of the votes. The coalition with the relative majority gets 340 members, period. 

At the Senate there are 20 regions, and 17 of them get a (regional) majority premium. The biggest ones (like Lombardia, Lazio, Campania, Sicilia) are seen as crucial. Again, the premium here is regional, so there are several decks of cards to be distributed. 

At the moment the field is divided in four major major camps, again with the situation extremely fluid and changing almost daily.

1. Left wing coalition.

They are the almost sure winner of the majority in the Camera. They will probably ally with the sodocommunists, though they don’t really like them. If the centre is strong (which it might well become) they will lose some parts on their right wing side (this is already happening), which makes the alliance with the sodocommunists the more important to them. The main component of this coalition supports Monti’s agenda, though the extreme left wing of the sodocommunists don’t. This might be a split in the making, with the two allying for the vote and to bag the majority premium, but splitting afterwards as the sodocommies do not support Monti’s austerity program. Together with the sodomites, this grouping is (for now) comfortably in the 30%-35% range. But they have a difficult job as this is the only coalition with divided loyalties concerning Monti and o one can say how many moderate elements will prefer the centre instead now that they have become a very credible alternative.

2. Right wing coalition

This is what is left of the old Berlusconi coalition who won big in 2008, after losing several pieces down the road. The Lega Nord appears not to want an agreement if Berlusconi wants to run as PM, but they would support the alliance is Berlusconi renounces to Prime Ministerial ambitions.

Neither Berlusconi  nor the Lega support Monti. This attracts to them a lot of protest votes, but makes them invotabili for that part of the country committed to stop Italy from becoming the next Greece.  They have a component of very tough Catholics, but their Catholic credentials aren’t considered the best as Berlusconi would only follow Catholic interests as long as they serve him and would throw his weight on the other side whenever necessary.

This coalition appeared dead in the water only two weeks ago. Berlusconi’s offensive is now causing them to strongly recover. Last time I looked they were given at 20%, trend ascending, even without the Lega. If you ask me, they are going to fish protest votes from Grillo’s voters (see below) like there’s no tomorrow.

Berlusconi has now also announced a strongly Catholic program, in preparation as I write.  His aim is to make the Vatican lose credibility and rally around him the Catholic voices. Brilliant strategy as always (this man is around one thousand times smarter than the foreign press depicts him), but Berlusconi still has a credibility problem, and no Vatican endorsement. 

3. Centre coalition.

This is the fiscally and (in large part) socially conservative coalition created to support Monti’s program. A strong Catholic party (UDC) is the backbone of the coalition, which is integrated by non-Catholic components. The loss of the UDC is what causes the second biggest headache for Berlusconi, the Lega being the first. This coalition gained the open support of the Vatican  and is, literally, defying gravity, at 23% yesterday.

They are, as a coalition, purely focused on Monti’s program. But the UDC as a party is the safest bet for Catholics in Italy. The Vatican endorsement will take care that the coalition becomes more and more dominated by the Catholic element, but do not expect them to campaign as a coalition with Catholic values: they are there to support Monti’s economic program and they want their votes, whether Catholic or not. Still, Italians are sophisticated voters and many of the supporters of this coalition will be seen (or officially vote in the Camera; in the Senate there will be a unity list for complex reasons of minimum votes necessary) as staunch Catholics.

4. Grillo (Five Stars)

Grillo is a successful comedian with the hobby of politics; he has been creating a vast consensus around him, based on the usual refusal of professional politics and desire to reinvent the wheel such protest movements always have. He is an enemy of Monti and of everything that is unpopular and difficult to bring to the masses; as always, his message appeals to the dissatisfied, the disaffected, the undecided, the irresponsible and the plain stupid. They used to be very strong months ago, when Berlusconi’s party officially (if begrudgingly) supported Monti, and they were even given as the biggest single party (not coalition) out there. If you ask me, they will have a tough time now that the populist position is covered by the Right Wing coalition. They could end up massacred, or else the second or third biggest coalition. At the moment, no one knows.


