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Walter Veltroni: projecting Italy as the ‘hub’ of neoliberal Europe

Walter Veltroni is the main centre-left challenger to Berlusconi in Italy's general election. As leader of the Democratic Party, he rejects local and social movement campaigns in territorial autonomy and favours making Italy a military and industrial 'hub', writes Enzo Mangini

April 13, 2008
4 min read

Ten pillars, twelve actions to be implemented immediately, and a green bus to spread the word travelling across Italy’s 110 provinces – these are the numbers behind the electoral campaign of Walter Veltroni, former mayor of Rome and leader of the recently formed Democratic Party (Partito Democratico, PD). Veltroni is challenging Silvio Berlusconi in the general election of 13 and 14 April. After the fall of Romano Prodi’s centre-left coalition, Veltroni has led an aggressive campaign to erode the allegedly enormous lead that Berlusconi started with in opinion polls. To do so, Veltroni chose to shrink the ponderous 280-page programme which Prodi’s coalition presented to voters two years ago to a mere 20-page folder, available in slides on PD’s appealing website.

It is a chilling read. Veltroni not only stresses ‘security first’ but, when he outlines his programme for economic growth, he also shows no sign of listening to the social movements that have emerged in the recent years as the only effective force in Italy against the neoliberal wave. Italy’s territory is awash with projects: new highways, high speed rail lines, power plants, oil drilling, liquefied natural gas plants, logistic hubs and so on. The list could suit a post-war reconstruction effort. Yet, for any entry in this shopping list there’s a citizens’ committee, a network, a grassroots movement fighting against it. From the stubborn dwellers of the Susa Valley, near Turin, who have effectively stopped the high-speed rail project, to the bottom of Sicily, where oil drilling projects were equally halted, territorial ‘self-defence’ appears as a new political ground for social movements. Most of these movements are local in the geographical sense only. All of them connect their local issue with a broader picture in which ‘post-development’ often merges with a radical critique of ‘representative democracy’ Italian style.

Veltroni’s bus, albeit green, is set on a collision course with all this. In the twenty months of the Prodi government, it became clear that the scions of the grand Italian leftist tradition have diminished the materialist aspect of society to a pragmatic economic and political agenda. The key word here is ‘hub’: Italy’s position in the Mediterranean, they say, should be the launching pad to transform the country into a hub: from here, goods from Asia, oil and gas from Middle East and Africa can be distributed throughout Europe. The new US bases in Vicenza (Northern Italy) and the enlargement of the US Navy base in Sigonella (Sicily) show the other side of the hub: a military platform from which to project into the same geographical space of ‘incoming entries’ the muscular strength of Nato and future EU warfare tools. In Veltroni’s jargon, this policy has become: ‘Strengthening friendship with the USA’ and an ‘Increased international role for Italy inside the European framework’. Pacifist movements in Italy are already on the alert. On other issues – including sexual discrimination, migrants’ rights, and same sex couples’ rights – Veltroni’s course is ambiguous. He knows he cannot entirely drop this baggage from his bus, but he knows he cannot stress it too much: it would frighten Catholic voters and an increasingly insecure leftist middle class.

The electoral campaign started a bit too early for Veltroni. He wanted to complete his second mandate as mayor of Rome. But the last two years as the capital’s first citizen showed how seriously his programme should be taken. He was spineless toward the undue intrusions of the Vatican and very vocal – and active too – against the ‘perceived security threats’: Romas (gypsies), writers (graffiti), street sellers, migrants… A lot of social movements and NGOs criticised his approach as ‘wrong’. It is becoming increasingly clear that it was not an error but a careful plan.

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