PIAZZA ARMERINA, SICILY-The view from America is that Europe is collapsing economically. Imagine the view from one of the most beautiful and impoverished regions of Italy, a country that embodies the European economic crisis. Welcome to Piazza Armerina, a city of 20,000 in the middle of Sicily.
Piazza has small winding streets with picturesque balconies, a central plaza with delicious ice cream, plentiful coffee shops, and a magnificent cathedral. Perched on a hill, it features views of rural Sicily with sheep, olive groves, orange and lemon orchards, and vineyards.
Despite Piazza's charm, the effects of the economic crisis are evident. Too many unemployed men walk the streets and congregate in plazas. Unemployed women are less visible, since they perform unpaid work at home. Many people face shrinking government pensions, pensions they thought would be there for them when they retired.
On Saturday the Italian Parliament reelected Giorgio Napolitano, its 87-year old president, the first time that Parliament has asked a president to stay for a second seven-year term. No other candidate had sufficient support.
The unemployment rate in Sicily is generally about six percentage points above Italy's average, now 12 percent. Regional data aren't available for 2013, but that adds up to an unemployment rate in the range of 18 percent. In the province of Enna, where Piazza is located, I estimate that the unemployment rate is about 19 percent now, a percentage point higher than Sicily's.
Italy is made up of a multitude of parties, small and large. In the elections in February 2013, no party received a majority, and none managed to join to form a coalition government. A comedian, Beppe Grillo, with his new Five Star party, won 25 percent of the votes on a platform of returning to the lira and throwing out the establishment.
The newly re-elected President Napolitano has the power to dissolve Parliament and call elections. No one knows if, or when, he will...
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