Cardinal Bagnasco, the head of the Italian Bishops’ conference, threw Berlusconi out of the window in 2011 and never fished him in again. I have already written on this blog I do not know how wise this was, but their reasoning is that it is for the right-wing coalition to get rid of Berlusconi, rather than for the Vatican to have to support Berlusconi no matter what. In fact, in Italy you are traditionally expected to listen to the Vatican rather than expect them to listen to you, as they are (for now) powerful enough to demand it. Again, Ruini swallowed Berlusconi’s toad for many years, but Bagnasco (a rather tough guy particularly compared to Ruini) has decided that enough is enough and there will be no turning back.

How powerful the Vatican (still) is can be seen in the “centre” coalition now given (last time I looked, that is: yesterday) at an astonishing 23%. Mind, these votes aren’t transferable 1 to 1 to a centre-right coalition, as a good part of the country will never vote Berlusconi anyway. By refusing to support Monti’s course, Berlusconi has chosen the populist and protest vote, but he will emphatically not get the moderate conservative vote; certainly not now that the Vatican says to vote centre, but it is clear many of them would have never voted for Berlusconi anyway.

I think Bagnasco & Co. consider the winning of the majority premium from the left side inevitable, as does the entire country. By supporting Berlusconi (largely seen as the losing camp, and irremediably opposed to the left) there is a concrete risk of leaving the left with two majorities, and a sodomarriage of sort would follow (probably) rather fast after that.

On the other hand, by trying to “defy gravity” and put all their weight behind a strong centrist coalition, the Vatican aims at warping the leftist bid for double majority, as the centre coalition amputates them on their right wing side. If they manage to thwart a left-wing majority in the Senate, which is the real name of the game, they are very probably safe against any sodomite legislation without having to marry Berlusconi’s populism, opportunism and corruption. The rallying cry of the Curia should help the centre reach critical mass instead of being massacred in the middle of the opposing left and right wing blocks. I call this “defying gravity” because  what is happening now is unprecedented in the history of the new electoral system, which is designed to divide the country around two big blocks of centre-left and centre-right. Small parties have always survived (or not) as independent, but never was a big “third” coalition seen to have any chance.

The centre and the right are now fighting for the soul of the (moderate) country: they will not work together because the right is now a kind of populist “protest party” whose Weltanschauung is at odds with the fiscally responsible centre. Still, whilst you can’t unite their votes to make a government, you can unite them to avoid sodomite legislation. It everything goes according to plan, this will be an insurmountable barrier at least in the Senate. 

As to the Catholic parties, be not afraid: they are very different from the CDU, or from the CSU come to that. The UDC voters have been in these twenty years such a steady element that it is utterly irrelevant whether their leaders would want to sell themselves: they won’t, because they know it would very probably be their death. As I see it, no “evolving” is to be feared from that side, rather the contrary… What Germans (and Brits of Americans) needs to understand here is that a core of hardline Catholics (perhaps 10-14% of the voters, now divided between right and centre, formerly between centre-left and centre-right) are real Catholics who have up to now always successfully gone on the barricades when necessary. They are square in the middle and they are still seen as the key to power, which is why the moderate leftists don’t want to anger them and Berlusconi wants their votes so badly.

I will, unless something huge happens, vote for the UDC myself. Not so much because Bagnasco says so, but because I think that in Italy you will not find another party you can thrust so much to defend Catholic values, and which such a good chance of your vote truly being put to work against the Left. I might be wrong of course, but as far as the Catholic vote is concerned I wasn’t these last twenty years. Italy is a country where people were ready to even vote for Berlusconi merely because he defended Catholic values (they actually voted Catholics components and candidates within his coalitions) and I can’t imagine any other European country ready to swallow so much for the cause.

As I see it (and the Vatican seems to agree with me.. 😉 ) the centre coalition is the wedge pushed in the middle of an otherwise probably unavoidable double majority for the left-wing. They have pooped in the leftist party, and if everything goes according to plan they will be the elephant in the room without which no majority – much less sodomite legislation – is possible. 

Once again – and to conclude – the votes of the populist right wing and of the Monti coalition can’t be added, as the fiscal differences can’t be bridged. It will have to be the one or the other.

