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What to expect from Italy’s new government

Image result for gentiloni
Far from a rupture, Italy will get more of the same under its new prime minister Paolo Gentiloni. (AFP / Getty)

Consider Italy’s new government renzismo without Renzi.

A week after Matteo Renzi failed, in spectacular measure, in his efforts to win Italian voter approval of his ill-fated referendum on political reform, Italy has a new prime minister after consultations between Renzi, other political leaders and Italian president Sergio Mattarella.

With no more than 15 months (and likely far less) until the next general election, Italy’s new premier Paolo Gentiloni will lead a government that looks much like the one Renzi led until last week — one dominated by the centrist and reformist wing of Italy’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).

Given that the Democrats and their centrist allies retain a majority in the lower house of the Italian parliament, the Camera dei deputati (Chamber of Deputies), it was almost certain that Mattarella would appoint someone from the Italian left. It was not certain that Mattarella would turn to a Renzi ally, however, given the longstanding tradition of non-partisan ‘technocratic’ governments in Italian politics. Still, Gentiloni was a colorless Roman aristocrat with an undistinguished political career until his sudden ascent to foreign minister two years ago. He replaced Federica Mogherini, who departed Renzi’s government in 2014 to serve as the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. Today, Mogherini remains a rising star who may yet eclipse even Renzi from her perch as Europe’s top diplomat.

Gentiloni, who hails from Roman nobility, began his career in journalism, switching to politics in the 1990s as an ally of Francesco Rutelli, a former centrist mayor of Rome from 1993 to 2001. Both of them served in the short-lived government of Romano Prodi from 2006 to 2008; Rutelli as deputy prime minister and culture minister, Gentiloni as communications minister. In the center-left primary to determine the party’s candidate in the 2013 Roman mayoral election, Gentiloni finished in third place with just 14% of the vote.

Despite strong marks for his time as foreign minister, no one expects Gentiloni to remain prime minister longer than the next election, no matter who wins.

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RELATED: Renzi’s referendum loss isn’t the end of the world
for Italy or the EU

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Gentiloni, instead, looks more like a caretaker who will lead the government through rough months ahead while Renzi licks his wounds back home in Florence and prepares for the next election.

Perhaps most consequentially for Europe (and global markets), Gentiloni’s cabinet retains Renzi’s finance minister Pier Carlo Padoan, himself seen as a potential successor to Renzi. Other key ministers retained include defence minister Roberta Pinotti and justice minister Andrea Orlando, while Angelino Alfano, previously interior minister, will assume Gentiloni’s new role as foreign minister.

Italian banks on the brink

With his confidante running the government, Matteo Renzi is now free to start crafting his own political comeback from the sidelines. (Facebook)

Gentiloni and Padoan will turn most immediately to efforts to calm markets about Italy’s tottering banks and, in particular, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena (MPS).  Increasingly, it seems likely that the bank, the world’s oldest (dating back to 1492, will require a bailout from the government, potentially angering taxpayers. Potentially, the government might also require a ‘bail-in’ of the bank’s investors, potentially angering Italy’s capital class. Other Italian banks in need of capitalization may come in for the same treatment. Essentially, Italian banks today find themselves in much the same position as American banks in 2009 — undercapitalized and sitting on far too many non-performing loans. While the U.S. bailout in 2008 and 2009 was far from popular, in today’s climate, in a country like Italy, where joblessness and listless (or negative) growth have become endemic, a bailout could be far more toxic.

Renzi may believe that, by leaving such unpopular steps to Gentiloni and Padoan, he can emerge later in 2017 or 2018 for a comeback — not unlike Silvio Berlusconi, himself forced from office twice, despite dominating Italian politics for nearly two decades.

That may be too clever by half. Continue reading What to expect from Italy’s new government

A guide to Italy’s post-Napolitano presidential puzzle

Renzi NapolitanoPhoto credit to Roberto Monaldo / LaPresse.

Italy’s presidential election functions more like a papal conclave than a direct election or even like a party-line legislative vote like the recent failed attempts to elect a new Greek president.Italy Flag Icon

The long-awaited decision today by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to resign after nine years in office is not likely to result immediately in snap elections in Italy, as it did recently in Greece. Nevertheless, the resulting attempt to select Napolitano’s successor presents Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi with perhaps the most treacherous political task since taking office last February.

Napolitano’s legacy

Napolitano, at age 89, was anxious to step down after Italy relinquishes its six-month rotating European presidency this week. Elected president in 2006, Napolitano (pictured above, left, with Renzi), a former moderate figure within Italy’s former Communist Party, is Italy’s longest serving president, reelected to an unprecedented second seven-year term in 2013 when the divided Italian political scene couldn’t agree on anyone else after five prior ballots.

Critics refer to Napolitano as ‘Re Giorgio‘ (King George), but there’s little doubt that he was consequential during Italy’s financial markets crisis in late 2011 by nudging Silvio Berlusconi, who first came to power in 1994, out of office — seemingly once and for all. Napolitano’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering may have prevented Italy from the humiliating step of seeking a bailout from European authorities though his detractors argue that he circumvented the democratic process by engineering Berlusconi’s ouster and appointing former European commissioner Mario Monti as prime minister. Monti, who stepped down after 2013 national elections, largely failed to push through major economic reforms that many investors believe Italy needs to become more competitive, and that Renzi now promises to enact.

Napolitano, who will remain a ‘senator for life’ in the upper chamber of the Italian parliament, steps down with generally high regard from most Italians, who believe that he, in particular, has been a stabilizing force throughout the country’s worst postwar economic recession.

An opaque process to select a president

The process to appoint his successor involves an electoral assembly that comprises members of both houses of the Italian parliament, plus 58 additional electors from the country’s 20 regions — a total of 1,009 electors. Within 15 days, the group must hold its first vote, though it may only hold a maximum of two voter per day. For the first three ballots, a presidential candidate must win a two-thirds majority. On the fourth and successive ballots, however, a simple majority of 505 votes is sufficient. Continue reading A guide to Italy’s post-Napolitano presidential puzzle

Calabria, Emilia Romagna elections boost Renzi government


In the wake of regional elections last month, Italian and international commentators have been quick to anoint Matteo Salvini, the right-wing leader of Italy’s Lega Nord (Northern League) the new star of Italy’s right.  calabriaItaly Flag Iconemilia-romagna

The most important takeaway, however, from both the Emilia-Romagna and Calabria elections on, is that Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi remains, by far, the most potent political force in the country. Renzi’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) won by double-digit margins in both elections. Though worrisome trends for Renzi certainly lurk behind the headline numbers, the overwhelming narrative in Italy is that the Democrats, under Renzi, are quickly becoming Italy’s hegemonic political force, much like the Christian Democrats from the 1950s to the 1990s and the various iterations of the Silvio Berlusconi-led centrodestra (center-right) since 1994.

