Italy, rich in art, cuisine and ancient history, went from being the “sick man of Europe’' to its third largest economy, only to see its future imperiled by stagnant growth, political paralysis and investor fears over the mountain of debt it has piled up over the years.
In a sense its economic troubles date back to the late 1990s, when the country’s manufacturing was overtaken by competitors in Asia. Its patronage-based politics and rule-bound labor practices changed little, but a flood of cheap money that followed the introduction of the euro helped keep the system going.
Italy lacks effective safeguards against corruption, the global anticorruption organization Transparency International said Friday. Lorenzo Segato, director of the Research Center on Security and Crime, which carried out the study for Transparency International, said Italy fell short on many counts, with questionable institutional integrity, weak regulations, biased news media and a social code that condones certain illegalities. Officials say corruption costs Italy about $80 billion a year. The organization called for Italy to set up an independent anticorruption agency.
These boutique blitzkriegs have been splashed across the news media, leaving a wake of sulky entrepreneurs and petulant car owners. Critics lament that Italy is being transformed into a tax police state.
But there has also been a growing appreciation among many Italians that the government is dead serious in countering what, depending on one's point of view, is considered either a birthright or one of the chief scourges of Italian society -- the failure to declare taxes.
The investigation is focusing on crimes including aggravated fraud to obtain public funds, embezzlement of EU funds, and using false documents.
In recent years the Italian authorities have made progress in combating the country's notorious organised gangs, which still wield immense power, especially in the south.
Take the art works of Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Tintoretto and Caravaggio, the operas of Verdi and Puccini, the cinema of Federico Fellini, add the architecture of Venice, Florence and Rome and you have just a fraction of Italy's treasures from over the centuries.
While the country is renowned for these and other delights, it is also notorious for its precarious political life and has had several dozen governments since the end of World War II.
Romano Prodi, the leader of the current centre-left coalition, said Italy will lobby actively at the United Nations for an end to capital punishment worldwide. The Italian ambassador to the UN has already called upon the General Assembly to re-examine a document already presented for debate last month. Italy took up one of the ten non-permanent seats on the Security Council this week.
A fast car is supposed to be a means of escape. In Italy, it's become one of the best ways to get caught. The land of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati is getting tough on tax evaders, and police have taken to stopping drivers of high-end SUVs and luxury cars and forwarding their information to the tax authorities to make sure the income they've declared (and paid taxes on) matches their expenditures.
EACH opening night during the opera season, Milan's Via Manzoni is transformed from a bustling commercial street to a river of wealth and elegance. Bumper to bumper, a seemingly endless line of Mercedes, Alfa Romeos, Lancias and Maseratis inches toward the Piazza della Scala, their high-powered engines being raced by traffic-frustrated drivers.
What I mean by that is Italy is too big to be bailed out. When Greece got itself into trouble, the European Union and International Monetary Fund could easily muster up the resources to prevent default. But with Italy’s debt load bigger than that of Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain combined, there isn’t likely to be enough money to bail out the country. There definitely aren’t sufficient funds available in the euro zone’s overstretched $1 trillion rescue fund.
SIENA, Italy — Often overshadowed by its bigger and more powerful ancient rival, Florence, Siena has always been a jewel in Italy's rich crown of cultural heritage and an ideal place to immerse yourself in the history of Tuscan art. Old Siena, spread over three hills in southern Tuscany and surrounded by medieval walls, is relatively small and can be easily explored on foot. That also means dining options are centrally located.