His re-election inspired enthusiasm in many citizens, since it was characterised by an old-fashioned sense of statehood: institutions first and then oneself, one’s rest, one’s affections, the right to a good retirement. Sergio Mattarella’s return to the Quirinal Palace, after there had also been talk of the Roman house already chosen for his new life as senator for life, struck a chord with Italians. More so, perhaps, his heartfelt speech on the day he was sworn in, reminding the country of so many emergencies, so many needs, so many rights affirmed in the Constitution and which have remained a dead letter. Some have called it the Mattarella Agenda.
What will this Palermo-born, 1941, professor of constitutional law, who was dragged into politics by the dramatic events of his life, such as the murder of his brother, Piersanti, president of the Region of Sicily, do in his second seven-year term? We asked Riccardo Giorgio Zuffo, Professor of Psychology of work, organisations, economic decisions and consumption. Zuffo has taught at the Catholic University of Milan, the Bicocca University and the University of Chieti-Pescara.
Professor, what work has begun on the Hill?
The first problem that Mattarella must be facing in some way is that of having sufficient lucidity and strength in relation to his age, because it is one thing to do an intellectual job, which you can afford to lengthen, and quite another to do a job that has pressing and urgent commitments. A job that he, moreover, knows very well.
A job that has an agenda
A job that every day forces you to deal with consultants, advisers, to take decision-making approaches that are never irrelevant: we’re looking at the chief of the Armed Forces, at a time when the winds of war are unfortunately blowing. He is the President of the Superior Council of the Judiciary, at a time when justice is front and centre of political debates these days.
A person of Mattarella’s standing and human calibre necessarily raises the question of whether he has the necessary strength, the energy that is needed on a daily basis. In short, I imagine that he will have the problem of the relationship with his own resources and the indicators that can alert him to the level of their stock.
Mattarella is in the third age of his life. There was much discussion on the eve of the election about the advanced age of some candidates, such as Sabino Cassese. What does it mean to exercise a function of that importance as an elderly person?
It means calibrating resources, starting to imagine a virtuous use of them. It means, in the morning, taking stock of one’s energy, projecting it onto the end of the day and it means choosing. That’s how it works in a sane person, even more so in someone like Mattarella, who has worked out many things about himself, his family and the world. And, as far as we know, he always did so with great humility.
A very human reading of the task, which also tells of the sacrifice that was necessary in saying yes to re-election. This means conserving his strength. What else is required of this remarkable manager in charge of the state?
A second problem is to find oneself in a situation which, to use a linear language, we could call ‘high complexity’.
What if we were to use the metaphor instead?
We could therefore say that the President faces a political and institutional jigsaw puzzle whose direction he cannot understand because, in any case, no one could understand it. The puzzle, in a way, is the attribution of meaning to something.
He does not understand the verse, i.e. there is no box displaying the final design, the final landing spot, piece by piece…
Indeed. He is working on a puzzle characterised by great complexity and many fragments, because the puzzle is a very poorly defined elementary unit. The borders are usually the only elements that can be defined a priori but, even in this case, the head of state is not afforded this information and so the configuration is fraught with difficulty. The first problem will be political and cognitive, so to speak: to start making sense of the fragments of the puzzle.
Not an easy job…
This is partially a matter of sensitivity, partially of perspective, because he cannot influence the puzzle. He cannot say: “I’ll just leave this piece out now”, because he has a very intense sense of institution.
Sergio Mattarella’s work at the Quirinal Palace, for his second mandate, will be one of intelligence, of intuition, of very analytical examination of the single piece, of examination of the other pieces, and of how these small pieces might come together.
Moreover, since Italy is not a presidential republic, the Head of State is granted only a few prerogatives circumscribed by the Constitution.
His work will therefore be to put together fragments that do not give the idea of the whole, but for which it may make sense to find a juxtaposition. This may be a reasonable approach in a country with many political, institutional, economic and social problems. It is no coincidence that what worked best was Mattarella himself and, when he left, the face of ‘partisan’ politics, parties and currents emerged again. So much so that they had to call him back, knowing that they couldn’t go it alone.
The return to the proportional electoral system, which many parties have called for, seems to meet these needs: everyone locks themselves in their own house… The most puzzling puzzle.
Yes, a temperament that further ennobles his effort, a great metaphor for the relationship between powerlessness and possibility: having the problem of playing with a jigsaw puzzle knowing full well that you cannot see its final composition.
What psychological resilience must a person who is forced into this squeeze have?
Remarkable, but let’s not forget his biography: Sergio Mattarella did not choose to become a politician, he was pulled in by a family and personal tragedy, the assassination of his brother. He found himself there and, because he was cognitively very gifted, because there was never any doubt about that, for him politics is about solving problems. Not power…
In a nutshell, it is a demanding job…
Indeed a job of intelligence, of intuition, of very analytical examination of the single piece, of examination of the other pieces, and of how these small pieces might come together. I don’t see much scope for moral suasion in this country.