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Great Beauty

January 7th 2016

The NPO (Nederlandse Publieke Omroep: ‘Dutch Public Broadcasting’) started off 2016 with a bold statement. On the second day of the year it broadcast the magnificent La grande bellezza (2013), the film that (deservedly) won director Paolo Sorrentino the Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Main character Jep Gambardella, played by Toni Servillo, is a hedonist in his sixties with one best-selling novel to his name. Residing in Rome, he leads a decadent life even his ancestors in classical antiquity would have envied. News magazine De Groene Amsterdammer referred to the film as ‘a visual feast in which an empty, hollowed-out humanity drifts towards the great nothingness in a big stupid conga line’.

If, by selecting this film, the NPO indeed intended to issue a warning to the Dutch presidency of the Council of the European Union, I do hope Mark Rutte and Bert Koenders take up the challenge and devise an ambitious program to guard the Union from indolence and conservatism.

I happened to be in Italy myself during New Year’s Eve. On Sicily my friends and I took a tour of the archeological sites Segeste and Selinunte. These ruins are stunningly beautiful, but also represent a country that has ground to a halt. There is almost no new construction; a particularly stark contrast to Poland, where concrete and cement have become much sought after. The cuisine, while exquisite, has remained unchanged for over a century, while Catalonian chefs are out to prove that tradition and innovation are no strange bedfellows.

Now that even Greece has introduced same sex civil partnership, it has become increasingly apparent that Italy is lagging behind in the field of equal rights.The same can be said for Italian management culture, which is still described by insiders as ‘clubby’. Mario Greco, Generali’s CEO of three years, has not yet renewed his contract. He is either playing hard to get, or has become so frustrated by corporate Italy that he wishes to return to his new home country of Switzerland - he never did sell his house there. Greco would not be the only magnate to regret his previous decisions: Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat Chrysler, wasted no time leaving for Detroit following the company’s take-over.

Even young Prime Minister Matteo Renzi - turning 41 in a few days - has not yet brought about the changes Italians have been hoping for. Still, hope does flicker in the political domain. The even younger Luigi di Maio is all set to replace comedian Beppe Grillo as leader of the Five Star Movement. The movement’s chances of actually getting to govern are substantial: the party is getting dangerously close to forming a serious threat to Renzi’s Democratic Party.`

The Five Star Movement has called for a referendum on the Euro. It may not be such a bad thing for the Union to take a swift kick from the Italian boot. ‘Steady as she goes’, a beautiful motto though it may be, is not going to lead Europe to success.

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