In both elections, voters were replacing scandal-tainted regional presidents who resigned earlier in the year.

Calabria, in Italy’s south (the ‘toe’ that nearly touches the island region of Sicily), with just 1.98 million residents, is among the poorest regions in Europe, let alone Italy, plagued by the ‛Ndrangheta, the local organized crime operation, and fewer economic opportunities than the more storied (and well touristed) northern regions. The Democrats easily won the regional presidency, however, under the candidacy of Mario Oliverio, the decade-long president of Consenza province, who won 61.4% to just 23.6% for Wanda Ferro, the candidate of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.  The victory means that southern Italy, generally a conservative region, has almost exclusively center-left regional presidents (with the exception of Campania), two of whom — Puglia’s Nichi Vendola and Sicily’s Rosario Crocetti — are openly gay leftists.

Emilia-Romagna, a region of nearly 4.5 million people in central Italy just north of Tuscany, is the beating heart of the Italian left and during the postwar period, its regional governments were reliably under the control of the old Italian Communist Party. So it’s no surprise that the Democratic Party, a few iterations removed from its Communist Party roots, would dominate the race. True to form, the PD’s candidate, Stefano Bonaccini (pictured above, right, with Renzi) easily won the regional elections by a margin of 49.05% to 29.85% for his nearest competitor, Alan Fabbri of the Northern League.

Despite the wide victories for Renzi and his Democratic Party candidates, it was something of a shock that the Northern League won so much support in Emilia-Romagna, both because of the region’s historical left-wing tilt and because the Northern League has focused its efforts north of the region, chiefly in the Veneto, Piedmont and Lombardy.


That the Northern League is breaking out of northern Italy and into central Italy, with plans to attract national support, is due to the vision of its young new leader, Matteo Salvini (pictured above). Continue reading Calabria, Emilia Romagna elections boost Renzi government

Did Renzi make a mistake in taking power too soon?


I argue this morning in EurActiv that the mistakes of Italy’s new prime minister Matteo Renzi in the past two weeks alone mean that we should be very skeptical about the chances that he can unlock the puzzle of reforming Italy’s economy and regulatory structure — and especially on a timeline that expects to enact major reforms before voting for the European parliamentary elections:

But for a politician whose brand is based on breaking with Italy’s past, his rise to power represents a very familiar path.  The putsch to oust Letta, executed behind closed doors, is reminiscent of many government reboots of Italy’s past.  Renzi, moreover, hopes to hold power until 2018, giving him four years in office without seeking the mandate of a popular vote.  That’s more ‘politics as usual’ than rupture.  Over the weekend, a planned meeting between Renzi and Beppe Grillo, the leader of the protest Five-Star Movement devolved into a clownish shouting match.  Though the blame rests more with the mercurial Grillo than with Renzi, the Five-Star constituency includes the kind of voters that Renzi must win in order to truly transform Italy’s economy.

I also question whether Renzi’s choices for his new cabinet are entirely wise:

For someone who’s been plotting a move to Palazzo Chigi for two years, Renzi’s cabinet is far from inspiring.  In light of the male-dominated nature of Italian politics and business, it’s promising that Renzi’s 16-member cabinet contains an equal number of men and women.  While the idea was to select a cabinet of young, energetic ministers, the cabinet doesn’t have the feel of an all-star assembly.

Renzi’s finance and economy minister, Pier Carlo Padoan, since 2007 the deputy secretary general of the OECD, has a strong pedigree as an economist, advising Italy’s center-left governments in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the requisite reforms to bring Italy into shape to join the eurozone.  But he falls into the same line of technocratic experts as his immediate predecessors, Fabrizio Saccomanni, Vittorio Grilli and Monti.

Renzi ignominiously dumped Letta’s foreign minister Emma Bonino, a longtime champion of women’s rights abroad and good government at home for the 40-year-old Federica Mogherini, first elected to the Italian parliament in 2008 and who has never held a ministerial post.

Renzi ‘s cabinet also excludes Cécile Kyenge, Letta’s minister for integration.  Letta demonstrated significant courage in appointing Kyenge, Italy’s first black minister.  Though racist slurs against Kyenge often drew negative headlines, her appointment inaugurated an overdue conversation about racism in Italy, especially as it regards integration and immigration, Kyenge’s portfolio.  Dumping Kyenge hardly seems like bold leadership.

Though Angelino Alfano remains interior minister, Renzi stripped Alfano of his title as deputy prime minister, and he cut all but two other members of Alfano’s New Center-Right (NCD) from the cabinet.  Those decisions may haunt Renzi when things get tough in the Italian Senate, where the Democratic Party lacks a majority.

Renzi brings down Letta government, expected to become PM


Just two months into his leadership of Italy’s main center-left party, the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), Florence mayor Matteo Renzi has found a way to balance his criticism of prime minister Enrico Letta’s government against the notion that he’s working against Letta, a former deputy leader of his own party.Italy Flag Icon

He’s decided that it will simply be easier to lead Italy’s government himself — and the past four saves have played out dramatically as Renzi engineered the collapse of Letta’s government.

Initially, Renzi’s gambit looks like it’s going to work.  The Democratic Party national leadership backed Renzi’s plan almost unanimously after a meeting earlier Thursday, where Renzi argued that the party must ‘uscire dalla palude‘ (‘get out of the swamp’) to effect change in Italy.

Letta will resign as prime minister tomorrow.

As a formal matter, Italian president Giorgio Napolitano will consult with the leaders of all of Italy’s political parties about forming a new government, but the outcome seems almost certain.  Renzi, at age 39, will become the youngest prime minister in Italian history, taking over essentially where Letta leaves off.

