Mario Monti’s Nordic Dream

ROME – Mario Monti, Italy’s prime minister, is a self-styled German among Italian economists. As the European Union’s top competition official a decade ago, he was regarded as a very Anglo-Saxon regulator. Today, he is the most Nordic prime minister that Italy has ever had.

At the outset of his premiership six months ago, Monti declared himself to be an admirer of all things Danish – the country’s “society, economy, and civility.” The measures that he has introduced since coming to power – from pension reform to combating tax evasion – have displayed the rigor and transparency that one associates with northern European countries.

Likewise, Monti has repeatedly said that he is inspired by Scandinavia’s labor-market and social-protection arrangements. The Swedish home-furniture giant Ikea’s recent announcement that it will open two new plants in northwest Italy suggests that Scandinavians are taking note of Monti’s Nordic tastes.

But Monti would readily agree that Italy is not a northern European society. Sounding the alarm on inequality, the Bank of Italy calculates that the combined wealth of the ten richest Italians equals that of three million of their poorest countrymen. Moreover, a wave of corruption allegations is shaking Italy to an extent not seen since the Mani Pulite (“Clean Hands”) inquiry that swept away the country’s political establishment two decades ago. A dysfunctional justice system and a jungle of red tape are a perennial curse for investors. As the leading daily newspaper La Repubblica recently put it, “Transplanting the Danish model to Italy does not seem easy at all.”