In March 2018 Italy will hold a general election in order to form a new government and parliament. The main challenge is expected to be between the ‘populist’ Five Star Movement and the centre-right coalition. While the former, according to most polls, is likely to be the winning party, the latter will get more parliamentary seats. The two have very different programmes and ideas on how to run the country. Five Star in particular presents itself as an anti-system party, promising radical and controversial reforms, especially in terms of moral conduct.


Still, regardless of who wins, there is unlikely to be any decisive change towards solving the country’s problems. And Italy’s core problems lie in its social and political structure, something that is more difficult to solve by ordinary policies. These problems have existed for decades and the next couple of years do not promise to be any different. Metaphorically, Italy is like a house with a low-quality basement. You can fix the roof, the walls, and even the rooms inside. But it will remain an unstable and weak building because of its weak foundation.

The basement in question is Italy’s feeble political and cultural unity, reflected by its fragmented and weak state. In fact, Italy has neither a developed sense of community nor sound political institutions capable of efficiently running the country. The consequences of these shortcomings are manifold, but the growth of corruption and crime gangs is probably among the most apparent.

The strong presence of the Mafia affects negatively on the whole nation. This feeds corruption, bad governance, petty criminality and limited economic growth. According to Transparency International, in 2016 Italy was 60th in the corruption perception index, and last in the EU after Greece and Bulgaria. What’s worse, the presence of such powerful crime organizations undermines and weakens the state’s legitimacy and efficiency, forcing it to seek some kind of ‘compromise’ with them.

Because of the endemic divisions within Italian society, existing governments are usually unstable and rarely last until the end of their mandate. Since 1946 when the Republic of Italy was founded, only the Berlusconi government in 2001-2006 managed to partly last. This chronic instability is mainly due to a wide dispersion of votes amongst the various parties, making it more difficult for the ruling party to get an absolute majority and stay in power.

However, the most striking rift within the country is between its rich and developed north as opposed to a poorer and backward south. This split is as old as the formation of the country back in 1861 and influences just about every aspect of society, from the economy to culture and politics. So far little progress has been made in closing the gap, which seems to be getting bigger and fostering independence movements, political fragmentation and preventing Italy from efficiently utilising all of its economic and human resources.

Italy is a nation with a rich and ancient culture. It is inspirational and full of talent. Potentially, it has everything to be one of the most successful countries in the world. Nonetheless, its problems with corruption, the power of the Mafia and persistent political instability as well as geographical divisions, are issues too embedded in Italian society to be solved with a few legislatures.

For young Italians, at the moment, the choice seems to remain the same: move abroad or stay in the country struggling in the attempt to succeed at improving things.