Quick quiz…what do Silvio Berlusconi’s 29-year-old daughter, the head of Italy’s largest labor union and Milan’s archbishop have in common? Yes, they are all Italian, they all have blond hair (actually the archbishop’s hair is grey, but we’ll call it blond) and they all were born in Milan (another fudge since the Berlusconi scion actually saw her first light across the border in Switzerland, but she is as Milanese as they come). And yet there is so much more that links these three seemingly disparate people. They each have a pass that allows them, or more likely their drivers, to use Milan’s traffic lanes reserved for public transportation, emergency vehicles and taxis.
The three are part of a not-so-select group of 3,398 people that includes company executives, VIPs and politicians, lots and lots of local politicians nobody has ever heard of. The list, chuck full of people who should have as much right to a pass as your correspondent, that is to say zero, was brought to light compliments of daily la Repubblica, which had the audacity to put it online. This seemingly local story is in fact a wonderfully disturbing snapshot of all that ails contemporary Italy…it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Perhaps the very biggest problem with this country, and there are many, is the lack of meritocracy across all levels of society…apparently all the way down to who gets a pass to avoid Milan’s traffic. To its credit, Milan is trying to do something about the past liberal doling out of the passes and in fact the more than 3,000 still out there is a 35 percent drop from just a year ago when in a moment of national enthusiasm for cutting the privileges of “the cast” (as those who reap unwarranted benefits are collectively known) the local government promised to slash the number of passes by 40 percent. To reach the target, the city says it will get there by the middle of next year, another 250 passes will be going the way of the baiji and the quagga. The cast has been warned.
So back to the quiz. Our three subjects – Barbara Berlusconi, a board member of football team AC Milan; Susanna Camusso, head of the CGIL, Italy’s largest labor union; and Angelo Scola, a cardinal and Milan’s archbishop – all got their passes for security reasons. Not sure how having Barbara, Susanna or Angelo stuck in traffic is a security issue, but never mind.
Barbara is not the only Berlusconi with a pass, her dad and uncle also have one, as does Adriano Galliani, CEO of papa Berlusconi’s football club, once again for security reasons. With AC Milan stuck in the middle of the rankings in Italy’s top soccer league Galliani probably is actually at risk of attack from local fans should they see him stuck in traffic.
The takeaway here is that if you are the offspring (or brother) of a very big fish, a labor leader or a participant of the last papal conclave (if you were considered papabile for a while so much the better) then Milan is ready to dole out a pass so you can get around town more quickly. A second takeaway: if you don’t have a pass to drive in Milan’s restricted lanes then you are an absolute nobody. I came to terms with that a long time ago so no need to worry about me throwing myself off Milan’s new UniCredit tower anytime soon.