Enjoying the primacy

The spread of Covid-19 has definitely brought the world to an unexpected reality. Our priorities and necessities have been completely turned upside down. We thought it was none of our business but it entered our lives without asking for permission. It jeopardized our equilibriums and our society as a whole is embedded and will remain as dunked in an environment of fear and aversion as such.

Italy enjoyed the primacy in Europe, being the first Wester country to confront this invisible enemy as we are getting used to call it. Italian government and Italian national politics was forced to shift its focus from its planned agenda to this unexpected emergency. The Italian government was already living a difficult situation due to the delicate political dynamics and balances of power even before this health crisis. Italian executive is, in fact, characterized by a relatively weak coalition and strong opposition forces.

All these elements will have a crucial role in the management of the pandemic, our executive will need to act both trying to strengthen its position with effective measures while trying not to feed the opposition forces and social unrest. We enjoy the record for contagion, would we also enjoy it for the most effective management?

Primus inter pares?

We would probably wander what is the political strategy enacted by the Italian executive in such a scenario and we can easily give us an answer: Italian Covid-19 political landscape has a strong centralized communication.

History teaches us how important is to handle political communication and marketing during period of crisis and during difficult moments in history, this is well known also by Giuseppe Conte, Italian’s President of the Council who, in this regard, has enacted an effective communication strategy centered on its figure and its role. Just think of the countless lives from the Palazzo Chigi, seat of the Presidency of the Council that he had carried on, sharing measures but also words of reassurance and hope for Italian citizen. It is one of the pivotal figures the Italian population sees as a reference point during this harmful period.

This centralized communication is further nourished by the issuance of laws through the closest instrument at the President’s disposal and that comes directly from him, that is to say the – now famous – DPCM Decreto del Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri. An outstanding instrument dedicated to the Italian PM that testifies a studied strategy of centralization in Conte’s hands. And this has not let down their expectations. His appreciation on the national polls has increased steadily. Italian citizen now rely a lot on its role and on its model.

Like it was argued during an interesting seminar by Marc Lazar, historian and French political sociologist, in crisis times, citizens are very close to the leader because of his role of guidance as a President and not merely from a personalistic point of view. Let us think of the popularity of Sarkozy and Hollande, both French Presidents, in time of crisis, respectively in 2008 and during the hard moment of terrorist attacks in France. And that is, maybe, what it’s happening to Italian PM in those hard days of emergency and immediate tackling actions.

Italian public law has long debated on the assumption of a President of the Council as primus inter pares as described in our Constitution but here the situation suggests Giuseppe Conte to emerge merely as a primus.

Who has the last word?

Technocracy (has been seen by ancient and modern political philosophers as one of the best of the forms of the kratos maybe one of the most desirable one. It indicates an ideal of a system of governance which advocates decision-making to be direct commanded or bindingly advised by people selected on the basis of their expertise in a given area of responsibility, particularly with regard to scientific or technical knowledge.

This is another important perspective that needs to be taken into account. It is a crucial feature of the Italian government strategy for this crisis, namely, giving the voice to science in order to enact the most appropriate measures. However, in some instances, this has come to be a sort of scape-goat between national government, regional administrations and the scientific committee itself. And the last events regarding the so-called Phase Two of the country strategy to tackle the virus, has strongly challenged the conduct of the executive and its closest advisors.

But then, what are the scenarios we can expect from the near future? Will this clearly weak government be strong enough after the pandemic? How can this political balance of powers go through this crisis and which are the factors that will influence it? These surely are all interesting points of reflections and nobody knows what will happen, but at least, we can try to frame the current landscape as to illustrate a possible future scenario.

On one hand, we have European Union and the raise of Italian skepticism regarding its actions. If we assume Italian public opinion being satisfied by the conduct of the Union, then we can declare this government as quite safe but, on the contrary, if there should be some kind of aversions in its regard, then the populists won’t lose any time in using it as a bargaining tool to try to impose themselves and their ideas.

On the other hand, however, there is an important factor to take into account: social unrest. If the population is unsatisfied with the government behavior and management of the general situation, this will be a breeding ground for the opposition forces to exploit this weak moment and gain power.

These, of course, are all suppositions and we have learnt how situations and perceptions are so volatile during this peculiar period of our history. With this brief thoughts, I do not seek to make a clear cut current political analysis, but it can be considered an interesting and stimulating initial point of discussion to try to understand what are the moves and the strategy paths that our government as well as other executives will aim to develop to exploit this unique moment both to strengthen their power and, more importantly, to limit the worst consequences for the society as a whole.

Giorgia Ferraro