resign, had his ‘technocrat government’ approved by the Italian parliament today.
Neither Monti nor the members of his cabinet have been elected by the Italian people. They are not politicians but instead experts in their respective fields. The 'government of experts' has been brought in because, it was thought, both within and outside Italy, the Italian political system is so broken that only unelected non-politicians could be trusted to implement the reforms EU leaders say are necessary to prevent the country’s economic collapse.
American readers may be wondering how on earth a national leader in a democracy could come into power without having been elected. It has to do with a quirk in parliamentary democracy. Members of the upper houses of many of Europe’s parliaments (their equivalents of the US Senate) are appointed rather than elected. A prime minister can come from either house, so if the parliament wishes to appoint a leader who has not been elected they simply have the president appoint that person to the senate.
This is what both Italy and Greece’s presidents have done (with Greece’s unelected prime minister, former European Central Bank vice president Lucas Papademos, approved by that country’s parliament yesterday). Interestingly, the presidencies of Italy and Greece are both meant to be only ceremonial positions like the Queen of England. But they have suddenly been imbued with enormous power. An unelected prime minister could also come to power in the UK, if that person was appointed to the House of Lords.
Meet the technocrats
So what does Italy’s new ‘government of experts’ look like? Monti, infamous for his successful prosecution of Microsoft during his time as Competition Commissioner, will actually hold three ministerial positions – prime minister, economics minister and finance minister.
Italian banker Corrado Passera will also hold multiple ministerships, heading a ‘super ministry’ of Development, Infrastructure and Transport. Monti’s former head of cabinet in the European Commission Enzo Moavero has been made EU minister. A famous Italian criminal lawyer will become justice commissioner, and Nato military committee head Giampaolo di Paola will become defence minister.
The founder of the Catholic peace advocacy movement Community of Sant'Egidio has been made minister of international co-operation, a move sure to please the Vatican. The Chairman of the Enel power company has been made minister for tourism and sport, and the former Italian ambassador to the US will become foreign minister.
None of these people are politicians and none has ever been elected to office.
Model for the future?
So if these governments of unelected experts in Greece and Italy work out and Europe is saved, is this a model for other democracies that seem to be stuck in intractable political paralysis? Unelected provisional governments can now also be found in Belgium (where we’ve had one in place for over 500 days now) and Slovakia.
It didn’t seem like a huge vote of confidence in the new technocracies’ staying power. But then again, the Greek and Italian governments are only supposed to be temporary placeholders until elections are held next year. But the logic of imposing the technocracy is that it must be in place until the euro crisis has been sorted out. If the crisis has been sorted, then the technocrats will have been successful. In which case, wouldn’t the public want them to stick around?
But in a parliamentary democracy this is tricky, because you vote for a party rather than individual people. Monti and his cabinet have no party. Therefore unless they created a party (the Techno Party?), there would be no way for Italians to vote to keep Monti in power when/if elections are held next year. But if Monti creates a political party, then he’s no longer a technocrat is he? He would have become a politician, and would then be subject to the very political constraints which hindered his predecessors.
Silvio Berlusoni also came into power claiming to be a man above politics as an independently wealthy businessman, having formed a small party and strong-armed the corrupt large parties out of power. He promised to weed out the corruption in Italian politics and convert the government to efficiency and dignity. I’ll leave you to judge how that worked out over the past 17 years.