Bill Emmott replies to Franco Frattini

posted by Geoff Andrews at Thursday, August 06, 2009

Sir, Franco Frattini (Letters, August 4th) is surely correct to lament the resort to stereotypes when writing about Italy. But, as Italy’s foreign minister, he in turn should avoid trotting out the standard lines laid down by his prime minister about his country's economy when a mere glance at the facts will show them to be utterly false.

Contrary to his claim that Italy “is exhibiting remarkable resilience and vitality during the current global financial and economic crisis”, the International Monetary Fund’s latest forecasts suggest its real gross domestic product will contract this year by 5.1 per cent, with a further (if tiny) contraction in 2010, making it second only to Germany among the European Union’s big economies in terms of economic shrinkage. Forecasts can, of course, turn out to be wrong, but Mr Frattini should note that in 2008, too, Italy had a bad year, suffering a 1 per cent GDP contraction when all the other big European economies managed to grow.

One cannot blame everything on Silvio Berlusconi: even with Viagra, he is not that potent. But perhaps Mr Frattini could let us know how Mr Berlusconi’s “ability to govern the country and address national emergencies” can be squared not just with the latest economic data but also with the comment by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, in its recent survey of Italy, that relative to other rich nations the country “began to fall back quite abruptly after 2000”. Mr Berlusconi has been prime minister for seven of the past nine years.

Bill Emmott,
Dulverton, Somerset, UK