Prodi could bring Europe back into Italian politics


The European dimension is much stronger in the election programme of former Commission President Romano Prodi, who leads the center-left opposition in a showdown against the incumbent PM Silvio Berlusconi.  

Marco Incerti reasearch fellow of the Brussels think tank, 
, Centre for European Studies, argues that even if EU related policy matters have not played any major role in the election campaign, that has been dominated by economic issues and mudslinging, a win to the centre-right coalition under Prodi, could provide for a change: 

"What may change in case the centre-left won the election is the stance of Italy vis-à-vis the EU," Incerti says to EURACTIV. "The centre-left made Europe the guiding star of its election programme, one which is supposed to define all of the policy actions. Here, Prodi has largely drafted on his experience as European Commission President. All of the ideas he was championing while in that position have been taken up in the program," says Incerti, mentioning among other things the need for institutional reform, the need to increase the coordination and integration of economic and fiscal policies, revision of the structure of the budget, to shift resources to R&D, innovation and knowledge economy. 
"This signals a change of attitude vis-à-vis Europe, which comes back to the fore of Italian concerns, in particular through a coherent vision, which has been lacking to a certain extent under the Berlusconi government," says Incerti.

The centre-left coalition sees the EU as the necessary channel for Italy’s foreign policy:

"This would represent a marked departure from Berlusconi's centre-right coalition, which is likely to continue to give priority to the Transatlantic partnership with the US. It has to be stressed that, because of Italy’s history and the current international context, it would be impossible for any centre-left government to neglect the relations with the US, or to be confrontational with it, but the focus would be much more on Europe. In this context Prodi's centre-left coalition is in favour of the immediate creation of the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs of Europe, and it goes as far as calling for the abolition of veto-rights in the CFSP field."
Writing in the European Voice, chief policy analyst of the Brussels think tank 
European Policy Centre,
Antonio Missiroli observes: "For all his boast of personal friendships with with Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, Berlusconi has made very few friends in Europe."

Despite his background as a businessman and successful entrepreneur Berlusconi has achieved little on Lisbon related reform  issues: "Italian industry has hardly begun to adjust to fixed exchange rates and market openness. Nor have public finances and improved in any way, if anything the reverse," writes Missiroli.   

The centre right's election program does not explicitly mention the Lisbon-agenda. It focuses on very specific administrative/fiscal measures, aimed at making life easier for liberal professions and enterprises, namely the SMEs.

However, Prodi's chances of carrying through reforms may not be high. He is presiding over a coalition of 14 parties, and this could provide for a number of difficulties because of the fragmented nature of the coalition: "It remains to be seen to what extent Prodi could keep his partners in check. In any case, it is unlikely that a centre-left government would have the necessary strength to carry out the in-depth structural reforms that the country needs to really get going again. In this respect a centre-left government could at least lay some foundations and ease some tensions in order to create the kind of social climate necessary for the acceptance of such reforms," argues Incerti.

Italy is preparing to hold general elections on 9-10 April. The two main rivals are Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, 69, leader of the centre-right coalition and opposition leader of the centre-left coalition, former Commission President Romano Prodi, 66. 

In 2001, Berlusconi won the largest majority in Parliament since World War II on promises of an economic upswing embodied in his programme ‘Contract with Italians'.

Berlusconi's European credentials have been less than brilliant. The superficiality of negotiations and the subsequent failure to reach agreement on the Constitutional treaty during the Italian presidency in 2003, and Berlusconi's clash with a critical German MEP in Strasbourg, who he recommended for a film role as a nazi concentration camp guard, count among the low points. 

Generally, Italian influence in Europe has been on the wane, since Berlusconi took office. 
It is telling that the election program of the centre-right coalition holds less than ten lines on EU as opposed to the several pages in the program of Prodi's centre-left coalition.     

Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition has a total of 17 parties, the centre left-coalition of Prodi holds 13 parties.

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