Italy is presently making headlines because it is a country where a political party led by a stand-up comedian has just won the largest share of votes to the Chamber of Deputies in a general election (and where, some may posit, another stand-up comedian who happens to be a longstanding statesman is also polling strongly). But the backdrop of these elections continually looms over the polling figures: the Italian economy, Europe’s largest as recently at the early 1990s and still a key eurozone and G7 member, is faltering. Austerity measures forced through by the mysterious technocrat ‘Super’ Mario Monti have not delivered the promised land of fiscal respectability, and any entity wanting to push through stimulus measures or even leave the euro may find its path blocked by the twin towers of massive extant public indebtedness and a near-certain currency war.
How this hotly-contested election (or a potential re-run later this year) will pan out is anyone’s guess. But one barometer of one of the few potential sources of authentic growth for Italy makes for ominous reading. As the Financial Times reported in its recent article with a self-explanatory title – Immigrants abandoning recession-hit Italy (6th January 2013) – both relatively and absolutely recent arrivals to the boot-shaped nation are packing their bags prontissimo. The reasons behind their departure are telling, and comprise a sobering warning to other EU economies which forget the immense value that migrants bring to their economies – not to mention their societies – that in an era of unparalleled economic globalisation and flattening, people – migrants included – increasingly have options:
1. What’s a Job Again? ‘No business and no work. It is a terrible situation.’ This is the refrain that characterises the situation faced by huge numbers of agents in the Italian economy. Living in a First World country may have little meaning if there is no way to make a living – and immigrants to Italy from rapidly-developing nations such as China are cutting their losses and heading back to Asia.
2. Fighting them on the Beaches. In recent years, Italy has become synonymous with a crude racism that is not befitting of a land that has traditionally been an important mediator between Europe and the exotic East. Ignoring dead Roma girls whilst sunbathing, treating African-heritage footballers as subhuman and exhibiting visceral hostility to Yugoslavs, Albanians and Maghrebians are just a few examples of this trend. But immigrants are well aware of how they are perceived. As many as 800,000 of them may have left Italy in recent years without cancelling their household registration, meaning they are still officially in the country; these ‘ghosts’ may haunt the Italian peninsula for many years to come.