Thursday, August 11, 2005

Italy is sick

As an Italian I would like to confirm that Italy is not only the sick man of Europe - it is also a sick joke. There are criminals who are successfully destroying what little is left of the illusion that Italy is a serious Western nation with a developed economy and all Berlusconi worries about is passing laws that would make sure that catching them red handed, as happened this time, will not be possible in the future.
Opposition politicians, and even some pro-government legislators, yesterday expressed growing concern about a proposal by Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, to restrict the use of wiretapping in judicial inquiries.
Mr Berlusconi said last weekend that he wanted to limit the practice to investigations into terrorism and the mafia, and to punish those who leak or publish recorded telephone conversations with five to 10 years in prison.
Roberto Calderoli and Roberto Maroni, two leaders of the populist Northern League that is a junior partner of the government coalition, yesterday said it would be too restrictive to limit wiretapping to Mafia and terrorism investigations.
Had these proposals already been law, inquiries into suspected wrongdoing over an Italian bank takeover battle that has embroiled Antonio Fazio, the Bank of Italy governor, would have been curtailed.
While I am certainly no fan of the Italian left, it is undeniable that Berlusconi has been an utter disaster (see here). However, notwithstanding his best efforts to make a total mess of the Bank of Italy kerfuffle, I do believe that ultimately some positive outcome will emerge.
I find it hard to believe that after all the revelations on the actions of the governor of the central bank, Antonio Fazio, and of Banca Popolare Italiana and friends, Consob and the Bank of Italy will rescind its suspension of BPI's tender offer for Banca Antonveneta, and it seems to me likely that BPI itself will not want to go through with the bid anyway, possibly reaching an agreement with ABN Amro to sell its stake to the Dutch bank. That would be great, finally opening the Italian retail banking sector to foreign competitors. I may be wrong, of course. Never underestimate our ability to mess things up...

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