Tuesday, May 23, 2006

What Prodi has (not) wrought

When the Economist theatrically accused former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi of being unfit to lead a Western democracy (here and here; requires subs.), the main centrist Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, (and the press in general) made a big deal of it. During the recent election campaign, articles which appeared in the foreign press - critical of Berlusconi or his accomplishments - got widespread attention. Isn't it odd then, that when this week's Economist, rightfully, savages the composition of the new Prodi government, nobody seems to have noticed? Here are the juicy bits:
His government may be the most left-leaning that Italy has ever had. Of its 26 members, one belongs to the Green party, which in Italy stands well to the left; two are communists; and nine (including the foreign minister, Massimo D'Alema) are Democrats of the Left, heirs to the former Italian Communist Party. As expected, the finance ministry will go to a distinguished independent, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa. But the other main economic portfolios—industry, employment and transport—are all going to communists or ex-communists. That scarcely augurs well for the radical (ie, liberal) reforms that Mr Prodi's centre-left alliance had promised.
One of these second-class ministers is a spirited former European commissioner, Emma Bonino, who will be Europe minister. She had wanted the defence ministry. Her failure to get it shows the problems created for Mr Prodi by his narrow victory—and suggests that his government may not last all that long.
To break the deadlock, Mr Prodi gave defence to a close associate, Arturo Parisi. But to pacify the troublesome Mr Mastella, he handed him the even more prestigious justice ministry. Mr Mastella expressed delighted surprise. As well he might: for he is utterly unsuitable. More than once, he has chided prosecutors for their impertinent curiosity about political corruption. Only three months ago he was questioned at the headquarters of the national anti-Mafia directorate about his friendship with a man who admitted to helping the Sicilian Cosa Nostra's former "boss of bosses", Bernardo Provenzano, when he was on the run.
Francesco Campanella, a town councillor in Sicily who turned state's evidence after being investigated, has acknowledged giving Mr Provenzano documents that helped him to go abroad for medical treatment. A year earlier, Mr Mastella was a witness at Mr Campanella's wedding.
The truth is that some of the members of Prodi's cabinet are well-respected, reform-minded policy experts. Nonetheless, it seems to me that they will not get very far. Given his paper-thin majority, Prodi should have offered the main center-right parties a grand coalition, instead of going with the awkward mixture of small and radical leftwing parties with which he is now stuck, dashing any hopes for meaningful reform. In doing so he could have posed the condition that Berlusconi step down from the Forza Italia party leadership (which Silvio had hinted he was willing to do, and his deputies are eagerly hoping for), finally ridding the political landscape of an inappropriate (albeit tragically amusing) figure. That Prodi did not do so means that Berlusconi is now as powerful as ever within his coalition (because his side did significantly better than expected), and already ahead of Prodi in the polls, while the current government is hostage to the whims of a group of oddballs, who are bent on undoing the few positive reforms which had been implemented in recent years. Excepting miracles, expect Prodi to accomplish little and Berlusconi to be back in the driver's seat sometime in the future. And we can thank Prodi's narrow-mindedness for that.

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