It’s an audacious and skilled move. It’s one part Giulio Andreotti (note Renzi’s mastery of internal PD politics).  It’s one part Silvio Berlusconi (note Renzi’s mastery of the kind of political theater it takes to wage a successful campaign against your own party’s government).  It’s also one part Michael Corelone — Renzi showed this week he has the ruthlessness to pull the trigger when it counts.  (Can you imagine what British policy might look like today if former foreign minister David Miliband had the same instincts five years ago?)

Renzi expects to form a government that includes the Democratic Party, the centrist Scelta Civica (SC, Civic Choice), a group of reform-minded moderates that supported former prime minister Mario Monti, and the Nuovo Centrodestra (NCD, the ‘New Center-Right’), a breakaway faction from former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s rechristened Forza Italia.  That’s the same coalition that Letta led, with the same strengths and shortcomings.

Renzi says he’ll seek a government through the end of the current parliamentary term, which ends in 2018.   Continue reading Renzi brings down Letta government, expected to become PM

Renzi, Berlusconi team up for electoral law pact


Italian politics just got a lot more complicated.Italy Flag Icon

Over the weekend, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of Italy’s largest center-right party, Forza Italia, and Matteo Renzi, the leader of Italy’s largest center-left party, the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), joined forces (pictured above) to introduce the blueprint for a new electoral law.

Notably, the deal didn’t include input from prime minister Enrico Letta, a moderate who leads a fragile ‘grand coalition’ government that includes not just his own Democratic Party, but centrists close to former technocratic prime minister Mario Monti and one of Italy’s two main center-right blocs, the Nuovo Centrodestra (NCD, the ‘New Center-Right’), led by deputy prime minister and interior minister Angelino Alfano.  The Alfano bloc split two months ago from Berlusconi’s newly rechristened Forza Italia, which pulled its support from the Letta government at the same time.

The deal is a political masterstroke by Renzi because it makes him appear to have stolen the initiative from Italy’s prime minister.  Letta formed a government in May 2013 with the two priority goals of passing a new election law and deeper economic reforms.  Despite a ruling in December 2013 that Italy’s current elections law is unconstitutional, Letta’s government has not yet put forward an alternative acceptable to the three main groups in the coalition.  So the Renzi-Berlusconi deal is now the only concrete proposal — it backs up the talk that Renzi, the 39-year-old Florence mayor, will be a man of action in Italian politics.  Renzi won the party’s leadership in a contest in November 2013 over token opposition.  Renzi is neither a minister in Letta’s cabinet nor a member of the Italian parliament, and he’s been more of a critic of the current government than a supporter of a prime minister who until recently was the deputy leader of Renzi’s own party.

By way of background (those familiar can skip the following three paragraphs):

Italy has gone through a few different electoral systems, but most of them have featured either closed-list or only partially open-list proportional representation.  Reforms in 1991 and 1993 transformed the previous system in what’s informally been called Italy’s first republic, which spanned the postwar period until the collapse of the dominant Democrazia Cristiana (DC, Christian Democracy) in a series of bribery and corruption scandals collectively known as Tangentopoli (‘Bribesville’).  But the current system dates to 2005, when Berlusconi ushered in a new law that everyone (including Roberto Calderoli, who introduced the 2005 legislation) now agrees is awful and which Italy’s Corte costituzionale has now invalidated.

The current law, which governed Italy’s elections in 2006, 2008 and 2013, provides for a national proportional representation system to determine the 630 members of the lower house, the Camera die Deputati (Chamber of Deputies).  The party (or coalition) that wins the greatest number of votes nationwide wins a ‘bonus’ that gives it control of 55% of the lower house’s seats, not unlike the Greek electoral system.  But the 315 members of the upper house, the Senato (Senate), are determined on a regional PR basis — the top party/coalition in each of Italy’s 20 regions wins 55% of the region’s seats.  That means, however, that one party/coalition can hold a majority in the lower house, but wield much less than a majority in the upper house.

That’s the exact situation in which Italy found itself after the February 2013 elections, when the Democratic Party and its allies in the centrosinistra (center-left) coalition narrowly edged out Berlusconi’s centrodestra (center-right) coalition.  Beppe Grillo’s protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) followed closely behind in third place.  It meant that while the Italian left controlled the Chamber of Deputies, it couldn’t muster a majority in the Senate.  After a three-month political crisis that ended with the inability to elect a new Italian president (Italy’s parliament ultimately decided to reelect the 88-year-old Giorgio Napolitano to an unprecedented second seven-year term), the Democratic Party’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani resigned, and Napolitano invited Letta to form Italy’s current government.

The Renzi-Berlusconi deal sketches out an electoral reform on roughly the following lines:

  • The Chamber of Deputies would become, by far, the predominant chamber of Italian lawmaking.  The Senate would hold fewer powers as a region-based chamber.  Italy’s national government would also consolidate more powers away from Italy’s regions.
  • Deputies would be elected, as they are now, on the basis of national, closed-list proportional representation, which concentrates power in the hands of party leaders and elites (as opposed to open-list, which would allow voters to choose the members that represent them in parliament).  An alternative might be something akin to the proportional aspect of the Spanish electoral system — in Italy, it would mean a proportional system divided into 118 constituencies, each of which elects four or five deputies.
  • If a party/coalition wins over 35% of the vote, it will still yield a ‘majority bonus’ of either 53% or 54% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies.  If no party/coalition wins over 35%,  the top two parties/coalitions will hold a runoff to determine who wins the majority bonus.
  • Italy would introduce a threshold for parties in order to reduce the fragmentation of Italy’s politics — a party running outside a coalition would need to win 8% of the vote and a party running inside a coalition would need to win 4% or 5% of the vote running outside a coalition (though the thresholds would be much lower in a multi-district ‘semi-Spanish’ system).
  • The deal would not replicate the French system, which elects legislators to single-member districts in a two-round election, and which has been discussed often as an alternative for Italy.

The details are not so important at this stage, because they could change as the Renzi-Berlusconi deal begins the long process of turning into legislation.  But if Renzi can pull the majority of the Democratic Party along, and if Berlusconi’s Forza Italia supports the deal, the two groups could steamroll Italy’s smaller parties, even in the Senate.  If Alfano and his bloc joins, the deal would be unstoppable.  Renzi has already won a majority of the party’s executive committee (a promising first sign), and Alfano has indicated that he’s open to the reform (though less excited about closed lists).

