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ECONOMY

Why has Italy been named ‘country of the year’ for 2021′?

Italy has been crowned the 'country of the year' by The Economist. Here's what this means and why the country took the top spot.

Italy has been named country of the year for 2021.
Italy has been named country of the year for 2021. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

2021 has been nothing short of momentous for Italy – from winning the European cup to triumphing in the Eurovision song contest and claiming gold in the Olympics, the country has repeatedly stood out for its global achievements this year.

However, these aren’t the reasons Italy has been named ‘country of the year’ by global news magazine The Economist.

Instead, it’s taken first place for its politics.

READ ALSO:  ‘Do Italy just win everything now?’: Celebrations after Italian athletes take Olympic gold

“The Economist has often criticised Italy for picking leaders, such as Silvio Berlusconi, who could usefully have followed the Eurovision-winning song’s admonition to ‘shut up and behave‘,” writes the publication.

“Because of weak governance, Italians were poorer in 2019 than they had been in 2000. Yet this year, Italy changed,” it added.

It attributes Italy’s newfound economical success to the country’s leader since February 2021, Mario Draghi, who it described as “a competent, internationally respected prime minister”.

One distinguishing feature of Draghi’s success is said to be the national recovery and resilience plan, backed by EU funds.

“For once, a broad majority of its politicians buried their differences to back a programme of thoroughgoing reform that should mean Italy gets the funds to which it is entitled under the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan,” reads the report.

Draghi unveiled the 222.1-billion-euro ($268.3-billion) programme back in April, pledging to address both the damage inflicted by Covid-19 and Italy’s long-standing structural issues.

The investment is part of the EU’s 750-billion-euro post-pandemic recovery fund – a figure that has now grown to €806.9 billion – intended for the whole bloc, with Italy set to be the biggest recipient.

READ ALSO:

The country intends to pump capital into economic recovery, job creation, research, public transport, the construction industry and renewable energy.

Another pillar of Italy’s acclaimed success in the ranking is its vaccination rollout, cited as one of the highest in Europe.

In another difficult year of the pandemic, countries in all corners of the globe have been put to the test with new variants, such as Omicron, and varying vaccine rollouts.

Some 85.2 percent of Italy’s eligible population over 12 years old have now been fully vaccinated, while over 13.6 million booster shots have already been administered, according to the latest official data.

In the graph below, Italy’s ranking doesn’t reflect the government’s figures as it has used different parameters to determine a full vaccination cycle.

However, it still ranks highly in Europe.

The report also stated that Italy’s economy is recovering after “a difficult 2020” and in fact, “more speedily than those of France or Germany”.

This is despite Italy’s public debt passing 155 percent of its GDP last year, with Brussels warning that it is still budgeting to spend too much next year.

However, Italy’s GDP rate grew by 2.6 percent in the third quarter of 2021 and ratings agency Standard & Poor has revised its outlook for Italian debt from stable to positive.

The Economist’s designation was welcomed by the Italian Embassy in the UK, who said they were “proud and delighted”  and would “toast to that with some Prosecco”.

Despite the positive developments, however, the report gave a word of caution about the new prime minister’s success: “There is a danger that this unaccustomed burst of sensible governance could be reversed. Mr Draghi wants to be president, a more ceremonial job, and may be succeeded by a less competent prime minister.”

Still for now, The Economist wrote, “It is hard to deny that the Italy of today is a better place than it was in December 2020.”

In fact, the annual accolade doesn’t go “to the biggest, the richest or the happiest,” but to the country that has made the biggest strides that year.

“Past winners have included Uzbekistan (for abolishing slavery), Colombia (for making peace) and Tunisia (for embracing democracy),” clarified the magazine.

It noted that many countries struggled in the challenging year of 2021.

“In many countries civil liberties and democratic norms were eroded,” reads the report.

They referred to the jailing of Russia’s main opposition leader, Donald Trump’s supporters storming the US political headquarters and the civil wars that took hold in Ethiopia and Myanmar.

“Yet amid the gloom, a few countries shone,” it added. It’s for this reason Italy was named ‘country of the year 2021’.

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MONEY

Italy expands €200 payment scheme and introduces public transport bonus

Italy's government will extend its proposed one-time €200 benefit to more people and introduce a €60 public transport payment, Italian media reported on Thursday.

Italy expands €200 payment scheme and introduces public transport bonus

Seasonal workers, domestic and cleaning staff, the self-employed, the unemployed and those on Italy’s ‘citizens’ income’ will be added to the categories of people in Italy eligible for a one-off €200 payment, ministers reportedly announced on Thursday evening.

The one-time bonus, announced earlier this week as part of a package of financial measures designed to offset the rising cost of living, was initially set to be for pensioners and workers on an income of less than €35,000 only.

However the government has now agreed to extend the payment to the additional groups following pressure from Italy’s labour, families, and regional affairs ministers and representatives of the Five Star Movement, according to news agency Ansa.

Pensioners and employees will reportedly receive the €200 benefit between June and July via a direct payment into their pension slip or pay packet.

For other groups, a special fund will be created at the Labour Ministry and the procedures for claiming and distributing payments detailed in an incoming decree, according to the Corriere della Sera news daily.

One new measure introduced at the cabinet meeting on Thursday is the introduction of a one-time €60 public transport bonus for students and workers earning below €35,000. The bonus is reportedly designed to encourage greater use of public transport and will take the form of an e-voucher that can be used when purchasing a bus, train or metro season pass.

Other provisions reportedly proposed in the energy and investment decree (decreto energia e investimenti), which is still being adjusted and amended, include extending energy bill discounts, cutting petrol excise duty and rolling on the deadline to claim Italy’s popular ‘superbonus 110’.

The €14 billion aid package, intended to lessen the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, will “fight the higher cost of living” and is “a temporary situation”, Prime Minister Mario Draghi has said.

The Local will report further details of the payment scheme once they become available following final approval of the decree.

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