Berlusconi forms new Italy government

Roberto Calderoli, who as an anti-Islam minister in 2006 provoked protests with his T-shirt featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed (PBHU), will be in charge of slashing red tape as minister of "Legislative Simplification."

Berlusconi forms new Italy government

Silvio Berlusconi unveiled his new conservative government on Wednesday and gave top posts to close allies in one of Italy's most right-wing cabinets since World War Two.

The 71-year-old media tycoon, whose party did unexpectedly well in last month's election, read out his 21-member cabinet list to reporters after meeting the head of state at the presidential palace.

Berlusconi, the only prime minister to have served a full five year term, said he and his ministers would be sworn in at 5 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT) on Thursday.

Giulio Tremonti will return as economy minister and Franco Frattini will leave his post as European commissioner to become foreign minister.

Both held the same jobs in previous Berlusconi governments.

The government -- Italy's 62nd since 1945 -- includes nine ministers without portfolio and four women.

Berlusconi held last-minute negotiations with his main allies from the National Alliance (AN), a party with fascist roots, and the vehemently anti-immigrant Northern League to distribute the cabinet posts.

Berlusconi's People of Freedom -- his own conservative Forza Italia merged with the National Alliance -- won a powerful mandate in parliament in last month's election.

Like AN, the Northern League won four cabinet posts, including the interior ministry, while Forza Italia took 12.

"This government will once again highlight the overarching power of Mr. Berlusconi," said Franco Pavoncello, politics professor at Rome's John Cabot University.

Absent from the new cabinet are Berlusconi's estranged Christian Democrat allies, who gave his last government a centrist counterweight to the right.

Their defection and the League's surprise gains, appeared to have produced one of the most right-wing governments since fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Most past governments in Italy have been made up of coalitions with a more influential centrist component, regardless of whether they were centre right or centre left.

Tough task ahead

Berlusconi, assuming the top job for the third time, has warned Italy faces tough years ahead and that he will have to push through some unpopular reforms.

The economy is threatened with recession, workers complain about rising prices and low wages, crime and immigration have jumped to the top of the political agenda and there is a widespread sense of malaise.

While Berlusconi should be able to avoid the degree of infighting that brought down Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition in January, he could be vulnerable to sniping from Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, who felled his first government after seven months.

But Pavoncello said Berlusconi still looked set to stamp his authority on what would be "a government of the premiership."

"At the end of the day he is still the leader and isn't going to be pushed around. It's true the League did well, but Berlusconi did so much better," the professor told Reuters.

The 66-year-old Bossi, whose violent rhetoric has not been toned down by a stroke, will be minister without portfolio for federalist reforms.

Party colleague Roberto Calderoli, who as an anti-Islam minister in 2006 provoked protests with his T-shirt featuring a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed (PBHU), will be in charge of slashing red tape as minister of "Legislative Simplification."

AN will be in charge of the defense ministry. Berlusconi kept his election pledge of having four women in his cabinet, though only two of them -- the education and environment ministers -- have first-tier portfolios.

Reuters

Last Mod: 08 Mayıs 2008, 12:44
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