Leggi in italiano

Prime Minister Mario Draghi Announces His Resignation To The Chamber Of Deputies on 21 July 2022. Following the dissolution of the Parliament, a general election was called on 25 September. Credit: Manuel Dorati/NurPhoto/Shutterstock.

On 25 September, Italy goes to the polls. The country is in the grip of an energy crisis, with the COVID-19 pandemic still taking its toll. The investment plan known as PNRR (National Plan for Recovery and Resilience) has research and health among its priorities, but is still in a critical phase. Ahead of the elections, Nature Italy asked some of the major parties about their proposals on climate, science, and health. Below are their summarized answers. The complete answers are linked at the bottom of the article. Fratelli d’Italia, leading in opinion polls, and its ally, Forza Italia, are yet to respond to Nature Italy’s request.

How would you ensure Italy’s energy supply in the short term?

Democratic Party (PD): We have proposed a price cap for gas, and to decouple the price of gas-derived electricity from that of renewable energy. Through long-term purchase of energy from renewables, we want to offer free electricity to disadvantaged families.

Five Star movement (M5S): In the immediate future, we must exploit the gas storage capacity and use liquid gas through floating regasification terminals. We must set up an Energy Recovery Fund at European level to guarantee joint purchases and storage

Azione/Italia Viva (A/IV): We agree with the National Gas Consumption Plan of Mario Draghi’s Government, in particular with the necessary diversification of gas supply and the increase in electricity production from coal. The regasification plant in Piombino, Tuscany, must be operational at the beginning of 2023; we also need to increase renewable sources as well as simplify the procedure to install photovoltaics.

+EUROPA: We agree with the existing policies to support families and enterprises. We want to disentangle the price of renewable energy and of gas, which should be capped at the European level and might be rationed. We also propose to drastically simplify the bureaucratic procedures for new energy plants based on renewables.

Popular Union (UP): We propose using diplomacy to end the war and cancel sanctions to Russia. We propose a 90% tax on the extra profits of energy companies and nationalising the energy sector, in order to create a public company that invests in renewable energy for a self-sufficient country.

LEGA: Using fiscal measures to reduce the cost of energy bills for families and industries; buying energy from national gas extractions and from renewable sources through a state company (GSE) and offering it at favoured price to industrial clients and SMEs.

In the long term, do you agree with the European plan to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by 55% by 2030, and to become carbon-neutral by 2050?

PD: Yes. This summer has shown that climate change is an emergency. We want to increase the share of energy from renewables and install 85 GW of new capacity by 2030.

M5S: Yes, it is a priority for us and we believe that massive investments in renewable energy are needed

A/IV: Yes, it is a priority for us. Decarbonization is a must, focusing on renewable sources, utility scales and for self-consumption. Should we need to increase our electricity capacity, we propose to promote national projects for carbon capture and storage from gas plants.

+EUROPA: Yes, this is one of our priorities. We also propose to develop a European energy policy, in line with the climate policy, in order to increase the resilience of the system, build integrated networks and adopt common tools.

UP: Respecting the Paris Agreement is part of our programme, and we want the removal of environmentally harmful subsidies to fossil fuels. Private jets should be banned, and short airline routes should be substituted by an adequate railway system.

LEGA: Natural gas will remain a bridge energy source towards the 2050 target. We need to produce more biomethane by improving waste management, and repristinate the search for natural gas at national level. It is also necessary to continue with supply diversification and with infrastructures such as regasification terminals.

If you were part of the next government, would you propose relaunching natural gas extraction in Italy?

PD: Gas is not the future, but it is necessary in this transition phase. Regasification plants must be used by involving and compensating local communities where they are set up.

M5S: No, we are against it. Even by drilling everywhere in Italy, we would cover one year’s supply of gas at best. Once again, the future lies in renewable energy.

A/IV: Yes, it is necessary to increase the extractions also by searching for new extractions areas especially in our waters. Diversifying the sources of supply is instrumental, either by pipeline and by importing liquefied gas by sea.

