Prime Minister Prodi's Fall: Politics as Usual in Italy

In Italy, the Prodi Government has fallen. To be honest, the fall was just a question of when, not if. I know very well that it’s hard for a foreigner to understand Italian politics, especially if he is an Anglo-Saxon country. And I know that it’s pretty strange to see a Prime minister resign after just 281 days in office, but in Italy this is absolutely normal. The average duration of an Italian government is less than one year. Only the former Berlusconi government managed to last until the end, that is to say, five years.


The Italian political system is, to put it mildly, a little unusual: both right and left coalitions are far too fragmented to govern effectively. Our President, a few hours ago, began consultations in order to find a solution to the crisis. These “consultations” mean that he now must listen the opinions of… 19 different parties!

As you can see, coalitions aren’t very homogeneous, especially the center-left one, a crucible of parties of every kind (catholic, post-communist, environmentalist, socialist parties and even two that after the fall of the Berlin Wall still call themselves “communist”).

The Italian elections of April 2006 revealed a virtual balance between the center-right and the center-left coalitions, but due to the voting system Prodi had a majority among representatives although only a difference of two votes at the Senate.

You needn’t be a scholar in political science to understand that such government was going to have a troubled life. And a short one, too.

After a few months, the contradictions exploded, and on Wednesday, February 21, in a dramatic session at the Senate to vote for the Italian foreign policy, the foreign minister Massimo D’Alema didn’t manage to get enough votes for his plan. In Italy a government that cannot count on a strong majority to vote its foreign policy has the duty to resign. Its foreign policy is at the heart of its international action, its image in the eyes of the world.


That is why, before the voting session started, D’Alema had explained that “without a self-sufficient majority on our foreign policy, all that the Government will do is resign”. And resign they did. It couldn’t be any other way. It is the Italian way.

Italy is an important member state of NATO and of every other prestigious international organisation. At the moment, Italy sits in the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member. It’s one of the founding countries of the European Union, and has been a stable and reliable ally of the US. But it’s on this last point that the irreparable contradictions emerged: foreign policy and the relationship with the US. The presence of a radical left, based on a staunch anti-Americanism, has undermined the US/Italy alliance. The constant armwrestling inside the government about the Italian mission in Afghanistan and the presence of NATO bases in Italy has literally worn out Prodi and his alliance.

What’s the dream of the Italian radical left in pushing their agenda forward relentlessly? Let’s not beat about the bush: they seek the withdrawal of our soldiers from the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and the end of any military collaboration with the USA. All it took to trigger off the crisis was the plan for extending the US military base in Vicenza, though it had already been agreed to between Italy and the US. Just a few weeks ago, a massive demonstration of several dozens of thousands of people took place in Vicenza. Among the participants there were also some Government party leaders, demonstrating against the Government itself. Lethal contradictions, as you can see.


But unable to understand the difference between wishes and reality leads to many atrocious mistakes. That’s why Prodi fell. He meant to reconcile the different positions. But while you can certainly find a compromise on economic and fiscal policies, as well as a way out on ethical questions, it’s much harder to come to an agreement on the principles distinguishing a Western country from a Middle-Eastern one, of a key democracy from a meaningless country.

Italy is a member state of the UN, not of the Arab League, as well as member of NATO and not another military organisation. That’s why it must be a friend to Israel, as well as keep an open and straightforward relationship with the Arab countries, but without falling into the anti-Israeli and pro-Hezbollah camp.

Until a few days ago, our moderate left thought it was possible to control our radical left, and the leaders of the communist parties thought they could go on doing things that never have worked and never will: to be part of the government and to fight against it at the same time. Both were wrong.

What’s going to happen now? According to current Italian opinion polls, if we went to vote, Silvio Berlusconi would win and our center-right coalition would be back in power. That would be a sensible choice.

But what is most likely to happen? Our center-left will try to form another government, maybe with Prodi as a Prime Minister again, or it will seek the support of some senators of the other coalitions. However, the seemingly eternal Italian political contradictions won’t be solved and the government will suffer another predictable crisis. In a few months, we will have to explain — yet again — the bizarre behavior of Italian politics.


Mario Sechi is the Deputy Managing Editor of Il Giornale and owner of the blog

Il Giornale, founded in 1974 by Indro Montanelli, is the 4th largest newspaper in Italy.


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