Sunday, November 11
I attended an excellent presentation by a remarkable man who definitely deserves to be in the position he is. A lawyer graduating at 22, a judge and President of Italy’s Antitrust, Antonio Catricalà gives one faith that the system is working [he was since pegged to be a part of the 'technical govt - Monti's cabinet] As he described many of the inroads the government is making in tackling a number of issues, from the cost of bread & pasta to the sale of Alitalia—all of which affect the economy on many different levels – things certainly are moving.
Italy these days, besides the delightful place it is to visit, is known as the sick man of Europe, making it a bit more difficult for those who actually live here. Even Portugal is surpassing it in growth and jobs and all those good things that determine the health of a country. And, while Italy still grows, compared to its European brethren, there are some glaring issues which need to be fixed and fast.
In his off-the-cuff presentation, Antonio Catricalà discussed two things that Italy lacks, and needs to improve, for the vitality of the country: foreign investment and more gas in the engine—in the true sense of the word. Italy depends on outside sources for all its natural gas needs, and, by two not-so-democratic nations providing it as well; Algeria & Russia. If anyone remembers the (unrelated) nationwide blackout caused by a tree falling in Switzerand, well, you can well imagine one small hiccup over there, and everything could just come to a sudden (and not a grinding) halt over here.
During the Q&A session, we also heard a few views about the importance of somehow releasing the stranglehold that the unions have on much of its industry, especially in terms of job flexibility and pensions and all those good things, especially when discussing Alitalia,(my biggest pet peave), but more on that later.
It may come as a surprise to many, but Italy actually attracts very little foreign investment, despite it supposedly being open for business. That is, according to Mr. Catricalà, somewhat due to negative portrayals in the media (and I wonder if that includes yours truly), but, I suspect it has a whole lot more to do with the reams and reams of red tape, payoffs, politicians, lack of steady government, the labor laws, the sheer expense of hiring & firing, and, not least important, the exorbitant tax rates for business, and all those other things that get people running to England and Ireland, and even Poland to set up shop.
When Alitalia (which, according to this writer should have been shut down about 37 years ago) was brought up (by guess who?), Mr. Catricalà’s response was an unfortunate, ‘Hey, this is Italy…business as usual”. They would never allow the takeover by a foreign enterprise really (so much for attracting foreign investment), they are held hostage by the unions, and Air One, that stellar national carrier, would not be allowed to take it over, due to of course, monopoly power. That said, Alitalia will keep on flying, keep losing money, and keep on going, at the expense of the Italian taxpayers.
It behooves me to think that Mr. Catricalà actually related that, the opening of Malpensa (appropriately named, if you ask me) in Milano is crippling the carrier. Finally, the north had an int’l airport to/from Milan, finally, Italians were on the move, business was in the works…and this was a bad thing? While all other successful carriers vie to win slots around the world, only Alitalia would have trouble making an expansion to an airport 1 hour’s flight away into a financial disaster. And that’s due to the unions and the cost of flying the teams in & out of that completely impossible place, located somewhere akin to Western Siberia.
With regard to women in the workplace, I felt he simply paid lip service to the fact that women workers hold up one half (or more) of the sky. And, he reiterated the needs for day care and other services. But, I’ll cut him some slack as it was not his department.
In the meantime, in view of the October Sting of bread and pasta prices going through the roof, and the fact that his Dept is looking into cartel pricing, well, I applaud our dear presenter, and wish him a heartfelt In Bocca al Lupo! He’ll need it.