But there are all sorts of fallout effects — politically, legally and electorally — to contemplate over the coming days and weeks. Continue reading Renzi, Berlusconi team up for electoral law pact

14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014


Though I rang in the new year with a list of 14 world elections to watch in the coming year (and 14 more honorable mentions to keep an eye on), I wanted to showcase a few more thoughts about what to watch for in world politics and foreign affairs in 2014.

Accordingly, here are 14 possible game-changers — they’re not predictions per se, but neither are they as far-fetched as they might seem.  No one can say with certainty that they will come to pass in 2014.  Instead, consider these something between rote predictions (e.g., that violence in Iraq is getting worse) and outrageous fat-tail risks (e.g., the impending breakup of the United States).

There’s an old album of small pieces conducted by the late English conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, a delightfully playful album entitled Lollipops that contains some of the old master’s favorite, most lively short pieces.

Think of these as Suffragio‘s 14 world politics lollipops to watch in 2014.

We start in France… Continue reading 14 potential game-changers for world politics in 2014

Renzi wins Democratic Party leadership, establishing rivalry with Letta, Italy’s prime minister


If Matteo Renzi’s victory yesterday in the leadership contest for Italy’s center-left Partido Democratico (Democratic Party) was widely expected, what happens next is anything but clear. Italy Flag Icon

Though Renzi, the popular 38-year-old mayor of Florence, campaigned (unsuccessfully) to be the prime ministerial candidate of the broad centrosinistra (center-left) coalition just over a year ago on a platform of sweeping generational change within both the Italian left and right, he’s emerged today to a new landscape.

Instead, Italy is governed today by two relatively young politicians — prime minister Enrico Letta (age 47) and deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano (age 43).  The Democratic Party’s previous leader, the colorless Pier Luigi Bersani, stepped down after internal revolts against his preferred choice for Italy’s president (ultimately, Italy’s center-right and center-left coalesced around a second term for the incumbent, Giorgio Napolitano).  The dominant figure of the Italian right for the past two decades, Silvio Berlusconi, was evicted late last month from the Italian Senato (Senate) in connection with his tax fraud conviction, and Alfano and the other center-right ministers in the current coalition government refused to join Berlusconi’s newly rechristened Forza Italia, forming their own alternative Nuovo Centrodestra (New Center-Right).

That’s taken some of the wind out of Renzi’s populist ‘pox-on-both-your-houses’ message, which shares more than a little in common with that of Beppe Grillo’s anti-austerity protest group, the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement).

In essence, Renzi’s victory means that the Italian left now has two leaders — Letta, who leads the coalition government, and Renzi, who will lead the party.  Renzi won’t join Letta’s cabinet, but the two have pledged to work together, even though Renzi often pledged during the leadership contest to push Letta harder to produce tangible reform legislation.  What’s most clear is that the Letta-Renzi rivalry will now become one of the most central dynamics of Italian politics — more so than the recent split between Berlusconi and Alfano on the Italian right.

In many ways, Renzi is becoming for the Italian left what Berlusconi has now become to the Italian right — a key leadership figure who is sufficiently removed from the current coalition government that he can run against the Letta government in the next elections.  Although Berlusconi  formally pulled out of the coalition while Renzi, ostensibly, still supports Letta’s government, both Berlusconi and Renzi (whose populism has caused more than a few comparisons to Berlusconi) will exert significant pressure on Italy’s government from the outside.

Renzi won 68% of the Democratic Party leadership contest on Sunday, defeating both Gianni Cuperlo (18%) and Giuseppe Civati (14%).  Cuperlo, a member of Italy’s Camera dei Deputati (Chamber of Deputies) whose background lies within the socialist/communist tradition of the Italian left, not the Christian democratic tradition, had the support of Bersani, former prime minister and foreign minister Massimo D’Alema, environmental minister Andrea Orlando, economic development minister Flavio Zanonato and Tuscan regional president Enrico Rossi — a particularly important endorsement, given that Florence is the largest city in Tuscany.  Ultimately, however, it wasn’t enough to stop Renzi, who routinely tops polls as Italy’s most popular politician.

Over 2.5 million party members voted in the election, bolstering Renzi’s claim that he can mobilize broad support for the Democratic Party in advance of Italy’s next elections.

Letta’s incentive is to hold onto power as long as possible in order to enact the kind of economic and labor market reforms that could unlock growth in the depressed Italian economy and make Italian exports more competitive globally, and to enact a new election law following the Italian constitutional court’s ruling last week that the current unwieldy law is unconstitutional.  If Letta continues as prime minister through 2015 and manages to achieve some success, there’s always a chance that Letta could emerge as the centrosinistra‘s standard-bearer — Letta will have demonstrated that his government has accomplished the change that Renzi has only been able to promise.

Renzi’s incentive is for Letta’s unwieldy coalition to hold on just long enough to unite Democratic Party behind Renzi’s leadership, presumably boost the centrosinistra‘s poll numbers, pass a new electoral law, and then head into elections relatively soon if Letta’s coalition fails (as is expected) to enact economic reforms.  The longer it takes for a new election, the more likely it will be that Renzi’s star will fade as he becomes more associated with the Letta government — if the Letta government fails, Renzi risks being tainted with it by association; if the Letta government succeeds, Letta himself will obviously want to become the prime ministerial candidate.

While it’s generally assumed today that Renzi — and not Letta — will lead the centrosinistra into the next Italian elections, Renzi has many enemies within the Democratic Party, including Bersani, D’Alema and much of the old guard who resent Renzi’s attacks on their leadership, as well as union leaders and other old-left stalwarts who fear that Renzi is a liberal ‘third way’ reformist in the mould of former US president Bill Clinton and former UK prime minister Tony Blair.  Renzi, who is more popular with the wider electorate than within the centrosinistra, has called for lower taxes and a more comprehensive approach to economic reform.

