Romano Prodi, the leader of Italy’s centre-left, is the man who wants to replace Silvio Berlusconi as the country’s prime minister.
In an interview with EuroNews on the issues and his aspirations, Prodi, who is ahead of Berlusconi in the opinion polls, was highly critical of the current administration calling it the worst government since World War Two.
Three months before the April general election, Prodi is preparing to take on Berlusconi and his allies with a coalition of centre-left parties.
Euronews’ Nicola Assetta:
What election campaign policies are you going to have to get past to satisfy the extremes of your coalition – the radicals and the liberals?
We have created a strong reformist programme, but without excesses or uncompromising positions. On the other hand, it is a courageous reformist programme.
I have said that Italy is in a profound crisis and so it needs in-depth reforms. So, what we’ve come up with is a very good synthesis between what you could call the more reformist spirit and the more radical.
On the issue of pulling Italian troops out of Iraq -although there were some minor differences of opinion among us over the details – we agreed, from the beginning, that the question of if and how the withdrawal is carried out, that has to be worked out with the Iraqi government.
But the agreement is clear, if we win the elections we will immediately draw up a timetable for withdrawal.
That is not to turn tail and run, it’s not the same thing as the immediate pull-out of Spanish troops that happened after Zaptero was election.
It would be a withdrawal within an established timetable and fixed dates.
The electoral law recently passed by the centre-right majority reintroduces the system of proportional representation rather than the first past the post – majority system – something which tends to work against coalitions. You have been able to move faster with the idea of a single Democratic party for the centre left, but your allies are more sceptical. How do you plan to make your coalition a single party?
With the majority – that is the first past the post system – we have had governments that have completed their full term in office. I didn’t like the Berlusconi government. It has certainly been the worst government since World War Two, but it has lasted.
In the end, to keep us out of office, they’ve come back to proportional representation. My response was political, pushing for a large, single ‘Democratic Party’. I knew, of course, that that could not happen right away, but we’ve reached a point of no-return, from which there’s no going back. Already, during this current goverment, we have taken the binding decision to form a single parliamentary group following the elections. I think that’s a very important decision.
If you win the election, what will you preserve of what Berlusconi has done?
There are some laws that a lot of Italians believe are designed only for certain people; laws that serve the personal interests of the prime minister and those around him. Those laws must go. As for the rest, even the ones we don’t particularly like, such as education reforms and changes in the employment law for those on minimum wage, we don’t intend to repeal them. We’ll make the neccessary modifications to adapt them to our political view. But we’re not going to go for a blank slate.
When the centre-left was in government, between 1996 and 2001, it didn’t pass an effective law on conflict of interest, that is setting standards for separating the private and public interests of candidates for public office. If the centre-left returns to power, how would you address that issue?
First of all, that’s true; we didn’t pass a law on conflicts of interests. Because at that time, we couldn’t image that such conflicts of interest could have such incredibly catastrophic consequences for the country. Now we know it’s a priority. And so we will adapt our legislation, to align it with all the other western democracies to regulate any conflicts of interest for holders of public office.
The ways of doing that are: revising the laws to address incompatibilities, setting up a specific watchdog agency to supervise this area and if there are economic activities that are considered to be incompatible, then a blind trust would be set up to independently administer a politician’s financial holdings, as happens everywhere else in the world.
So, Italy under Prodi, would it be closer to Christian-Democrat Merkel’s Germany or Socialist Zapatero’s Spain ?
It’s clear that Italian politics would be European, above all. And also rebuild the network of strongly pro-Europe countries.
I greatly appreciate what Chancellor Merkel has already done. She has a European sensibility, and is also capable of making considerable sacrifices for Europe. I feel the same. Certainly if I’m elected to lead Italy, we’ll support the idea that Europe can’t be effective if each individual country has a foreign policy that doesn’t match the European Community’s foreign policy.
I’m convinced that Germany under Merkel aligning itself more with the United States, doesn’t at all contradict the policy of a strong Europe. Peace must be defended through close links between Europe and the US, but obviously a partnership of equals.
I spent five years as the President of the European Commission and my greatest problem was to confront the growing number of those who I call ‘The Minimalists.’ Those are the people who just think of Europe as a free trade area and nothing more. There were no strong leaders who effectively opposed that approach.
Once we had politicians from the great European countries who staked their political careers on the progress of Europe, but now the European Union has reached an impasse so we must try to return to European principals. If I win the election I promise to do this, obviously within the contraints of Italy’s influence in the union. I really think that Angela Merkel will also do the same. And in 2007 France will hold elections and France knows very well that it isn’t going to find its role and identity if it’s not capable of being a European leader. It means that once again we can start to return to the principal foundations of a Europe that works together.