Modernizing Italy against all odds

This is one of the main issues of the Italian elections on September 25: the implementation of the European recovery plan adopted by Brussels in 2021. The windfall the EU has promised Italy is substantial: 220 billion euros. For Rome, this is an extraordinary opportunity to stop the country on its 21st-century rails, especially in the south, which suffers from the slow growth that is undermining the basis of the third European economy.

The Mezzogiorno will be allocated 40% of European funding to digitize its administrations, build a public transport network worthy of the name, allow ecological change that creates jobs, and modernize outdated infrastructure. It is a European turning point for which Italy owes a lot to Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, and above all to Mario Draghi. A former president of the European Central Bank and the outgoing head of the Italian government, the latter is better than anyone for a shift in European policy to the south. A long-time supporter of austerity, he saw that Italy’s integration and the EU’s a fortiori could only be strengthened by helping less dynamic areas to create the conditions for economic, social and environmental renewal.

Although many investment projects are already planned, the most difficult to do is: the implementation of the Italian National Recovery and Resilience Program (PNRR). Obstacles abound. Starting with the ability of public administrations to oversee the process of delivering projects and control their implementation. This is a huge challenge. In the South, these administrations suffer from severe quantitative and qualitative shortages in human resources. This scenario is exacerbated by the very short deadline (2026) for completing the PNRR. It is important to simplify bureaucracy without opening the door to mafias, who are always under surveillance when such sums are at stake.

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Italy and the Mezzogiorno must win. The country’s growth and its ability to reduce its budget deficit depend on the success of the recovery plan. But it would be wrong to think that it depends only on PNRR. Italy must continue to pursue prudent national policies and use other European funds wisely. Rome’s credibility is at stake, but Brussels has accepted the challenge of conducting a coherent policy to make Europe more coherent. Finally, there is the threat of Fratelli d’Italia. The far-right party led by Georgia Meloni leads the polls. Europhobic, he may want to renegotiate with Brussels at the risk of opening Pandora’s box.

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