Letta and Renzi met in Rome earlier today (pictured above) and, though they claimed that they work well together in a joint statement, it remains obvious to the rest of the world that Letta and Renzi are now more rivals than teammates.  For now, at least, Renzi has ruled out forcing early elections (and it’s not clear that he could mobilize the Democratic Party’s legislators to do so), especially in light of the sudden impetus to enact a new election law. Continue reading Renzi wins Democratic Party leadership, establishing rivalry with Letta, Italy’s prime minister

Rise of new Italian political leadership eclipses Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate


There’s not much to say about the decision of Italy’s upper house of parliament, the Senato (Senate), to expel former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi last week.Italy Flag Icon

Berlusconi, convicted on a tax fraud charge related to his media company, faces a year of community service and future legal troubles, most notably over charges of soliciting sex from underage prostitutes.

But the fallout from Berlusconi’s most recent political fall dropped long before his expulsion, as a new generation of Italian political leadership has increasingly taken center-stage in Italian politics.

The first sign was the decision among the center-right ministers in the current ‘grand coalition’ government headed by center-left prime minister Enrico Letta to push back against Berlusconi’s September attempt to bring down the government through a vote of no confidence.  Ostensibly, Berlusconi was registering disapproval over the rise of Italy’s VAT from 21% to 22%, but he certainly must have hoped that he could marshal the center-right’s unity to bring down the Letta government, thereby bringing about new elections before the Senate even had a chance to expel him.  Despite initially supporting Berlusconi (who has never served as a minister in the Letta government), deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano and the other ministers gradually pulled away from Berlusconi’s position.  By the time that the Italian parliament voted, Berlusconi himself had resigned to supporting Letta’s government.

The second sign was the formal rupture in mid-November of the party formerly known as Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom).  When Berlusconi tried to rechristen the party under the name of his initial 1994 party, Forza Italia, Alfano and the other moderates within the party pulled out of Forza Italia to form their own bloc, the Nuovo Centrodestra (New Center-Right).  The split meant that Alfano and his allies would continue to support the coalition government and that Berlusconi and his shrinking core of allies would pull their support from the coalition government — it’s a mutually convenient arrangement for both Berlusconi and Alfano, who remain united over their opposition to Berlusconi’s eviction last week and who would still run together under the same broad centrodestra (center-right) umbrella in the event of a new election.  Alfano can play the role of a statesman, and Berlusconi, free from the burdens of government (if not free from the demands of criminal liability) will be able to attack Letta and the center-left without abandon.

For his part, Letta will call a new no-confidence vote on December 11 in the wake of the center-right split, asserting control over his government in the post-Berlusconi era, giving Letta a new chance to deliver on the two major issues that his coalition was designed to address — fiscal reforms to make the Italian economy more competitive and election reforms to fix a helter-skelter system that’s partly responsible for the inertia of Italian government.

Compared to those two efforts, the formal vote to kick Berlusconi out of the Senate was a relatively minor affair.

Berlusconi supplanted Alfano, a former minister of justice and Berlusconi’s one-time protégé, to lead the center-right in the election campaign earlier this year.  Berlusconi’s shrewd success showcased his residual appeal to Italian voters — Berlusconi powered the centrodestra from a huge deficit to coming within 0.4% of defeating the centrosinistra (center-left) coalition.  It’s now a cliché to say that it’s never wise to count Berlusconi out, due not just to Berlusconi’s two decades at the center of Italian politics and power, but also to his wealth and ability to shape opinion through the ownership of much of Italy’s private media.

Polls showed an uptick in Berlusconi’s popularity in the wake of the Senate’s decision, and a December 2 Tecnè poll found that his new Forza Italia still wins about 22% of Italian voters — that’s just around 1% less than Beppe Grillo’s protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) and around 4% less than Italy’s main center-left party, the Partido Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).  While Alfano’s New Center-Right wins just 6.9% of the vote, the centrodestra would win around 36% of the vote if an election were held tomorrow to just 31% for the centrosinistra.

‘Aha!,’ say Berlusconi watchers — even at his weakest point, he’s still driving Italian politics.

But it seems more likely today than ever that Berlusconi will never again be Italy’s prime minister.  Continue reading Rise of new Italian political leadership eclipses Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate

What the Alfano-Berlusconi split means for Italian politics


Et tu, Angelino?Italy Flag Icon

In a stunning weekend move, deputy prime minister Angelino Alfano, the longtime political heir of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, refused to join Berlusconi’s newly rechristened Forza Italia political group.  Instead, Alfano will form his own center-right faction, the Nuovo Centrodestra (or the ‘New Center-Right’).  Alfano, who also serves as the interior minister in the ‘grand coalition’ government headed by center-left prime minister Enrico Letta, disagreed with Berlusconi’s attempt in late September to bring down Letta’s government in order to make way for early elections — ultimately, even Berlusconi backed down when it came time to hold a vote of no confidence.

The timing of the split comes at a critical point for Berlusconi (pictured above, right, with Alfano) and the Italian center-right.  Berlusconi faces expulsion from the Senato (Senate), Italy’s upper parliamentary chamber, in a vote scheduled to take place on November 27 — a direct result of a final conviction against Berlusconi for tax evasion in relation to his corporate media empire.  He’s set to serve a one-year sentence sometime this autumn and, due to his age, Berlusconi has elected community service over prison.

Berlusconi is preparing to take his reduced Forza Italia core — essentially the renamed version of his longtime Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom), which itself was known as Forza Italia between 1994 and 2007 — into opposition.

Most immediately, the new Alfano center-right faction’s emergence insulates the government from Berlusconi’s whims by delivering enough center-right senators and deputies to keep the government in place.  In that regard, Alfano’s move this weekend has done more to stabilize Italian politics for the foreseeable future than anything in the past seven months of the Letta government.  While Alfano still opposes Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate next week, Berlusconi seems unlikely to win against the combined force of the Italian left and the protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement).

The move could paint Alfano as a public servant willing to place governance and stability over scoring political points, and voters could reward Alfano when elections are held (still likely next year).  The move also makes it very likely that Alfano will lead the center-right into the next election, just as popular Florence mayor Matteo Renzi seems likely to win a landslide victory for the leadership of the Letta’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) in a vote that will be held on December 8.

Regardless of whether Letta, age 47, or Renzi, age 38, ultimately becomes the center-left prime ministerial candidate in the next election, a new generation of leadership is emerging in Italian politics — especially as the 43-year-old Alfano supplants the 77-year-old Berlusconi and other statesmen like Monti, age 70, and former Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani, age 62, fade from the center of Italian politics.

