The Fall and Rise of the Italian Government

ROME – Italy’s prime minister Romano Prodi resigned after his government suffered a surprising defeat in parliament over its alliance with the United States and its role in NATO. Shortly thereafter, Giorgio Napolitano, Italy’s head of State, opened consultations on the political future of the nation and ordered Prodi to make a second attempt to form a government.

And while the Prime Minister won a confidence vote on Mar. 2 that put a formal end to the crisis, it was still far from certain whether his fragile majority would be able to govern effectively.

Through it all, Berlusconi was having a field day. A spokesman remarked that a new Prodi government would be like a “warmed-up minestrone,” while Berlusconi himself challenged their competence.

“I do not believe this government will find the necessary agreement to carry out the reforms needed in the country,” Berlusconi said “The suffering is bound to continue. Even if Prodi manages to survive this stroke, he has reduced  our credibility to zero abroad.”

However, Berlusconi’s coalition is unlikely to call for elections, as many of its members are not really keen on the 70 year-old billionaire’s continuing as leader of the Right. Nonetheless, Berlusconi appears undaunted.

Anyone who defected “will heavily pay for this betrayal,” he said referring to the Catholic centrist Marco Follini  who had complained about his leadership moving to the left coalition, and insisted that he will continue as leader of the opposition, despite a recent heart operation.

“Right now, there is no potential successor to me,” he said.  “And my age is not an obstacle. I feel great”.

The pity, according to his supporters, is that Romano Prodi’s nine-month-old government fell just when it was trying to give Italy an important role in the foreign policy, and it was the second time Prodi had fallen victim to the far left, which already brought down his last government in 1998.

The far Left of Prodi’s Centre-Left coalition – intending only to protest the U.S. base at Vicenza and his commitment to keeping troops in Afghanistan – seemed appalled at having brought down the government. Centre-left newspapers called the Leftist senators “traitors.”

“We are a country of madmen,” said Massimo D’Alema, the Foreign Minister and former Prime Minister, when last week two communist senators denied their votes to Italy’s presence in Afghanistan.
Italy has 1,200 troops in Afghanistan, and Massimo D’Alema has refused to consider bringing them home – to the anger of left-wingers in the coalition, who say they can see no difference between Romano Prodi’s and Silvio Berlusconi’s foreign policy.

“Maybe if I had known my vote was so fundamental, I would have reflected a bit more,” said Fernando Rossi, one of the two Leftist senators who denied the precious votes.

It is a matter of fact that Italy’s steps towards stability are tiny, while its problems are huge. Employment levels are a bit higher, but nothing has been done to persuade students to get a job rather than spend the whole of their twenties at the university. Productivity is barely rising; national income per-capita is falling behind other leading countries.

These are issues worth a political fight. But some Italians are disappointed, while others are ashamed. And almost everyone is getting angrier.

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