+EUROPA: Yes, we intend to increase the extraction of the limited reserves of gas that are estimated to be available in Italy, as a tool to reach independence from Russian gas, and as a source for the transition towards renewables.

UP: We say no to the oil extraction projects and propose an investment plan into renewable energy (at least 10 GW of new installations per year), distributed throughout the country, with photovoltaic systems preferably in highly populated areas and wind turbines preferably offshore.

LEGA: Indeed, there is a need to restore the search for natural gas, thereby increasing its production and controlling its price.

If you were part of the next government, will you propose the reintroduction nuclear energy in Italy?

PD: Italians have already voted against nuclear energy twice in referendums. We are still in favour of research, especially on fusion.

M5S: Nuclear energy is expensive, dangerous and involves difficult waste management. Citizens have already expressed their opposition to nuclear power with a referendum years ago.

+EUROPA: We do not rule it out, and will encourage a public debate free of ideological preconceptions. We want to foster research and scientific cooperation to make sure that the cost-benefit balance is favourable also in terms of safety.

A/IV: Indeed, a right mix is needed to meet the goal of 2050 zero emission, including renewables (about 380 GW from each type of plant) and nuclear power (about 35 GW)

UP: We say no to nuclear power because it is obsolete, dangerous and polluting.

LEGA: For the medium and long-term, nuclear power, combined with renewable energies, will be essential to allow us to reach net zero emissions by 2050. We want to rebuild Italy’s technological and industrial capability on nuclear energy.

Italy is at the bottom of the European ranking for graduate numbers. What would you do about it?

PD: We want to invest in students’ accommodation, increasing them from 40,000 to 100,000. We want to reduce the regional differences in the services for the right to study.

M5S: University funds have grown from €7.3 billion to 8.7 billion under our governments. This trend must continue. We have invested huge resources to help lower-income students, and also created more student accommodation.

A/IV: Enhancement of the right to study by providing accommodation to 10% of the student population; more funding for scholarships and student contribution waivers, offering scholarships to 20% of the student population, based on merit. The teaching staff should increase, by hiring 25,000 new professors and improving gender equality.

+EUROPA: We want to reform the exams at the end of the secondary school, that should also evaluate social skills, and offer more orientation to help students in their choice of an academic faculty, or a non-academic course of tertiary studies (ITS Academy). We also want to reduce the existing barriers to offer equal opportunities to all students (through bursaries and affordable housing).

UP: More investments in university, equally distributed to all research lines and geographical areas. A unique pre-professorship career level should be introduced, and recruitment calls should be managed by a National Commission.

LEGA: We plan to strengthen guidance in schools; partially reimburse fees to students on track with their studies; introduce a salary for excellent students in STEM; strengthen universities autonomy, and simplify the procedures for the credits within courses.

Italy is way below the OECD average in terms of investments in research. What would you do about it?

PD: We want to stabilize R&D spending and align it to the level of other EU countries. We’ll work to bring research infrastructures to Italy, such as the Einstein Telescope in Sardinia. We want to set up a National Research Agency to plan and monitor research programmes from all ministries.

M5S: Our governments began to reverse the trend: not only must we boost the funding, but also distribute the resources fairly. It is unacceptable that funding goes only to large research groups.

A/IV: We must align our research funding to the European average by increasing the so-called FIRST, Financing for Innovation, Research and Technological Development, as well as by structurally increasing the Ordinary Fund for Universities and Research Bodies respectively.

+EUROPA: We want to triple the investment in research of public universities and research institutions, from 0.5% to 1.5% of GDP. We also want to encourage private investments in R&D, which are necessary to reach 3% of GDP for R&D that is recommended by the EU.

UP: Our group would like to encourage curiosity driven basic research - both in quantitative (number of researchers) and qualitative (broadening the spectrum of subjects) terms. We need to hire 40,000 new researchers and professors.

LEGA: We would like to invest in R&D and basic research, by boosting public resources and facilitating private investments. We also plan to reintroduce a partial system of "indiscriminate funding" thanks to a “national research budget” to fund research labs directly.