But it’s been a maxim of Italian politics for the past two decades that you count out Berlusconi at your own risk.   Continue reading What the Alfano-Berlusconi split means for Italian politics

Letta survives no-confidence vote easily as Berlusconi suffers humiliating defeat


For one day, at least, gerontocratic Italy was no country for old men.Italy Flag Icon

In his address to the Italian Senato (Senate), center-left prime minister Enrico Letta, just five months into the job, quoted former postwar Italian president Luigi Einaudi to announce as much to his allies and enemies alike in a speech that preceded a confidence vote for his beleaguered government:

Nella vita delle istituzione l’errore di non saper cogliere l’attimo puo’ essere irreparabile. [In the lives of nations, the mistake of not knowing how to seize the fleeting moment is irreparable.]

Italian politics, if nothing else, provides many fleeting moments, and Letta (at age 47, one of Italy’s youngest prime ministers) today seized a huge victory, as did Angelino Alfano, the 42-year-old center-right deputy prime minister and minister of the interior.  Both seized their moments at the expense of 77-year-old Silvio Berlusconi, who remains the central figure in Italian politics 19 years after his first election as prime minister — though perhaps not for much longer.

Letta easily won a vote of confidence in his government after a showdown that ultimately caused more damage to Italy’s centrodestra (center-right) than to Letta’s government that began four days ago when Berlusconi tried to pull his party’s five ministers out of the current coalition government and thereby end Letta’s short-lived government in favor of early elections.

Alfano, Berlusconi’s top deputy, defied Berlusconi by indicating he would vote to support Letta’s government.  With Alfano, other current ministers and at least 25 rebels from Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom) prepared to do the same, Berlusconi himself relented at the last minute and instructed all of the PdL’s senators to support Letta, who thereupon easily won a vote of no confidence by a margin of 270 to 135.  Letta leads an unwieldy grand coalition of center-right PdL senators, senators from Letta’s center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) and a handful of centrist, Christian Democratic and other pro-reform senators who support former technocratic prime minister Mario Monti.

But neither Letta’s victory nor Berlusconi’s retreat will come close to solving the problems Italy, its government, its economy, its political system and its political parties face in the months ahead: Continue reading Letta survives no-confidence vote easily as Berlusconi suffers humiliating defeat

Does this week’s political crisis in Italy represent Berlusconi’s last stand?


The United States isn’t the only country in the world hurtling toward a governance crisis this week.Italy Flag Icon

On Saturday, former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi pulled the five center-right members out of the governing coalition that’s been headed for five months by center-left prime minister Enrico Letta (pictured above, right) and called for snap elections.  The Italian stock market plunged this morning, Italian debt yields are already slightly rising and, once again, Italy, despite the best efforts of president Giorgio Napolitano, may well be headed to its second set of elections within 12 months — a move that would introduce new uncertainty within the eurozone at a time when most European leaders and global investors hoped the worst of the European economic crisis was over.

The big question is whether this truly marks the onset of another government collapse in Italy’s long-running political drama.  There’s reason to believe it’s more the last gasp of a disgraced former leader than a principled stand over competing visions for Italy’s budget and finances.  Berlusconi will shortly begin a year-long prison sentence (though due to his age, it’s likely to be house arrest or community service) after exhausting his appeals of a tax fraud conviction stemming from his leadership of Mediaset.  Berlusconi also faces appeals for conviction on charges of paying for sex with a minor and abuse of power in trying to cover it up that carries a seven-year prison sentence.  Most immediately, however, Berlusconi is angry that Italy’s parliament hasn’t lined up to lift a public service ban that now applies to Berlusconi in the wake of his tax fraud conviction.  At age 77 and 19 years after he first become Italy’s prime minister, Berlusconi faces the indignity of being stripped of his senatorial seat in October and being banned from the next election.

It’s never smart to bet against Berlusconi, whose wealth, media power and longevity in power makes him easily the most influential political leader in Italy — even today.  In the February parliamentary elections, he boosted the Italian center-right (centrodestra) coalition to within a razor-thin margin of defeating the center-left (centrosinistra) coalition.  But it’s not hard to see the latest political moment as Berlusconi lashing out in order to pull one last rabbit out of his magical political hat.  Earlier today, Berlusconi accused Napolitano of colluding with Italian judges against him.

If Berlusconi can bluster his way to early elections, he could potentially bring about a new parliament, especially with the center-left fractured ahead of a leadership election on December 8.  But that’s a big ‘if,’ and as Monday closed in Rome, there were signs that members within Berlusconi’s ranks were none too pleased with his strategy.

The center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), which narrowly won February’s parliamentary elections, holds a strong majority in the Camera dei Deputati (House of Deputies) due to election laws that provide a ‘winner’s bonus’ to the party with the most support.  It’s more chaotic in the Senato (the Senate), where seats are allocated on a state-by-state basis and where no party holds an absolute majority:


Realistically, that means no government can form without the Democrats, but that the Democrats alone cannot govern without allies in the Senate.  When the protest, anti-austerity Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement) refused to enter a governing coalition with the Democrats, the only potential coalition was a ‘grand coalition’ between the Democrats and Berlusconi’s Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom).  Berlusconi has since rechristened the PdL as Forza Italia, the name of his original center-right political party in the 1990s.

So Berlusconi assented and Letta formed the government in May after a gridlocked spring when Italy had merely a caretaker government and its parliament failed numerous times to elect a new president — it ultimately reelected Napolitano to another seven-year term.  For good measure, five regional senators and 19 centrist senators from the coalition headed by Mario Monti (the former pro-reform, technocratic prime minister between 2011 and 2013) joined the coalition.  That gave Letta a coalition in the upper house that includes 233 out of the 315 elected senators.

But the coalition has never been incredibly stable, as you might expect.  On the surface, the current crisis revolves around the budget (just like in the United States) — Letta and the Democrats want to allow Italy’s VAT to rise from 21% to 22%, and Berlusconi prefers to find savings within the budget to keep the VAT from rising.  The failure to find those savings last Friday precipitated Berlusconi to pull the PdL’s ministers out of the government.  The risk is that the budget deficit will rise above 3% of Italian GDP, violating the European Union’s fiscal compact and potentially causing a rise in Italian debt yields. Continue reading Does this week’s political crisis in Italy represent Berlusconi’s last stand?

