The political battles in Rome and the role of knowledge and evidence in decision-making processes at sub-national level

Interesting times in Italian politics. President Napolitano has assigned the task of forming a new government to Pier Luigi Bersani, the leader of the Democratic Party Italy\’s leading center-left party which in this month (i.e.March) election secured a majority in the Chamber of Deputies but not in the Senate. A new government requires the vote of the majority of parliamentarians in both chambers. Post-election alliances, particularly in the Senate, seem very difficult if not impossible. Mr Bersani’s Partito Democratico has said for months that they will never ally with the Popolo della Libertà the party of Mr Berlusconi. Mr. Berlusconi is calling for a German-style Große Koalition and, at the same time, for new elections. The central Christian-liberal coalition of parties lead by Prof. Mario Monti (who by the way is still Italian Prime Minister) has disappeared from the news after a poor results in the elections. The big surprise of these elections, Movimento 5 Stelle led by Beppe Grillo, has repeatedly said that they will not ally or vote for any party.

In this typically Italian political turmoil serious problems remain. The economy is flat or in recession, youth unemployment is high, salaries in continue to fall in real terms as they have been doing for the last 10+ years, the population is ageing, companies are closing down by the thousands each months. The right wing newspaper Il Giornale presented data showing that during 2012 almost 364.972 companies were closed and 383.883 opened. Compared to 2011 24.000 more companies have closed and 7.427 less companies have been opened. I am wondering whether in this situation research evidence can have any chance to inform and influence the policy process. Apparently in such a political chaos there seem to be very little room for maneuver for research and evidence. The new government led by Bersani that will hopefully emerge from this crisis will not last the full 5 years of the legislature and will have to focus on few key institutional and structural reforms to stimulate economic growth, stimulate, strengthen safety nets, reduce the number of parliamentarian, change the electoral law, regulate the conflict of interest, develop stronger legislative measures against corruption, etc. (Ansa). For each of the eight points of his agenda, Bersani will need to build a coalition that will enable to pass the legislation and policies. Sometimes the support will come fro the right, Mr Berlusconi, other times from the Movimento 5 Stelle. If he fails Italy will return to vote which will reduce even more the thin trust that the international financial markets have granted Italy. It is a risky strategy, but the only one possible. A strategy which has to rely at each step on difficult negotiations in a highly divided political environment. In this situation there seem to be no space for evidence to inform highly political processes. Evidence just does not seem to be able to have any relevance. Is it so?

Well, while the room for maneuver seem to be very limited in Rome, it may wider far from Rome and the political battles that are unfolding there. In Italy decentralization reforms have gone quite far, though not as far as in Switzerland or a federal state as Germany. The local governance environment has at the top the regions, then provinces and at the lowest level municipalities. At each level there are elected representatives. Each level is responsible to different extent for public services that reach the citizens such as health, education, infrastructures, etc. These three levels are not immune from criticism, scandals and also investigation about corruption and mismanagement of public funds. There is also an ongoing debate as to whether three levels are actually too many and whether provinces could be scraped in favor of a governance structure made of regions and larger municipalities which will save a considerable amount of public money. However, this decentralized environment enables a certain degree of autonomy from the central government and the current crisis. Local administrations and majors, despite the political crisis in Rome, remain accountable to their citizens. They have to take decisions to fund roads’ improvements, strengthen houses and public buildings in seismic areas, they have to decide which costs to cut in their budget and how to balance the budget, they have to look at ways to improve garbage collections, they need to plan for better medical services and many other concrete decision that reach out to their constituencies. Very concrete problems that require decisions which in turn need experts’ opinions, feasibility studies, assessments, and other evidence inputs which reaffirm the relevance of the role of different types of knowledge in decision making processes that have to continue despite the political battles that play out in Rome.

2 thoughts on “The political battles in Rome and the role of knowledge and evidence in decision-making processes at sub-national level”

  1. I am not an expert on Italian politics and governance so this is an interesting read. I am a supporter of more localism especially in areas such as education – to my mind this goes as far as taking it completely out of the hands of national and possibly regional politicians – but I suspect this would be very difficult in terms of funding for the more deprived local areas of Italy.

    1. Hi, thanks for the comment. I think that in the field of evidence-based policy making there is often too much national/central level talk. Development policies sectoral strategies, national think tanks, ministries, and national research institutions. As a colleagues of mine who si based in Nepal said, local government have limited acces to knowledge and expert advice that reaches and often stops in ministries.I believe that the example of the political impasse in Italy shows that evidence-based policy making unfolds in different ways at centrala and sub-national level.

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