Regarding the research investments in the PNRR, how do you plan to follow up on what was decided by the Draghi government?

PD: The PNRR investments cannot end in 2026 but must become structural. We want to create a fund for university research contracts, with the same value of the investments done in 2022.

M5S: Approximately €30 billion of the PNRR is allocated to research. In Taranto, in southern Italy, we strongly wanted the Technopole of the Mediterranean, a centre of excellence for green technologies and the circular economy.

A/IV: We want to consolidate the measures in the PNRR. For example, we would focus on grants for individual researchers modelled on those by the European Research Council, and on innovation and technology transfer centres similar to the Fraunhofer and Competence Centres, where the state participation must not exceed 30%.

+EUROPA: We intend to follow the path indicated by the current government, and will proceed to an in-depth evaluation of the efficacy of investments.

UP: We propose to use PNRR funds for an annual increase of €500 million to the right to study (e.g. lowering university fees for low incomes and help for off-site student rentals).

LEGA: Post PNRR, we want to increase the number of researchers and we will introduce a reserve for young researchers who have obtained a PhD within the last seven years, as happens for European Research Council researchers.

Do you think that the current distribution of research funds guarantees efficiency and fairness? Are you in favour of the current evaluation system used by the National Agency for the Evaluation of Research (ANVUR)?

PD: ANVUR’s role is crucial, but must shift towards a greater attention to open science, be less bureaucratic and more transparent, and move from bibliometric measures to assessing the impact of research.

M5S: The current criteria have major limitations. The spirit at the core of the evaluation system should be that of a community that evaluates itself and where everyone can contribute, balancing the hierarchical structures that affect universities.

A/IV: In general, the current mechanisms are efficient and fair. ANVUR’s system is certainly imperfect but overall, it has introduced for the first time a reward system which has had an overall positive impact.

+EUROPA: We propose the establishment of separate academic careers for research and for teaching, which should be evaluated differently. Cooperation must be encouraged between public institutions and the private sector. The evaluation by an independent agency is essential.

UP: ANVUR should be replaced by a more streamlined, participative and representative body of the various components of the university community.

LEGA: We intend to redefine the ANVUR evaluation purpose: from evaluating research procedures to evaluating its output.

What are the priorities for the Italian health system, also based on the experience of the pandemic?

PD: In the last years, hospitals have been used more and more to cope with the lack of investments in territorial medicine, that must return to being central when addressing chronic diseases. The National Health fund must continue to grow, in line with countries such as France and Germany.

M5S: Our vision on health-care management is based on 3 pillars: enough with inequality among patients; putting more value on public health personnel; viewing health as psychophysical wellbeing at large. We want a larger role for the State and put more weight on prevention.

A/IV: The focus on hospitals has led to neglect the other components of healthcare. A reorganisation of territorial primary care is necessary in order to promote health care prevention, investments in home cares and guaranteeing assistance continuity and minimum healthcare provision to citizens, eliminating all forms of geographical and social inequality.

+EUROPA: We propose a significant increase in the funding for the National Health Service, up to at least the EU average, to respond to the lack of physicians (according to current estimates at least 4,000 doctors are needed, and the number is expected to increase) and to reinforce the infrastructure for out-of-hospital primary care.

UP: The National Health Service should be centralised. Public investment into healthcare should never be below the European average (7.3% of GDP), and the ceiling of expenditure should be eliminated. Expenditure for mental health care should increase too.

LEGA: We want to introduce a national pandemic plan to prepare for new infectious diseases, create an integrated information system shared by the State and the Regions for pandemic surveillance, and re-organize territorial medicine.

What is your position regarding the reform of the “Istituti di Ricovero e Cura a Carattere Scientifico (IRCCS)”?

PD: We see them as a national research infrastructure, something uniquely Italian that must be developed by improving their ability to network, overcoming a ‘silo’ logic and looking at the whole value chain that derives from research.

