It’s been a turbulent two weeks for Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. A parliamentary defeat over foreign policy in Afghanistan led him to offer his resignation. A close vote of confidence in the country’s Senate put his nine-party coalition government back on track. After securing the lower house the following day, he talked exclusively to EuroNews about the issues that have marked his first nine months in power and what lies ahead after the coalition’s first major crisis.
Prodi: “It has turned out to be a welcome crisis as it strongly reunited our coalition. And you have to remember also that we haven’t lost anything; the vote of confidence produced the same number of votes we had on day one. And that makes the coalition very attractive.”
EuroNews: There are also certain problems to be debated this week and in the weeks to come that could put the coalition in trouble again.
Prodi: “Listen, you’re clearly talking about the mission in Afghanistan, but there’ll be more than 300 votes in favour out of 350 so I think that whatever the smaller groups decide to do, there won’t be a problem.”
EuroNews: Nearly everyone in Italy agrees the electoral system needs changing. But how? A two-round single candidate system like in France? Proportional representation like Spain, but with a few amendments? Or a German system favouring the majority without forgetting the smaller parties?
Prodi: “I’m looking for a system which allows the people to express themselves fairly, and which guarantees stability. Right now this isn’t possible because there’s no agreement. So I’m looking to find sufficient agreement because an electoral system can only be changed with adequate consensus. I can be quite flexible, but I insist on a clear objective: that citizens can express themselves, that one can govern and also, in my political view, two opposing sides that make the system alternate.”
EuroNews: Do you find it fair that parties that don’t get a large amount of votes have the power to block a government?
Prodi: “It’s not fair but it’s in Italian history: the constitution and electoral law weren’t meant for stability, but to guarantee as much pluralistic expression as possible, after what happened with fascism. And it stuck. Neither is it fair that we have two identical parliamentary chambers to approve the same laws. If there’s the slightest amendment, the law still has to be passed from one chamber to the other….but that’s history and that’s why I want change.”
EuroNews: Is it more appropriate to take part in missions like Italy is doing in Afghanistan or Lebanon, like it did in Iraq, where it was more of a humanitarian military force. Or is it more appropriate to go ready for battle like the Americans and the British?
Prodi: “I find it appropriate to take part in missions where the UN makes the decisions, appropriate to respect obligations to allies. But peace missions like the one we organised for Lebanon have a fundamental role in the peace process. However, as they are conflict zones, obviously our soldiers are going armed and they will use them if necessary.”
EuroNews: On the subject of the allies: Italy has not yet officially asked for the extradition of the 26 CIA agents accused of taking part in the kidnapping of the former Egyptian immam Abu omar. How do you think this judicial and political problem can be resolved?
Prodi: “In this case, the decision’s not yet been made, partly as we’ve asked the constitutional court to shed some light on certain legal aspects. But certainly I find it strange that, even before Italy has decided anything, the US has declared it won’t extradite anyone.”
EuroNews: One of the principal new measures of your political programme was the DICO, a kind of legal union for homosexual and heterosexual couples. Some say this project has been sacrificed. It’s also sometimes thought abroad that the Vatican has an influence. Does the Vatican really have such a say in Italian politics?
Prodi: “Firstly about the DICO; it’s a project that’s been thoroughly examined, which doesn’t violate family values. It’s a project which recognises certain rights, it doesn’t go against Italian tradition. The government has not abandoned it, it’s made its proposal and there are nine other projects. So there are ten in total and it will be up to the parliament to decide which of these projects to go ahead with. In this respect the government has done its job.”
EuroNews : And the Vatican’s power, is it just a myth?
Prodi: “There is of course a long tradition of close relations between the church and the state, from a geographical point of view. But this in no way affects the secular nature of the Italian state, as is recognised in the Italian-Vatican agreement, the ‘Concordato’.”
EuroNews: There’s a new form of patriotism, some call it ‘industrial patriotism’. For example when the Italian company Enel wants to get a stake in Suez, Paris blocks it; when Germany’s E.On tries to buy part of the Spanish Endesa, Enel also wants a part of Endesa. To what extent can a state have a say in the economic choices of semi-private companies?
Prodi: “You mention a new form of nationalism, but it’s an old form, it’s European history. I started my economics studies by analysing it and I think I’m the first to use the term ‘National Champion’. In other fields, any similar attempt would be bound to fail: we’re still in a transitional stage in which some cross-border mergers are blocked and some not. I’m hoping, and I’m pushing for, a reduction in the number of state obstacles to a real European market. And to fully succeed, European institutions need to play a greater role. Because there’s the paradox, on one hand we don’t want a European policy, and on the other we complain when a country intervenes in problems of this kind.”
EuroNews: On the question of the Airbus crisis: it can be said that Airbus is an example of economic cooperation, but it’s also a political cooperation…
Prodi: “Airbus was born as a political enterprise, to then become more and more industrial. What’s happening at the moment is essentially a rite of passage from a political strategy to an industrial strategy. To compete against Boeing, Airbus is in a period where it needs to take stock, it has to shut plants, to restructure, to make redundancies, to reorganise. It’s avoided doing that up to now because of its original political dimension. From now on it’s going to behave more and more like a private company.”