Berlusconi verdict plunges Italian right (and everyone else) into uncharted uncertainty


Although Italy’s highest court upheld a one-year sentence against former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi today, the longtime center-right leader made it clear that he intended to remain in the thick of Italian politics for the next year and then some.Italy Flag Icon

Berlusconi’s legendary legal troubles outdate even his nearly two-decade political career, but today was the first time that Italy’s Corte di Cassazione (Court of Cassation) upheld any of Berlusconi’s multiple criminal convictions.  The decision upheld Berlusconi’s conviction for tax fraud and upheld the four-year sentence, though the actual sentence has been reduced to one year, thanks to an amnesty passed into law by former center-left prime minister Romano Prodi back in 2006.  But Berlusconi is unlikely headed to prison anytime soon, due to his advanced age (76) and the fact that this is technically his first final conviction — Berlusconi has successfully appealed previous convictions or otherwise evaded jail time due to immunity while in public office or through the expiration of the statute of limitations.

Furthermore, the court remanded for review by the lower appeals court in Milan a previous five-year ban on holding public office, which the court ruled should not last five years, but instead between one and three years.  Berlusconi’s public service ban will therefore need to be confirmed by the upper house of Italy’s parliament, the Senato (Senate).

That creates an immediate tripwire for prime minister Enrico Letta’s ‘grand coalition’ government that has brought Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà (PdL, the People of Freedom) together with the center-left Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party).  Together, the two parties hold a majority in the Senate, but the PdL holds just 98 out of 315 seats.  Berlusconi’s ally, the Lega Nord (Northern League), holds an additional 18 seats, even though it’s chosen not to join the current governing coalition.  So in order to evade the public office ban, Berlusconi will need the support of the Letta and the Democrats, and there’s a real danger that Berlusconi will threaten to bring the Letta government down unless they back him.

But that’s assuming the Letta government even makes it that far, in light of an economy that shrank by 0.6% in the first quarter of 2013 alone and  a generation-high unemployment rate of 12.2% as of May 2013.  Despite Letta’s hopes to reform Italian finances, the PdL campaigned on reversing an unpopular property tax levied by the previous technocratic government of prime minister Mario Monti last year, so Berlusconi and his allies are pushing to scrap the property levy and to prevent a proposed 1% increase in the highest bracket of Italy’s value-added tax.  Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s top lieutenant, deputy prime minister and interior minister Angelino Alfano is under fire for the swift deportation of the wife and six-year-old daughter of Kazakh dissident oligarch Mukhtar Ablyazov in May.  Letta’s minister for integration, Cécile Kyenge, and Italy’s first black government minister, has faced a barrage of racial slurs — most recently, an opponent threw bananas at her during a speech last week.

Monti, who formed the centrist, pro-reform Scelta Civica (Civic Choice) in advance of February’s election, and who, alongside other centrist allies, forms the third and smallest bloc in the governing coalition, is allegedly so frustrated that he was ready to resign as leader of his own party yesterday.

Beppe Grillo, the leader of the protest Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement), which finished a strong third-place in February’s elections and who has refused to ally with either the Italian right or the Italian left, compared the Berlusconi conviction to the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall at his popular blog earlier today.

The volatile Berlusconi is also appealing a preliminary conviction of paying for sex with underaged Moroccan dancer Karima el-Mahroug and of abuse of office after trying to pressure local authorities to release the dancer after an alleged theft.

After today’s verdict, Berlusconi lashed out in a television address (pictured above) against what he called an irresponsible judiciary, as he’s done so many times before — he attacked the judiciary as a dangerous and unelected branch of government that began with the judicial investigations of the Tangentopoli (Bribesville) scandal in 1992 and 1993 that so thoroughly wiped out the longstanding Italian political order that it marks the unofficial designation between Italy’s ‘first’ and ‘second’ republics.  Berlusconi reiterated plans, unveiled just last week, to change the name of his party back to its original name, Forza Italia, in a bid to attract younger voters, renewing speculation that he may be preparing to pass his political baton to his 46-year-old daughter, Marina Berlusconi.

So Berlusconi may well just try to roll the dice by bringing the coalition down immediately and move for early elections now.

He would do so knowing that the Democratic Party itself remains hopelessly divided and leaderless — Letta, though he is prime minister, remains the deputy prime minister of the party, pending a still-unscheduled leadership election later this year.  Though 38-year-old Florence mayor Matteo Renzi is the most popular politician in the country, having harnessed the frustration of Italians with the entire spectrum of current political leadership, his potential leadership of the party remains controversial.  It could well result in the disintegration of Italy’s Democratic Party, which formed in 2007 after a gradual melding of former moderate Italian Communists and former liberal Christian Democrats.

The latest polls show, essentially, a toss-up: the centrosinistra would win 33.7%, the centrodestra would win 34.3%, Grillo’s Five Star Movement would win 20.6%, and Monti’s centrists would win just 6.1%.

As the always-sharp Alberto Nardelli concluded earlier today:

It’s impossible to make predictions on what will happen next as we’re in unchartered territory, but what is certain is that today was one of the most significant events in Italy’s recent political history and the consequences and risks could be dire however you look at it. Continue reading Berlusconi verdict plunges Italian right (and everyone else) into uncharted uncertainty

Don’t read too much into Marino’s center-left victory in Roman mayoral election


The center-left candidate in Rome’s mayoral election runoff, Ignazio Marino, has overwhelmingly defeated the incumbent, Gianni Alemanno, by a margin of about 64% to 36%.Italy Flag Icon

That’s not surprising, given that Marino (pictured above) won the first round by a wide margin and fell just 7.5% short of the absolute majority threshold necessary to secure outright victory.

Marino’s landslide win is welcome news for prime minister Enrico Letta, as is the fact that the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) won in all of the major municipalities holding elections over the weekend.  Letta, who leads a tenuous coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom), will certainly be delighted to see the local elections concluded, which augured tense competition between the PD and the PdL, despite their governing alliance in Italy’s parliament.

