EU Economy
Italy's Mezzogiorno is Achilles' heel of Euro Area - lowest birth rate since 1862
By Michael Hennigan, editor and founder of Finfacts
Aug 17, 2015 - 8:18 AM

Printer-friendly page from Finfacts Ireland Business News - Click for the News Main Page - A service of the Finfacts Ireland Business and Finance Portal "This oblique, night time panorama of much of Europe was photographed by one of the Expedition 32 crew members aboard the International Space Station flying approximately 240 miles above the Mediterranean Sea on Aug. 18, 2012. The country of Italy is visible running diagonally southward from the horizon across the center of the frame, with the night lights of Rome and Naples being visible on the coast near the center. Sardinia and Corsica are just above left center of the photo, and Sicily is at lower left. The Adriatic Sea is on the other side of Italy, and beyond it to the east and north can be seen parts of several other European nations."

Italy's Mezzogiorno region covering the southern half of the Italian peninsula combined with the islands of Sardinia and Sicily, is the Achilles heel of the Euro Area and it has some of the worst economic metrics in the European Union, including the lowest birth rate since 1862 when Italy had a total population of 22m (this number comes from Istat, the national statistics office. 26m is also cited elsewhere) compared with 59m today.

In the period 2000-2014, World Bank data based on constant international dollars adjusted for price differences (purchasing power parity) show that per capita GDP (gross domestic product) fell by 2.2% in Greece and 8.3% in Italy as whole.

Mezzogiorno is the Italian term for “midday” or “noon,” and southern Italy got its name because of the intensity of sunshine there at midday during summer. The area broadly coincides with the footprint of the Kingdom of Naples and following a partial unification in 1861, the Kingdom of Italy began with a public debt ratio of 37% and the average ratio was 91% in the period to the eve of the First World War. Second World War hyperinflation cut the debt ratio to 25% of GDP in 1947 — the all-time record low since 1861 and the Italy's gross public debt ratio was at 133% of GDP in June this year - the second highest in the European Union, trailing only Greece.

The period 1950-1973 is regarded as a Golden Age for growth in Western Europe as countries recovered after the war years with labour in plentiful supply. Italy grew at an annual average of 5% — the same rate as West Germany. Angus Maddison, Monitoring the World Economy (1995, OECD, Table 3-1).

IMF data show that in the 1980s, average annual real GDP growth was 2.1%; it dropped to 1.4% in the 1990s, 0.6% in the first decade of this century and has averaged -0.5% since 2010.

Last Friday Istat reported growth of only 0.2% in the second quarter and a rise of 0.5% year-on-year.

The following are facts mainly from Eurostat and the Association for the Industrial Development of Southern Italy (Svimez), an economics think-tank.

  • The Mezzogiorno accounts for 36% of Italy's population; about 23% of national GDP and 11% of exports;
  • Svimez says GDP in the Mezzogiorno fell 13% in the period 2008-2014 and 9.4% in the period 2001-2014. The other regions fell by 7.4% in 2008-2014 and rose 1.5% in 2001-2014. The national changes were -8.7% and -1.1%;
  • The Euro Area GDP rose 13.6% in 2001-2014; Germany added 15.7%; France added 16.3%; Spain rose 21.4% and Greece fell 1.7%;
  • The Mezzogiorno's employment rate (15-64 year olds) of 41.9% in 2014 was the lowest of any region in the European Union;
  • The data compares with 64.9% in Lombardy according to Eurostat and a national rate of 55.7%. Germany's national rate was 73.8%; Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and Greece were at 73.1%, 72.8%, 61.7% and 49.4%;
  • The employment rate for women in the Mezzogiorno was 30.2% in 2014 compared with an EU28 average of 59.5% and a Euro Area average of 58.7%;
  • GDP per capita of €16,980 in 2014 amounted to 53.7% of the level in the Centre/Northern regions and the lowest since 2000 according to Svimez;
  • There were 174,000 births in the Mezzogiorno in 2014, the lowest since 1862;
  • Employment fell to 5.8m in 2014, the lowest since 1977. Jobs in the region are down over 700,000 since 2000;
  • Jobs for young workers have dropped 622,000 since 2008. Some 526,000 people under the age of 34 moved to central and northern Italy in the past decade, Svimez said;
  • Almost 62% of the population in the Mezzogiorno earned less than €12,000 in 2014 compared with 28.5% of the workforce in the Centre/Northern regions;
  • Industrial production has plunged almost 35% since 2008 and production capacity has dipped almost 35% according to Svimez.

Prof Paola Subacchi of Chatham House, the London think-tank, has said that "the north-south divide [ ] existed well before Italy’s unification and the introduction of the lira. Before 1861 the Kingdom of Naples was a rather depressed region where low-productivity agriculture was the main economic activity. Lombardy, on the other hand, had a more intensive agriculture — by two-thirds more productive than that of the south — and a well developed manufacturing sector. In the early 19th century about half of Lombardy’s population was illiterate compared with almost 90% in the south."

According to InStoria magazine, a publication of Sapienza University of Rome, "In 1954, 49% of the adult population of the Mezzogiorno was illiterate and 85% of all southern Italian families were classified as poverty-stricken. "

Italy ranks poorly for inward investment and the Mezzogiorno, with its reputation for corruption and organised crime, attracts little.

Prof Friedrich Schneider of the Department of Economics, Johannes Kepler University, Austria, who is a leading expert on the shadow/ black economy, estimates that the Italian shadow economy accounts for 20.6% of GDP; Spain is at 18.2% and Greece is at 22.4% — the Irish shadow economy is estimated at 11.3%.

The Mezzogiorno's traditional industries have been hit by both the crisis and Chinese competition.

Good tourism numbers this season had prompted Matteo Renzi, Italian prime minister, to hail the good news for the south but a report (including slides in Italian) from Svimez issued on July 30, rattled him.

In an open letter to Renzi published on August 8 in La Repubblica, Roberto Saviano, the journalist and writer who is under police protection because of his criticism of the mafia, urged the prime minister to “take action” and “admit that nothing has been done” to stop what Svimez termed the “desertification” of the south.

"Despite it's long overdue and de-industrialisation has destroyed the economy of the south, you must act. But first, admit that so far, nothing has been done to help the south," he wrote.

Saviano added that the region should have the freedom to grow its own way. Renzi responded: "Quit whining about the south."

The prime minister later said he would produce a "master plan."

A columnist in the Milan newspaper, Il Sole 24 ore newspaper, complained about a "culture of complaint" in the Mezzogiorno (English).

We have written in the past about the delusional aspiration of the architects of the euro that poor countries could become as rich as the wealthiest. Nevertheless, the economic chasm within the Euro Area's third biggest economy cannot be dismissed as an irritation and if Renzi has lost the will to bring change to the sclerotic economy, it's bad news for both Italy and Europe.

The top 3 countries acoount for two-thirds of Euro Area GDP: in 2014 Germany accounted for 28.7% of GDP; France 20.7% and Italy 15.8%.

Budget surpluses rare in developed countries from 1980s; Italy, France, Greece had none in 60 and 40 years

Italy's SMEs poor exporters compared with counterparts in Germany and Spain

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