TCS Daily

Warming, Italian Style

By Victoria Paracchini - July 10, 2003 12:00 AM

Europe has been suffering a heat wave for a month or so, but the temperature is finally getting cooler. Everywhere, that is, except for Italy. But this "global warming" is being fueled by the heated political climate surrounding Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's taking over the presidency of the EU Council of Ministers.

He takes the EU reins in the midst of a very steamy and complex political scenario both at home and in Europe, tense relations with his peers in other countries (the French-German axis among others) and protests in Italy from the opposition and even from within sectors of his own coalition. He must also deal with a precarious international situation and work with his political rival, center-left European Commission President Romano Prodi. We must remember that Berlusconi was not elected or appointed to this new EU task; it's simply Italy's turn at the helm, no matter who the prime minister is.

Enduring will be his battle. The European press has already begun a campaign against him -- and at home it will probably be starting soon. Domestically he has not yet been able to deliver on his promises of lower taxes and a simpler bureaucracy, and his adversaries will work to undermine his EU efforts.

Berlusconi will have to solve very important and conflict-ridden issues in his new role. In the meantime the domestic soap opera could develop to extraordinary dimensions. The Italians are very prone to focus on process and not on goals. This is a country used to changing high authorities frequently. Berlusconi has already been in power for a relatively long two years, and in spite of all the complaints about him, he not only continues to be in charge, but is a strong candidate for a second term.

Most likely, Berlusconi has good intentions. But he will have to govern as president of the Council of Ministers in the face of strong opposition from within the EU and a lot of enemies inside and out. Among other topics he will have to deal with are the drafting of the first EU constitution, testy transatlantic relations, illegal immigration policy, a trade war on GMOs, and on and on.

Both the EU and Italy would probably do better by focusing less on politics and instead thinking like a business: truly opening the barriers within the community, pushing for free trade inside and out, cutting bureaucracy, allowing development of GM technology to help feed starving Africans, cutting taxes and giving people a higher standard of living not by protectionist policies but by opening markets.

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