It has been just 20 months since “The Professor”, as Romano Prodi is known in Italy, came to power for a second time, heading a 13-party coalition after a general election. The unifying factor? A common desire to overturn the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi. He won the gamble, but at what price?
The following day, the newspapers tempered any victory celebrations, already talking about the difficulties to come. With a majority of barely 30 seats in the lower house, and just two seats in the senate, the winning margin was tiny.
And the anti-Berlusconi feeling which linked the partners – proved insufficient to drive through reforms. Straightaway, voting became mired in in-fighting, and back-biting, and each attempt to bring about change got bogged down.
Political commentators point the finger at the electoral system itself as being a major contributor to the government’s woes. Parties only have to cross a very low threshhold of votes to claim their place in Parliament.
That proved the stumbling block for the coalition last February, when the lack of a majority in the senate and lack of consensus on foreign policy led to Prodi’s resignation – only to be persuaded to stay by the President.
Left wingers were angry about Italy’s involvement in Afghanistan, and also opposed the enlargement of an American military base in northern Italy. The next stage was still fraught with fragility.
The united party of the left, which Prodi wanted to counter Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, was born, and at the helm, the relatively youthful Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni. On the international stage, Prodi restored Italy’s credibility, especially in Europe.
He cut the public deficit in half, and cleaned up the country’s finances.
And he began a programme of modernising and liberalising services, business and certain professions like the law. They might be essential reforms for Italians, but they’re painful nonetheless.