The Vatican has chosen the “other”.  I think it’s the wiser bet.




Posted on January 1, 2013, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Mundabor,
    excellent article. This answers most of the questions I had about the Italian political landscape. A few specific ones remain, though:

    1) I do not understand why the “centrists” are widely seen as centrists considering your account of their political agenda. I gather from your article that they are reliably socially conservative. We need have no fear that they “evolve”, you say. This alone is sufficient to be considered hard-right by the European mainstream media. In addition, the centrists pursue a clearly liberal (in the continental sense) economic agenda. Yet they are universally portrayed as moderates. No political force can succeed to gather a moderate image sustained by the mainstream media if it is genuinely conservative on social issues. Yet Monti’s coalition has exactly this moderate image. How is this possible, especially as the left coalition also supports the austerity measures at least to some extent (which means, in my experience of leftist parties, that they will not rock the boat on this issue)?

    1a) If your characterization of the centrists is correct, they appear to be more conservative than Berlusconi. Is this true?

    2) What is the Lega’s position on social issues? I understand they are northern regionalists opposed to the EU and generally conservative, having been a longstanding ally of the right. Their positions in regard to decentralization make them a natural ally for anyone committed to Catholic social teaching, if they are reliable on abortion, homosexuality, secularism etc.

    2a) What is the UdC’s position on subsidiarity, federalism, decentralization etc, especially in light of their firm support of the EU and the EU-compliant government of technocrats led by Monti?

    3) How can a strongly Catholic party (and the Vatican) support someone like Monti who will, in order to secure material wealth and economic stability, sell out the country to the bureaucrats of the European Union who are anything but friendly to Catholic values? Is it not better to be a poor, unemployed Catholic than a wealthy, employed, upwardly mobile servant to anti-Christian elites in Brussels? And make no mistake, he who pays the bills has the real power. If Italy becomes dependent upon the EU, typical EU-values will be imposed ruthlessly at the first opportunity.

    4) The Vatican has, at least since Populorum Progressio or rather since Vatican II, consistently advanced a globalist agenda of transnationalism or world government, often at the expense of Catholic values. This has become apparent once again in the current Pope’s encyclicals on the matter. Globalism is one of the few issues the Vatican will actually fight for in any unified, consistent, strong manner. On the defense of Catholic values, the hierarchy appears – at best – divided and reluctant to fight. How much of the Vatican’s support for a globalist technocrat like Monti has to be seen in this light and not in the light of any desire to defend Italy from social leftism?

    • Hello Catocon and thanks for the flowers 😉

      Answers in short, bearign in mind I do not live in Italy and my perceptions might be skewed here or there:

      Italy is not Germany ;), and social conservatism is called “centrism” because “right” has been long associated with Fascism. There is a lot of such posturing in Italy. Monti is going around saying he is the real “progressive”, but no he isn’t! Still, one who in Germany would be considered extremely conservative, in Italy might be considered a man of sound common sense.

      1a) Yes and no. Berlusconi is not a conservative, but an opportunist. Being an opportunist, he has always seen the social conservatives as his natural voters, and *therefore* he always had a very socially conservative agenda. Berlusconi has, though, some real Catholics within his ranks. But these hardliners are also against Monti, and might be isolated as the right-wing part of the right coalition. The UDC (Casini & Co.) are very much planted in the middle of things, in the sense that hopefully no one will be able to escape them if he wants to govern.

      2) The Lega is a mixture of mainly local economic issues and hatred of central government. Whilst they are, generally speaking, fairly conservative, they are not seen as a Catholic party. They are, rather, part of that “cultural Catholicism” broadly reflecting the values whilst not being committed to the Institution of the Church. There are many of these people in Italy: more Catholic in their outlook than most people who call themselves “Catholic” in Germany, but with a strong dislike for the Church. If they are against abortion it is because *they* consider abortion murder, *not because the Church says so*. Of course, they think so because they are the product of a broadly Catholic environment, but they wouldn’t define themselves as “Catholics”, and their allegiance goes to what they think right. I’d say among the supporters of the Lega the socially conservative certainly outnumber the “progressives” with the “gay friends” and the like, but local and economic issues remain paramount for them.
      If you’d offer them a serious devolution against acceptance of “gay marriages”, I think many would say yes.

