The last special issue of this journal dedicated to Italian politics was published ten years ago (Bull and Rhodes 1997a). At that point, the dramatic changes which had brought about the effective removal of a political class and the transformation of the party system were only five or so years in the making. The first half of the 1990s had been subject to a flood of literature (both academic and journalistic) that principally aimed at explaining why a transformation, if not ‘revolution’, in Italian politics had occurred, and where the Italian polity was now headed. The focus of this literature was therefore on ‘crisis’ (the early 1990s) and ‘transition’ (what followed and where and how it was likely to finish). The 1997 special issue of West European Politics inevitably adopted those

two themes as well – as is apparent from its title – but at the same time tried to render their interpretation more complex than was typically the case at the time (Bull and Rhodes 1997b). Contrary to the drift of many comparative analyses of Italy in the previous two decades, we argued that the distinctive, if not unique, nature of the crisis suggested that Italy’s post-war development, however ‘comparable’ (or made to be comparable) with

other nation states, contained a combination of elements which marked it out. By contrast with other Mediterranean countries – Spain, Greece and

Portugal – Italy became a (relatively stable) democracy soon after the end of the Second World War; it joined with the other members of the original ‘six’ in founding the European Community in the 1950s; and it experienced rapid, if highly uneven, economic growth and modernisation. But it also retained features common to the ‘southern type’ of politics – described by Sapelli (1995: 18) as ‘collusion, a lack of sense of state and the ubiquity of clannish parties’ with a weak embrace of the Weberian concept of ‘belief in law’ – as well as distinctive Italian expressions of that ‘type’: the political and economic dualism between the north and south; strong regional identities that unification after the 1860s had failed to erase; the political dominance of a single centrist party (the Christian Democrats) and its allies (‘bargained pluralism’ to use Vassallo’s term – this volume), and their systematic colonisation of the state machine; the exclusion of the second largest political party (and culture) from national power for 50 years; and the routinisation of ‘illicit governance’ based on extensive networks of clientelistic or corrupt ‘hidden exchange’ spanning the political parties, public administration and public sector. The combination of these features produced a form of ‘blocked’, ‘incomplete’ and poorly performing democracy. Thus, if Italy escaped the long periods of post-war authoritarian rule and

delayed modernisation that afflicted its southern European neighbours, it could not fully escape their shared legacies: the acute ideological divisions that crushed both liberalism and social democracy between communism and fascism in the 1920s and 1930s; the democratic inexperience bequeathed by long years of dictatorship; the persistence of a large, peasant-based, relatively poor agricultural economy, alongside pockets of industrialisation; and the consequent ‘entrapment’ of modernising political and economic elites in the webs (norms, values and networks) of a still largely traditional society. In 1997, we argued therefore that the dramatic crisis of the early 1990s –

characterised by the breakdown of formal political parties and alliances and to some extent the informal networks that underpinned them – was a ‘conjunctural’ expression of a much deeper seismic shift: in the political class and the party system it had created to contain the country’s numerous ideological anime; in an economy that had delayed adjustment for decades with repetitive devaluations, and accumulated, instead, extensive rigidities in both product and labour markets; and in the institutions of the state that had been hijacked by clannish parties for particularist gains, thus undermining the provision of public goods. By the 1990s, Italy’s model of ‘modernisation without development’ was being challenged both from within (a growing frustration with the recycling of politicians within the permanent pentapartito, or five-party, governing coalition; mounting

opposition to organised crime and extensive corruption, and the complicity therein of powerful politicians; and discontent with the dysfunctional taxation, public spending and welfare systems); as well as from without (Europeanisation, and specifically market liberalization and Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), as well as the post-Bretton Woods internationalisation of finance, production and trade). Consequently, the apparent or real overhaul of parties and political

alliances that accompanied the tangentopoli corruption scandals was a critical moment to be sure; but in and of itself it could not have resolved the crisis. Rather, it changed the guard – which had been part agent and part victim of the system’s problems – and raised the prospect that a new modernising political class might emerge to manage the structural crisis and steward a wider-reaching process of reform. Of course, the inevitable path dependence of institutional structures and

the large number of veto points in a political system such as Italy’s ruled out the rapid change the world has only ever really seen in ‘elected dictatorships’ (to borrow Lord Hailsham’s comment on Britain), i.e. the strongest majoritarian democracies. But the indications were that, under pressure from Europe, and freed from the consociational stranglehold of Christian democracy and its liberal, socialist and social democratic allies, Italy might just be undergoing a ‘Copernican revolution’, as economist Michele Salvati (1997) put it at the time. Indeed, within a very short time, the balance of political power seemed to shift quite profoundly, with ex-communists, who had always been excluded from power, sharing government with exChristian democrats, and their former nemeses left to wander the political wilderness. Simultaneously, the veto players that had hitherto paralysed the country’s economic system were now cooperating to transform sclerotic labour markets, collective bargaining arrangements and the pensions system, promising ultimately a thorough-going overhaul of Italy’s system of socio-economic governance; public deficits were being reined in and public finances rationalised under pressure from EMU; a reform of the state bureaucracy had been unleashed; and corruption and organised crime were both being tackled by a zealous new generation of magistrates. Completing their final drafts shortly after the election of the Prodi

government in 1996, the authors of the various chapters in the 1997 special issue tried to evaluate those changes in the prism of longer-term developments, detecting real change in some sectors of the political system but stagnation in others. A decade later, it is clearly time for a review of the significance of those changes, principally for two reasons. First, it is easy to forget how ‘close’ we as authors were to the con-

junctural crisis unleashed in the early 1990s, how the energies and optimism of the period coloured our perceptions of Italy’s apparently ongoing transition and how premature even our most cautious judgements were regarding the potential for an ‘end-point’ when the country would return to ‘normalcy’ after half a century of ‘idiosyncratic’, ‘incomplete’ democracy.

