Following on from Berlusconi’s recent re-positioning of Italy as a developing country, aligning itself not with the industrial giants of Britain, France and Germany in relation to the EU’s 20-20-20 Climate Change initiative but with countries like Poland (and a further 8 nations which have yet to be named), there is speculation* that Italy, troubled by the credit crunch and a crippling public debt, will soon decide to forego membership of the G8.
It’s a move that would save the treasury an estimated €250 million1 directly next year by cancelling Italy’s hosting of a costly summitt, allowing the government to concentrate its attention and finances on more important matters like the continuing rescue operation for Alitalia, or (though far less likely) reversingthe hugely unpopular cuts announced recently for schools and universities (over 87,000 teachers to be let go over the next five years).
That €250 million would be a mere drop in the ocean compared to savings that could be made by a reduction in military spending. In 2004, according to analysts Italy spent €28 billion on its military – only topped by its G8 colleagues. Italy spent more than nations like India, Pakistan, and Israel – all of which face more imminent military threats (though admittedly Italy has to be on constant guard against expansionist neighbours like the Vatican).
Its mediterranean neighbours Spain and Greece spent under half that amount on their military – suggesting that the main reason for Italy’s huge spending is simply to keep it in the G8 club. A ‘keeping up with the Bushes’ syndrome, as it were. Or perhaps it’s an actual requirement for joining the G8 – given that entry and exclusion criteria for this unofficial body remain unclear. Either way, taking a step backwards would allow Italy to release funds to maintain their domestic and international obligations, both of which are under threat in these penny-pinching times (Italy claims it can’t afford to maintain its obligations under the Kyoto treaty and also – prior to the credit crisis- announced reductions in its already small foreign aid budget).
Aside from the budgetary concerns, Italy’s foregoing of the G8 would be a welcome symbolic gesture. A humble gesture admitting that until responsibility has been fully assumed politically for the police operation at the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, that saw scores of innocent demonstrators rounded up by police into the temporary detention centre at the Diaz school, where they were subjected to beatings, threats of rape, fascist chants, and cruel and degrading treatment by the police (to the extent that the then head of the crowd-control unit at Genoa, Michelangelo Fournier, described the scene as resembling a ‘mexican slaughterhouse’3), Italy is not in the financial or moral position to hold such an international meeting.
* “Satire is often strictly defined as a literary genre or form; although, in practice, it is also found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, human or individual vices, follies, abuses, or shortcomings are held up to censure by means of ridicule, derision, burlesque,irony, or other methods, ideally with the intent to bring about improvement. Although satire is usually meant to be funny, the purpose of satire is not primarily humour in itself so much as an attack on something of which the author strongly disapproves, using the weapon of wit.” – Wikipedia
1. Costs for the Japanese summit this year are estimated at £285 million, while costs for the UK summit held three years ago were around £100 million. The major part of the Japanese costs are due to policing and security bills. Given Italy’s ‘problems’ at their last held summit in Genoa, it’s reasonable to assume a large security bill, that would put the costs in between the UK and Japanese figures at £200million.