      “a) Don’t be too German… 😉 The UDC is *generally* in favour of solidarity and subsidiarity, but like every Italian party (and like every Catholic party) will be very supple in everyday matters. So for example they do not want a statalist mammoth, but aren’t fiercely opposed to Brussels. They prefer to neutralise the enemy rather than wage open war against him. They are also not enemies of Brussels (this is a complez issue, that has to do with the better reputation Brussels still has as a brake to corruption & Co.), but they would work around every obstacle every time it is necessary. It’s a different cultural way of doing politics. When a democristiano wants to kill you, he embraces you first.

      3) Your thinking is exactly what doesn’t work in Italy. Italian parties will work for as much economic wealth as they can, and screw Brussels as much (but as softly) as they must. Wars of principles are not for them, but I assure you you’ll find few people in Europe able to steer things in their direction and punch above their weight. Italian voters, too, don’t think in terms of principles. They follow Andreotti’s motto that “politics is the art of what is possible”. This, they do very well.
      Italy got a ban on crucifixes from a EU human right tribunal. They didn’t start a crusade against human rights imperialism. They simply quietly screwed the tribunal and “persuaded” them to “review” their sentence. I know it’s difficult to explain this to a foreigner as by us these things are often more muddled, more muffled and more subtle than abroad, but I assure you it works. It’s a bit the way the Church uses too. You’ll never hear expressions like “servants to anti-Christian elites in Brussels” from them; but the day an Italian government decides Brussels is a liability you’ll see how they make a breakfast of them, claiming all the time to defend the European ideals. That’s the way it works by us. I concede in Germany the entire way of communicating is different. But again, the German people thought Italy had become anti-semitic just because we introduced racial laws. Italians never make such mistakes.

      4) I was frankly stunned at reading this question. Believe me, the populist “one world” rhetoric of the (foreign) Popes is completely detached from the way the Vatican works in Italian politics. The papal encyclicals resound of empty words to please the world masses, but the local bishop is vastly more concerned with the matter of who will be the next major, and what the papal encyclical says will count precisely zippo. He might be more or less good, but he will not for one second act based on the modern V II waffle. To tell you how different our two cultural frames of reference are, this is the first time in my entire life I read of a practical fear that the globalist “grand blabla” (or any blabla) from the Vatican may influence what the Church does in Italy in her concrete action. It just doesn’t happen. They are just two different worlds.
      The Church is Italy is a shrewd power machine, not a gathering of tree-huggers. They make and destroy (as much as they can) governments, but they aren’t concerned for one second with how to make Italy more in line with the Pope’s transnational or globalist vision, nor does the Pope for a moment expect that it be so. If the Italian bishops are weak or leftists, it is because they are made in the wrong way, not because they would ever come to the idea of having to follow what is written in an encyclical letter. I hope I give the idea of how it works, but you would have to live in Italy to fully grasp the concept. This is a country where people vote a thieving bastard in their millions *knowing he is a thieving bastard*, because the opponent may be honest but is on the wrong side of Truth. I never saw it in Germany.

      In Germany, they get Merkel instead. An enemy of Christianity, but never a male prostitute around… 😉


  2. Mundabor,
    thank you again for the response to my strange and “stunning” questions… 😉 Again this clarifies a lot of things that had been unclear to me up to now.

    I do understand the pragmatic approach to politics and its uses. I would even have supported Romney for President. But will it make a difference in the end? We have abortion on demand, the contraceptive mentality and divorce in Germany – we have them in Italy. (Who stands up for the right to life in Italy, by the way? Is there any party that actually defends the unborn? Would Monti try to repeal abortion legalization? Or is it a hindrance to the parties’ real goal of propping up a failing economy for a few years until after their deaths? – Sorry, if I get a little polemical here… ;))

    Because of a split between two different factions of Catholic and Catholic-friendly parties, the left will probably win the elections and introduce homosexual “marriage” or at least “civil unions”. According to polling I have seen, the leftist coalition gets no more than 35 percent of the vote. Grillo gets between 10 and 15 – the rest, sufficient for a solid majority if combined, splits between right and center. Why do they split? Because of fiscal issues. How important are fiscal issues in the eternal balance of souls? They hardly count at all. Yet they will probably decide the election by denying social conservatives a majority.

