Bill Emmott

Bill Emmott

Thu 18 Nov 2010 1:00 AM

Today he is an
independent writer and consultant on international affairs, based in
London and Somerset, and writes regular columns for The
Times in Britain and La
Stampa in Italy.  He is best known
for having served as editor-in-chief of The
Economist, the world’s leading weekly
magazine on current affairs and business, from 1993 to 2006. In 2001,
Bill Emmott ( became famous in Italy for a cover
story he ran in The Economist,
bearing the title ‘Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy.’
The story gained Emmott many friends and foes here. While Italian
journalists (and leftists) praised him and his work, making him the
first non-Italian to win the prestigious È giornalismo (‘This is
journalism’) award in 2003, Berlusconi slapped him with a few
defamation suits for the exposés. The author of 12 books, Emmott’s
latest takes another bold look at Italy. Published by Rizzoli, Forza,
Italia: Come ripartire dopo Berlusconi is the result of Emmott’s journey through Italy to find ‘La Buona
Italia,’ distinct from ‘La Mala Italia,’ and analyze what can
be done to unleash more of the good in the post-Berlusconi era. From
Sandro Pertini and his Slow Food movement to the anti-mafia struggle
in Southern Italy, from Puglia’s gay, Catholic and self-declared
communist president, Nichi Vendola, to a group of young,
up-and-coming politicians and professionals with lots of enthusiasm
and a few good ideas: these are some of many reasons Emmott says
Italy should look to the future with hope. TF had the pleasure of
talking  politics with Emmott the day after he spoke at Mayor
Renzi’s political gathering, Prossima Fermata Italia, which ran
from November 5 to 7 at the Stazione Leopolda.



Tell me about your
book. What led you to write a book on Italy?


Well, nine years ago
I put a cover on The Economist saying that Berlusoni was unfit to lead Italy. Before that, I didn’t
know much about Italy, really. In reality, that was the first of ever
intensifying contact with Italy because then we carried the campaign
on two years later in another big cover-page investigation. When I
left The Economist in 2006-I was there for 13 years and I thought it was time to move
on-I said that I was leaving to write books. In that period I had
just finished a book on Asia, and I began writing occasional
editorials in Corriere della Sera and continued my contact with Italy. This is when I started to
seriously think about the book. At the time, the most common books on
Italy (and nowadays also the most boring) were books on Silvio
Berlusconi. However, it’s all been said already; he’s made his
life a completely open book, an open show, so there’s not really
much left to say. I thought it would be more interesting to look at
Italy, and in particular its positive aspects to see what strengths
could be released and exploited in the future, in a spirit of



Indeed, yours is a
totally new view on Italy.


Most foreigners and
journalists who write about Italy are negative, and all economists,
whether Italian or foreign, who write about Italy tend to be negative
and talk about decline and how to deal with it. Instead, I wanted to
look at the positive. Really, my book is both positive and negative,
yet is focuses on  the positive as a way to form an argument for
a liberal agenda. The message is that it’s not all hopeless, though
it would be if Italy didn’t do anything. Another premise of the
book was taken in view of the 150th anniversary of Italy: what would
a modern day Cavour think, what would he do to start a spirit of
change, of modern revival? The book was also shaped by having met a
group people from an informal network of young professionals who
launch initiatives on best practices, called Rete per l’Eccellenza
Nazionale (
They were a great help.



So, is it is a book
about ‘good’ versus ‘bad’?


My initial intention was
to look just at the positive, but I learnt that the good and bad
Italy are, at times, the same people, the same organizations and the
same barriers, and thus inseparable. I thought it would be useful to
analyse Italy from this point of view, taking into account the good
and bad. The real idea is not to produce a revolution overnight or
reform the country from top to bottom, but rather shift the mind back
towards the good, and find ways to tilt the balance. It is more a
question of starting again.



How can Italy shift
the balance?


I think that it has a lot
to do with liberation, liberalising. I think the lack thereof is
often the result of old privileges and old protections, and
restricted practises that make everything ossified. I think that in a
non-pejorative way, one can describe Italy as being in some ways a
rather feudal society; by feudal I mean in the sense of exchanged
obligations-up, down and sideways obligations that bind people
toghether. What the country needs is more ‘flexible feudalism’ to
ensure that the system keeps renewing itself. Italy is unusual;
indeed, it is quite similar to Japan in terms of income being very
clearly related to age: this suggests that you don’t have
meritocracy. I think that, very often, this needs to be challenged,
especially by the young, in order to increase the amount of
competition and validity in a society.



The older
generations don’t seem be loosening their grasp on power in most
aspects of Italian life.


That has almost always
been the case, except in periods of economic boom and growth. Also,
the demography of Italy is different, with a much younger population
now, and the old, who are not letting go, being dominant in numerical
terms. This all makes it very hard to get that flexibilty. 



However, some youth
are shaking things up. This is what brought you to Florence.


Yes, there are some.
[laughs] Particularly, the mayor of Florence, who is 35. I came to
speak at the Prossima Fermata Italia convention, to join the
so-called rottamatori.
I thought it was a very impressive event. Firstly, for the number of
people who engaged with it, who were connected to it through
Facebook; secondly because of how well organized it was. I thought it
was impressively done. There was great pace and lots of variety, with
the mayor reading out messages from the Internet, and lots of people
from different backgrounds speaking. It was very well disciplined,
and even well intentioned; there was nothing offensive about it, nor
was it distructive and negative.



What did you speak
about at the Stazione Leopolda?


The instruction was to
come up with keywords, so I focused on three keywords: optimism and a
positive outlook; openness, because a key agent of change has to be
openness to new things and breaking down barriers; and creation, that
which is needed for any constructive event or action. It very easy to
use events like this to criticize Silvio Berlusconi as he’s
definitely worked hard to make it easy to criticize him. Instead,
what you need is to create your own creative agenda. I also spoke
about the left, dominated by the same actors for years, which also
suffers from rigidity and conservativism.



Do you think the
rottamatori, and particularly the Florence mayor, will be successful
in reviving Italian politics?


Well, it is foolish to
speculate too seriously, but I do think that [Renzi] has a lot of
chances to make it on the national stage if he chooses to. It would,
however, be a shame for Florence. I think he has got the potential;
he’s clearly open minded, a good listener, very dynamic, and
inspiring in his youth. What he needs is a clearer agenda, and I
think he knows this. He also knows that he needs to show that he’s
got substance; he needs credibility to become an alternative to
power. To gain that credibility, he needs allies outside of politics,
such as business people and intellectuals.



See a clip of
Emmott’s speech at the Leopolda at



Prossima Fermata Italia


From November 5 to
7, Florence and its mayor Matteo Renzi hosted a rather unusual
political event. Nicknamed the convention of the rottamatori (the young ‘car scrapers’) who want
to renew the left, the three-day event attracted nearly 7,000
participants and featured a diverse line-up of over 100 speakers
ranging from politicians to students, professionals to seniors. Talks
focused on trust, transparency, hope, justice and freedom. The
centre-left Renzi and Lombardy regional councillor Pippo Civatti,
both politicians with the Partito Democratico, led the national
event, enthusiastically reading out messages received from Facebook
while answering questions from the floor in between speeches. The
goal of the event and the movement is to position Italy as an
important player on the international politcal and economic scene. To
do this, organizers argue, Italy must renew both itself and its
leaders and find modern solutions to the many problems the country
faces. The initiative, seemingly the first of many, ended in the
founding of the Florence Manifesto.


For more see, (in Italian).



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