Interview with Virgilio Merola

What are the responses to the needs of the sectors of society facing the welfare crisis exacerbated by the pandemic?
Alberto Borghi

The process of identifying the new needs of the sectors of society most exposed to the welfare crisis, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, continues. In this issue, Virginio Merola, former mayor of Bologna during the last ten years, is asked for his opinion on the role that the Municipality plays and can play in favour of those most in need of help, whether economic, social or educational.



Virginio Merola, Mayor of Bologna during the last ten years

Virginio Merola, in light of the policies of financial restraint that Italy has been called upon to comply with for years, with a consequent reduction in resources, do you believe that local authorities should play an even more significant role in favour of their citizens, from the provision of essential services to the funding of entities that make up for any structural deficiencies? Or should they instead demand a more participatory role on the part of the private sector, whether non-profit entities or for-profit organizations?

In Bologna, we have demonstrated for years that the public-private combination works because it has never resulted in the disengagement of the administration. On the contrary, it has maintained its role of guidance and direction. In this city, also thanks to a balanced budget, we have been able to implement important public policies. I am thinking for example of the plan “One thousand houses for Bologna.” It’s not a matter of demanding but of collaborating in a spirit of teamwork that has always made a difference in this city.


The pandemic continues to cause disruptive effects on the economy and society. Do you think that such a circumstance could also lead to positive changes, accelerating innovative processes otherwise expected to take longer?

We have had many demonstrations of how the pandemic more rapidly triggered changes: in mobility for example, with an increased demand for and use of bicycles and other sustainable means. And with the increased demand for housing space even in public buildings. Here is an example: the schools that the Municipality will build and that are already projected in the investment plan, will take into account this greater demand for space, including the surrounding areas.


Virginio Merola

Bologna is a city that has made a tradition of welcoming and caring for the most vulnerable, making its centuries-old walls a symbol of protection and not of exclusion. In your ten years of government, do you think that Bologna has changed, perhaps borrowing innovations developed in the rest of Italy or in Europe, or has it maintained its own specific character, unique in Italy?

I believe, and I have said so on many occasions, that Bologna is a living contradiction: a city which knows how to innovate in its traditions. Here are a couple of examples: the regulation for the management of common goods and the collaboration agreements that renew the tradition of an active and pragmatic citizenship. These are administrative innovations that many other municipalities in Italy have taken as a model. 


The interventions of the Municipality and the Metropolitan City in favour of our most vulnerable citizens have been numerous: which ones are you most satisfied of, and which ones would you have liked to see fulfilled?

I’m thinking about the pandemic and the allocations that we’ve been able to put in place, for example for shopping vouchers, doubling the funding from the government. Tangible help in a time of tremendous need. There are so many other actions that have made a difference, such as the late spring move to support families and businesses in the post COVID recovery. At the metropolitan level, I cannot fail to mention “Together for Work,” a project that has allowed many people to return to the workforce on a permanent basis.


Many recognize in you a discrete but active leadership role, capable of raising your voice but only when it was really necessary. How much does this attitude correspond to your character and how much, instead, does it mirror respect for the institution?

I’ll answer in a few words. I think the world is divided between those who do things and those who take credit for the results. I think I fall into the first category, and I’m proud of that.


Finally, I would like to ask you to recall an image, a memory or an emotion that has affected you during your two terms in office and that you believe can summarize your experience as Mayor of Bologna.

It is impossible to forget Pope Francis’s visit to Bologna as well as the visits of two Presidents of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano and Sergio Mattarella. In ten years, there have been so many moments, it’s not easy to choose… There remains the great honour of being able to serve my city for this long time.



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