October 13, 2020

Europe

ITALY: New Restrictions, Usual Policy Lethargy

BY Wolfango Piccoli

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Earlier today (13 October), Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte issued a new decree imposing stricter anti-coronavirus restrictions, including bans on private parties and early closures for bars and restaurants. The new measures came after long negotiations with the regions, as some local governors opposed the new curbs. The move comes as the contagion rate has accelerated over the past few weeks, and the country’s health services are starting to feel the strain. Daily new coronavirus cases doubled last week, topping 5,000 on 9 October for the first time since March and rising close to 6,000 the day after. The daily new cases registered today were 5,901.

Under the new rules, private parties in closed spaces and outdoors are banned, but the measures also include “strong recommendations” against private gatherings at home with more than six people who do not live together. Bars and restaurants will have to close at midnight, while food and drinks cannot be consumed standing outside, starting at 9pm. Also banned are school trips, guided tours, and any contact sports not organized by an association that can maintain social distancing rules. The new decree is valid for 30 days.

Last week, Rome made it mandatory to wear face masks outdoors nationwide and extended the “state of emergency” until 31 January 2021. Also, coronavirus quarantine rules were recently amended, reducing to 10 from 14 days the minimum quarantine period for people who test positive for the virus or have been in contact with COVID-19 patients.

Budget process amid policy inertia

Leaving aside Covid-19 related measures, there is not much else moving on the policy front. Turmoil within the Five Star Movement (M5S), triggered by the party’s performance in the recent regional elections, is a complicating factor for the government. The M5S seems set on a slow but potentially irreversible decline that will limit the government’s room to maneuver and the ability to tackle the country’s deep economic malaise. In the best-case scenario, the planned 7-8 November congress/gathering of the M5S will provide a temporary pause to the intra-party fighting. The Democratic Party (PD), in turn, seems content with talking about “revamping the reform process” – a process that has never taken off. As for PM Conte, his “survival strategy” has been centered for some time on dithering and kicking the can down the road on any potentially contentious issue for the coalition backing his government.

As Italian law does not currently allow for remote voting, the pandemic’s resurgence has also recently affected the working of parliament due to the absence of many lawmakers who were forced into quarantine. Last week, the failure to reach the legal quorum forced the government to postpone the vote on new measures to combat the pandemic.

The update to the Economic and Financial document (NADEF, the framework for the 2021 budget) started its parliamentary process this week. As the mandatory vote on the NADEF is not expected to take place this week, the draft 2021 budget is unlikely to be sent to Brussels by the 15 October deadline. The budgetary process will dominate the parliamentary agenda until the end of the year.

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