In 1996 there remained many issues visibly on the agenda whose future development would clearly be important but could not be easily predicted. In addition, since that date there have been several developments which were not so easily foreseen. For example, there was no surety that the party system had, at that point, stabilised into two broad coalitions and, if it had, it was not obvious how or to what extent political parties would reduce their numbers within them; with Berlusconi’s electoral defeat in 1996, it was difficult to know whether or not one of the most controversial politicians of the post-war era would survive politically, and, if he did, what impact this would have on key issues such as the media and the role of the judiciary. Italy had not, at that point, joined the EMU, an event which would have a fundamental influence on the future of the economy. The Bicameral Commission on Constitutional Reform had not completed its course. It was unclear how Italy would respond to the new challenges in the global economy. Large-scale migration to Italy from the Third World had yet to begin, and the ‘international dimension’ remained, at that point, the collapse of communism, there being little or no awareness of how the dynamics of inter-state relations would develop in the post-Cold War era, let alone that the major new threat would come from non-state actors driven by religious extremism. These few examples illustrate the magnitude of contextual change which has occurred in the past decade, and suggest that, if the events of the early 1990s reflected the first shocks from movement in the deep-seated fault lines in the Italian system, then the following decade has seen not just a series of aftershocks, but also – and inevitably – the appearance of new challenges that a system still in transition has had to accommodate. The second reason is a more imprecise ‘change in mood’ and outlook

regarding future Italian development. The notion of ‘crisis and transition’ popularly symbolised the state of Italian politics in the 1990s and its likely future trajectory: there was a ‘crisis’ of the old order, which would be followed by a ‘transition’ to a new one (however indistinct these two as separate phases might be). This transition between a First and a Second Republic (however broadly or narrowly these might be defined) would or should result in an improvement in the quality and performance of Italian democracy. Much of the debate in the literature, therefore, was focused on the ‘transition’, what would be necessary to bring it to a close and what its likely outcome would be. In the early to mid-1990s there was a good deal of optimism and expectation about that outcome – despite the presence of several dark clouds. Ten years later that climate has changed, and it is fair to speak of a feeling of dashed expectations. The much-vaunted ‘Second Republic’ has clearly not arrived, even if the ‘First’ is apparently clearly no longer with us (though see our conclusion in this regard below). In fact, where the 1997 special issue of West European Politics flirted with

scientific prediction (or studious speculation) at all, it also sought to avoid the dangers of that dichotomous framework. The more complex perspective

we adopted for analysing the ‘crisis and transition’ led us to portray three possible scenarios for the future: first, an increasing resort to governments of a technical nature (along the lines of the Dini and Ciampi governments of the 1990s); second, a veritable transition to a new Republic through fundamental constitutional reform; and, third, a gradual ‘normalisation’ of Italian politics without recourse to technicians or constitutional reform (Bull and Rhodes 1997b: 12-13). Having indicated the unlikelihood of the first two occurring, we argued that the achievement of the third (‘normalisation’) was highly dependent, amongst other things, on the actions and behaviour of the political class. In short, while ‘transition’ might have been a suitable and popularly used word to express the dramatic levels of political change (especially that at the ‘conjunctural’ level) during the 1990s, it did not really provide a suitable framework for analysis of that period, suggesting as it did an outcome (constitutional reform and a new Republic) that remained uncertain. Not only were such approaches reductionist, but they proceeded on an assumption that the first half of the 1990s constituted a form of ‘revolution’ that had to be explained tout court, and which could somehow be ‘completed’ by the installation of a new Constitution. ‘Normalisation’, on the other hand, in being less clear, seemed to hold out the possibility of a continuing process of uneven political change, where different sectors changed or modernised to different degrees, and where different degrees of exogenous and endogenous pressure for change were felt, as well as different degrees of resistance to change. Ten years on, we can see the wisdom of having rejected the likelihood of a

rapid achievement of a new and stable equilibrium so quickly after the convulsions of a few years earlier. Thus, there has been no further recourse to technical government, and (despite two significant attempts) there has been no constitutional reform – or at least none of a sufficiently comprehensive nature to merit claims of a change of regime. Yet, it has also to be said that the notion of ‘normalisation’ was not unproblematic in that it still assumed that the key features of the past 50 years of Italian politics were in some respect ‘abnormal’ and that the country was somehow en route to something quite different – a future where the ‘flaws’ of the system (corrupt and clannish politics, fragmented and querulous interest groups, an inefficient bureaucracy, the insufficiency of public goods and what de Cecco (this volume) calls a ‘dysfunctional economy’) would all be repaired. In any case, ‘normalcy’ is very much in the eyes of the beholder. An exile from a failed state such as Somalia, or even a member of the modernising Greek elite, would probably look upon Italy with some envy and praise it for its democratic virtues and economic success.1