How the Northern European countries can get Italy to reform. Three recommendations

Oggi TheWalkingDebt ospita un contributo esterno, inaugurando così una pratica che speriamo diventi consuetudine. Confrontarsi, in un momento in cui le difficoltà sembrano insormontabili, è (dovrebbe essere) il viatico per chiunque cerchi soluzioni praticabili. E anche guardarci con gli occhi degli altri fa parte di questo tirocinio. 

Grazie, dunque, a Paul Vanderbroeck*, che ci consegna queste sue riflessioni.

In the Greek crisis, we have seen that a top-down approach with a Troijka can secure loans, but it cannot really get a country back on its feet. Nor has the previous laissez-faire approach yielded a positive result. To reform Italy, European partners must both give direction and set boundaries as well as motivate the country and its people to cooperate.

First, we must become aware of the deeper cultural differences. Northern Europe has an objective culture: the public interest overrides the individual interest, i.e. rules are rules. Italy has a subjective culture: the personal interest overrides the public interest, i.e. rules are flexible. Both have their good and bad sides. In a subjective culture, everyone thinks it’s okay to double park in the absence of a parking space, because you have to buy bread after all. It is something that personally annoys me tremendously in Italy. On the other hand, a scandal like that of the childcare allowances in the Netherlands would be impossible in Italy. In the Netherlands, the tax authorities recently admitted that thousands of parents for years were wrongfully accused of defrauding childcare allowances. They were forced to repay tens of thousands of Euros. It resulted in financial ruin for some families, divorces, and even some suicides. In the Netherlands, civil servants have a blind faith in rules and therefore can cause personal hardship. An Italian official will always have an eye for personal interests and individual differences.
Therefore: present the Italians rules in such a way that there is room to bend the rules and apply them differently. This increases the chance of acceptance and thus of repayment of loans.

Secondly, an approach that focuses on “do like you” and not “do like us”. There are a number of organizations in Italy that are doing very well. Italy can be helped to spread these best practices and a successful organizational culture across the country. Three examples: The various car sharing options function very efficiently in the larger cities. The speed, frequency and reliability of high-speed trains are unparalleled within Europe. The Carabinieri, despite a bad apple in its time, are extremely successful in fighting organized crime and terrorism. In addition, Italians can be very productive. This can be seen in how they deal with the Corona crisis. But you can observe it every day. McDonalds delivers fast, Starbucks (to a certain extent) delivers good quality. Go to an Italian bar during rush hour: it serves fast and good coffee. This all has to do with organizational culture, which is based on pride for the delivered product, people-to-people contact and a motivation for service.

The third recommendation is to motivate political counterparts to reform. It is difficult for the current Italian government to be self-critical. There are a number of issues for which the EU is not to blame, but which aggravate the Corona crisis in Italy. Under the guise of urgency and national unity, no one mentions them. Many excellent and desperately needed Italian doctors, nurses and scientists have emigrated. This is largely the result of a rigid system in Italy, which withholds opportunities from talented individuals. Or what about those millions of workers in the black economy of southern Italy, who are now without income and will be receiving support from the state treasury without ever having paid a Euro in tax or social contributions? However, it is quite likely that the government will be paying the price for this at the next election.

For the previous government, consisting of newcomers Lega and 5-Stelle, is was easier to admit that there are some things wrong in Italy. They could claim with some justification that they had inherited a mess from their establishment predecessors. The current coalition now includes the Partito Democratico, Italy’s last remaining establishment party. It is difficult for this party to own up to past failures. The lever that Europe has is to convince the current coalition that if they want to stay in power, reforms are inevitable.

Northern Europe can get Italy to reform with conditions that allow for subjective application, an action plan that leverages the strengths of Italian organizational culture, and a deal that takes into account the personal interests of the coalition government.

By helping Italy make more use of its strengths, it can recover, so that the rest of Europe can retain a strong economic partner. And so that the northern part of the continent can continue to learn from Italy: from its creativity, its culture and how you can have fun without a lot of alcohol.

Dr. Paul Vanderbroeck has Dutch and Swiss nationality. He is an Executive Coach and has spent a lot of time in Italy during the past four years.



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