M5S: It is an important reform which strengthens the role of the IRCCS. Private ones must adopt the same criteria of public ones when selecting their scientific committees, and there has to be a balanced geographical distribution of the IRCCSs. A/IV: We are in favour of the current reform that arises from the need to strengthen the relationship between research, innovation and health care. We propose to accompany it with an increase in funding for healthcare research.

+EUROPA: They are a fundamental staple of our National Health Service, and the reform is going in the right direction.

UP: Free assistance should be provided to not self-sufficient people and an adequate regulatory framework to ensure the rights, freedoms and dignity of people with disabilities. Expansion of minimum healthcare provision for rehabilitation therapies.

LEGA: We actively contributed to the reform. As for further goals, the possibility to recruit and stabilise research staff is instrumental for boosting the national and international competitiveness of the IRCCS.

What is your position on vaccination mandates, when it comes to COVID vaccines and to paediatric ones?

PD: We consider vaccinations essential, for viruses and in the future for treating other diseases, and in 2017 we introduced mandatory vaccines for children.

M5S: We believe that the vaccination mandate is not the only tool to persuade people. There should be an active participation of citizens in public health choices. Therefore, it is necessary to enhance information and make data transparent.

A/IV: We believe that vaccination is one of the most effective tools in public health. Mandate is a form of protection and a commitment of the State to guarantee the rights established in the constitution. In parallel, there is a need for health education within the society.

+EUROPA: Mandatory vaccination can be a useful tool in specific situations of risk, but should not be seen as the norm.

UP: A plan for vaccines inspired by the Cuban model, based on the widespread information and territorial dissemination of vaccination, which, if well implemented, eliminates the problem of mandatory vaccines.

LEGA: Mandatory vaccination, though it was decided to safeguard public health, has deprived citizens of the freedom of therapeutic choice and imposed restrictions on personal freedom. We believe in vaccines, especially for the most fragile population, but there should be no mandate, rather a broad campaign should be guaranteed so that citizens can choose accordingly and freely.

Are you in favour of the limited number of medical students in universities? And in specialization courses?

PD: We must go beyond the current test-based model. The number of people who wish to study medicine is huge, and we are not in a position to guarantee the current level of medical training to all of them. We must use orientation in high school as a mechanism for selection.

M5S: The gradual overcoming of the limited number is in our program. In the 2020 Budget Law, we introduced a committee with the task of developing methodologies to define the needs of doctors, thereby calibrating access to medical courses and better allocating resources.

A/IV: The real issue behind the shortage of doctors is not the limited access to the faculty of medicine, rather it lies in the transition between graduation and specialisation. We therefore need better planning, based on the future needs of the population, and better investment to encourage our doctors not to leave the country.

+EUROPA: The number of available places should be planned based on the expected needs of the National Health System and the private sector, as well as the demand from students.

UP: We are against all this.

LEGA: We are against the limited number at both levels and intend to abolish it.

Are you in favour of experimenting, and eventually applying, new assisted-evolution technologies in agriculture?

PD: We are for decarbonizing agriculture. In this context, assisted evolution can allow us to develop varieties more resistant to diseases and to climate change.

M5S: We want to focus on precision agriculture and digital technologies that allow companies to increase the yield and quality of production, using less energy, water, plant protection products as well as fertilisers.

A/IV: We are positive about New Breeding Techniques. There is therefore an urgent need for legislation that allows field testing of genotypes obtained with NBTs.

+EUROPA: We are in favour of the possibility of growing GMOs and of enhancing the production through CRISPR, and we want to invest in research on new genomic techniques.

UP: We propose a reform under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), by cutting subsidies for intensive farming and supporting farms that use ecological methods with an eye on biodiversity. PNRR funds should be used to facilitate the transition towards a plant-based diet. The production and use of glyphosate and other products that are harmful to bees and other pollinators should be banned.

LEGA: Unlike old GMOs, the New Breeding Techniques introduce specific genetic improvements without altering biodiversity and are compatible with our agricultural model. Our idea is to create an Italian chain of research, development and application of new technologies in agriculture.