Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Romano Prodi, Homo Europeus

The new prime minister of Italy will be Romano Prodi. He has held the job once before, and it is striking how vividly European his life has been. He comes from a family of nine children. According to a profile in The International Herald Tribune, he has roughly 30 nephews, of whom two became priests. But he and his wife, closely tracking the country around them, have opted for a dramatically smaller family, electing only have two children. (I have been unable to find references to any grandchildren.)

His career is also rewardingly revealing. He was prime minister once previously, but was ousted after only two years, a normal sort of event for most of Italy’s postwar history. (Ironically, the ousted Mr. Berlusconi was the first postwar Italian government to go the distance without losing a confidence vote or resigning.) His most noteworthy achievements involved preparing Italy for the strict public-debt criteria for entering the euro (a task lauded at the time as bordering heroic, which shows only how starved of heroes Italy is these days). Some of those achievements (along with those of Greece) are now generally acknowledged to have required excruciating torture of the government accounts. But what has really cemented Mr. Prodi as a man of “competence” is his time as chair of the European Commission, the EU civil service. It was largely undistinguished, but it is a sterling credential for an aspirant to Italy’s permanent managerial class, whose job it is (as with his equivalents in Brussels) to micromanage every aspect of his subjects’ lives. Indeed, as I noted two weeks ago, among his primary ambitions is to create a draft for the bureaucracy, with all Italians being conscripted into the civil service for six months.

Italy has double-digit unemployment, had zero economic growth last year, and probably has Europe’s worst case of demographic collapse. It is torn by controversy over immigration. It is angrily divided between a reasonably well-functioning north and an economically decrepit south. In other words, it is a country that could’ve had an election campaign worth remembering. After a campaign that fell somewhat short of that mark, is the bureaucrat par excellence Mr. Prodi the man to fix what ails it? Undoubtedly not, but he is certainly a man of his time.


Post a Comment

<< Home