World Economy

Unemployment, Crime Choking South Italy

Unemployment, Crime Choking South ItalyUnemployment, Crime Choking South Italy

The territory south of Rome, that includes many of Italy’s most enchanting places, in Sicily, Puglia and Campania, is fading away; choked by corruption, its economy mired in recession and its communities corroded by unemployment. The birth rate is at the lowest in history; you might say the beautiful south is dying.

Everyone agrees that southern Italy has a problem. But no one seems able to solve it–and time is running out, Yahoo reported.

Tourists flock there for the food, climate and scenery. But young locals, faced with 75% youth unemployment, are buying one-way tickets to London and Berlin.

Later this month, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi will launch his Democratic Party’s “master plan” to resuscitate the south, often called Il Mezzogiorno. It can’t come a moment too soon.

Renzi’s infrastructure minister and right-hand man Graziano Delrio has signaled that the government will boost investment in agriculture, manufacturing and tourism–the latter being the southern region’s most obvious strength.

Even some in Renzi’s own party, though, are saying the measures will be too little, too late. Francesco Boccia, a Pugliese MP and economist, claimed that the Renzi government had in the past two years snatched €3.5 billion ($4 billion) earmarked for investment in the south in order to fund tax breaks for employers across Italy as part of plans to add flexibility to the labor market. “This was money that was meant for the south of Italy. It didn’t go there,” he said.

But, in a recent interview, Delrio said: “What is lacking is not the money, but the efficiency with which the projects are executed, and in this respect there are delays and difficulties.” He said a new body, the Agency for National Cohesion, would help put that right.

Boccia is not convinced by the ability of the agency to make a difference, given that the organization itself is behind schedule. “It’s supposed to have been working since 2013 and so far it’s done nothing. So in a sense it’s already a flop,” he said.

Michele D’Ercole, the agency official with special responsibility for southern regions, said the organization had been recruiting the right staff. He said it would soon be channeling investment where it was needed and checking progress in the south’s economy. “By measuring, for example, the amount of new rail track and tramlines, we can show if there have been improvements to transport,” he added.

Some observers, however, say no amount of investment is going to make a difference unless inroads are made against organized crime. “The number one problem is the absence of the state,” said Francesco Giavazzi, professor of economics at Bocconi University. “Calabria is particularly bad. It’s like a lost region.”