While Marino’s win is the top prize for the center-left, it is not necessarily an indication that the Italian left is out of trouble after its spectacular collapse.  That collapse started when it only narrowly won February’s parliamentary elections, despite expectations of a much wider victory, and it accelerated with the inability of former PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani to form a government or push through his top choices for the Italian presidency.  The reelection of Giorgio Napolitano as Italy’s president and Bersani’s subsequent resignation as PD leader cleared the path for the current Letta government.

But the PdL and its center-right allies have now held a consistent national polling lead over the PD and its center-right allies, especially as Italian voters become increasingly disenchanted with Beppe Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement), which has found that it was better as a protest vehicle than as a responsible participant in government, where it has refused to play any role in governing with either the left or the right.  The PD itself remains divided ahead of a leadership battle that will likely take place in October, so despite the fact that Florence mayor Matteo Renzi remains the most popular choice to be Italy’s prime minister (more so than Berlusconi, Letta or Bersani), Renzi is not necessarily assured of assuming the PD leadership later this year.

Though the PdL’s losses in local elections make it less likely that Berlusconi will trigger another round of elections, Italian politics will remain incredibly murky and fluid for the foreseeable future.

Alemanno, a stridently right-wing candidate with ties to the neofascist Italian right, came to power on a law-and-order platform, though he was never an incredibly good fit for politically moderate Rome, and his loss owes in some degree to local corruption scandals that have happened on his watch and to the perception of his government’s mismanagement of responding to last year’s snowstorm, Rome’s public transportation and other municipal woes.  In addition, Lazio province has been fertile ground for the center-left recently — the province elected the PD’s Nicola Zingaretti as its regional president in February by a double-digit margin against former regional president Francesco Storace, even while Bersani’s center-left coalition only barely won the national vote.

Marino came to politics only in 2006 with his election to Italy’s Senato (Senate) following a career as an organ transplant surgeon, though his election as Rome’s mayor should launch him into the top echelon of the PD’s future leaders.  Two former center-left Roman mayors, Francesco Rutelli and Walter Veltroni, have both led the center-left into national elections over the past decade.

The defeat should end Alemanno’s potential national aspirations, however.  Although he had been mentioned as a potential successor to Berlusconi as the PdL’s leader in the future, that role seems increasingly likely to go to Angelino Alfano, who as deputy prime minister and interior minister is the highest-ranking PdL official in Letta’s grand coalition.

Letta unveils government short on Berlusconi allies, long on economists


White smoke from Rome — Italy has a new prime minister and a new government, just over two months after Italy’s inconclusive election results at the end of February.Italy Flag Icon

Just three days after Italian president Giorgio Napolitano invited Enrico Letta, deputy leader of the Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party), to form a new government, he has done so.  As widely expected, it’s a broad ‘grand coalition’ with the Popolo della Libertà (PdL, People of Freedom) of Silvio Berlusconi, and it leaves both the PD’s electoral ally, the more leftist Sinistra Ecologia Libertà (SEL, Left Ecology Freedom) and the PdL’s autonomist ally, the Lega Nord (Northern League), in opposition along with the movement led by Beppe Grillo, the Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S, the Five Star Movement).

So what does the Letta government’s composition tell us?

The most initial word upon the government’s announcement is that of its relative youth and the record number of women.  That’s very important, of course, especially in Italy, which has long seemed like a country governed exclusively by old men.  Napolitano himself is 87 years old and Berlusconi, age 76, first won power in 1994.

The most striking thing is the extent to which the new cabinet members come from Letta’s own party or otherwise come from — or wouldn’t seem too out-of-place in — the government of outgoing technocratic prime minister Mario Monti, who ran in his won right in the February elections as a force for centrist reform.

Monti himself will not be a minister in the  new government, but Anna Maria Cancellieri, Monti’s minister of the interior and widely regarded minister mentioned as both a potential prime minister and even as president, will become Letta’s minister of justice.  Mario Mauro, a former PdL senator who resigned from the PdL to join Monti’s Scelta Civica (SC, Civic Choice), will be the new secretary of defense.  Enzo Moavero Milanesi will remain as Letta’s minister for Europe, the same role he played in Monti’s government.

Perhaps the most important pick is Italy’s new finance minister, Fabrizio Saccomanni (pictured above), who like Monti before him, is a technocratic economist and the secretary general of the Banca d’Italia, which makes him essentially the deputy head of Italy’s central bank.  Joining him as the minister of labor is Enrico Giovannini, since 2009 the director of Italian Statistical Institute, formerly director of statistics at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development from 2001 to 2009.  Their appointments signal that Letta’s government will attempt to be more than just a short-lived placeholder before new elections in the autumn, and expect that they will push more reforms — perhaps even greater economic reforms than Monti’s government was able to enact.

Flavio Zanonato, mayor of Padua, a former member of the Italian Communist Party, and a strong supporter of the PD’s outgoing leader Pier Luigi Bersani, will become the minister for economic development.

Maria Chiara Carrozza, minister of education, and Andrea Orlando, minister of environment, are both up-and-coming PD deputies.

The Congo-born Cécile Kyenge, minister for integration, will be Italy’s first-ever black minister, and Josefa Idem, a West German-born and former Gold medal Olympic sprinter, will be minister for sport.

Berlusconi’s top deputy and the prime ministerial candidate of the centrodestra (center-right) in the prior elections, Angelino Alfano will take the largest PdL role in the new government as deputy prime minister and secretary of the interior, trading portfolios with Cancellieri — Alfano served as Berlusconi’s justice minister from 2008 to 2011. Maurizio Lupi, a reliable Berlusconi ally and a former Christian Democrat from Milan, will be secretary of defense.  Nunzia De Girolamo, a young rising star in the PdL — she’s not even 40 — will be the new minister of agriculture.

One face I didn’t expect to see in the government was that of Franco Frattini, Berlusconi’s former foreign minister, though as one of the most respected ministers of Berlusconi’s former cabinet, I would not have been surprised to see him emerge.  He’s currently trying to win the post of secretary general at NATO in 2014.

Emma Bonino, a women’s rights and human rights champion, who was also mentioned as a candidate for the Italian presidency, a longtime member of the Italian Radical Party in the 1980s, a European commissioner for health and consumer protection in the 1990s and the minister for European affairs and international trade in Romano Prodi’s government from 2006 to 2008, Bonino will be a welcomed choice for foreign minister both in Europe and beyond.