    I’m fairly certain that Italy will champion homosexualism one or two years from now, not because a majority voted for leftists, but because the electoral system favors one broad coalition of the left over splintered conservatives unable or unwilling to focus on defending the most fundamental things and setting aside differences on fiscal issues. With the split, leftists will certainly have the majority in one chamber and probably in the Senate too, especially if the Lega runs separately from Berlusconi, not as part of his coalition, as I have read they probably will. Maybe Monti will deny leftists a few votes they would have received without his new “centrist” coalition. But if Monti’s coalition is really socially conservative, the number will be quite small. Social leftists practically never vote for genuine social conservatives, even if they agree with them on fiscal issues.

    Is there no party in Italy that (1) strongly promotes Catholic values, (2) has a UKIP-like stance on Europe and centralism, and (3) stands for fiscal conservatism? Because, that would be the ideal party for me… 😉

    • Beautiful words, Catocon,

      a pity the country doesn’t see it that way.

      The country is split along fiscal lines, and within that it is also split along religious lines, with the economy being by far the most important issue.

      I do not even say the main culprit is Berlusconi (though I think he is the most important single cause of the mess), but Berlusconi chose a populist line because he thinks it will bring him more votes. Actually, the surprise of 2012 was how much Berlusconi’s coalition was punished was a fiscal prudence they should have in their blood. Berlusconi being merely a vote fisher he has decided he has had enough and has switched to the populist camp.

      Your data are, though, too recent. Grillo is given at 10-15% now, but was considered more popular than that a couple of months ago. Berlusconi is rising because he is fishing on this pond. These aren’t Catholic votes, many of them probably not even vaguely Catholic ones. The sum of PDL and centre coalition votes isn’t even a sum of vaguely Catholic votes, because the purely populist vote is included.

      Still, if the Church started today to make a serious work, in ten or fifteen years’ time we would not be in the position of hoping our Catholic vote is heavy enough and does not get wasted, as it is now.

      I am every day more grateful to Bagnasco for giving the project “defy gravity” a chance of success…

    • Catocon,
      we have no UKIP in Italy because Brussels is still trusted more than the Italian government. The events of the last months have actually deepened this feeling, with a fiscal policy that is actually still held because of Brussels imposition, whilst the country would have fallen in its own populist way a long time ago without it.

      Many Italians see Italy as a kind of better Greece, which needs Brussels’ whip to be shaped into a full-fledged European country. As already explained, when supra-national intervention grated them (crucifix, but this was not the EU) they neutralised it anyway. Again, in Italy there is the idea Brussels is the severe nanny we need to become adult, and this view is shared rather broadly.

      For the same reason, we have at regular interval governments led by unelected people (Ciampi, Dini, Monti; Prodi also became PM without even being a member of parliament): in difficult times, we trust technocrats more than we trust those politicians we have elected. Italians vote badly, but are at least smart enough to understand that they do and self-regulate themselves with the technocrats and with Brussels…


    • Catocon,

      I am not optimist about homo legislation in the longish run, but the centre is the only possibility to block it for at least some years, possibly a legislation. Then it will depend n the church: if they start to run a hard line now they’ll rein in enough people in a handful of years, if they keep being silent we are destined to lose.

      I hope there will be no possibility of pro-homo coalition in the senate, and also in the camera dei deputati not every moderate left member of parliament will vote it, though many will.

      One good thing of Berlusconi is that he would make an enormous mess about gay marriage, thus forcing the church to pick the fight or look like eunuchs rather than (as they always want to) smart diplomaticians. And Berlusconi would pick the fight if he can smell the blood, which he very probably would. I am disappointed, though, his offensive on social value has not concretised until now, another sign he thinks it might not be so advantageous for him after all.


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