Italy finally has a new government, more than two months after the general election. It represents a balance of power between the center-left and center-right, includes a record seven women including a black minister, and is significantly younger than previous Italian cabinets
New Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) faces severe political and economic pressures and will have to score quick successes in the coming months. He needs to satisfy voters who are sick of economic stagnation and cutbacks while meeting the demands of investors for painful structural reforms — and keeping the rival parties in his coalition happy.
Meanwhile, party grandees like Silvio Berlusconi of the center-right People of Freedom (PdL) party will continue to pull strings in the background.
The swearing in of the cabinet on Sunday was overshadowed by a gun attack in which an unemployed man shot and injured two police officers and a passerby outside the prime minister’s office in Rome. Officials said the shooting was an isolated incident, but it highlighted the tensions Letta faces.
“This is another sign of despair,” said lower house speaker Laura Boldrini. “Politicians have to come back to providing concrete answers to people’s needs.”
Letta is due to speak in parliament ahead of the confidence vote on Monday afternoon.
The election in February, in which the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement led by comic Beppe Grillo became the strongest political force, amounted to a massive protest vote against Italy’s political elites and made the formation of a government a difficult, drawn-out process. Grillo’s 5-Star Movement is not represented in the government.
Given those challenges, the fact that Italy now has any kind of government at all is good news, write German media commentators. Whether it will last its full five-year term is quite another question though, they add.
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
“The fact that Italy finally has a government again is good news in itself. The fact that it doesn’t consist of ‘technocrats,’ and that politicians are the ones taking political responsibility again, is equally positive. The wrangling during the second half of Mario Monti’s term showed that people without party affiliation can’t perform miracles either.”
“But doubts remain whether the new and younger cabinet will really be able to bring about the turnaround Italy needs. It’s just a detail, but it fans such doubts, that Letta wasn’t able to push through his plan to drastically cut the size of the cabinet. It has 21 instead of 12 portfolios because the Democratic Party and Berlusconi’s PdL refused to abandon ther ‘combinazioni.’ The reform of electoral law, one of the most important points in the task list formulated by (Italian President Girogio) Napolitano, will remain a stumbling block because it is so closely intertwined with the distribution of power. The failed attempts to elect a new president showed how riven the PD is by power disputes. Berlusconi’s people are subject to the mood swings of the capricious party patriarch who also finances them — and are likely to engage in power struggles and position-jockeying over who will take over from the ageing ‘Il Cavaliere.’”
“Prime Minister Letta had already made his European policy clear before his government was formed: He regards a policy focused on austerity as a dead end and will therefore reinforce the Southern European nations including France who are becoming increasingly open in their resistance to Germany’s recipe for saving the euro zone. That said, the reins have long since been loosened: first by the European Central Bank and its monetary policy, and now also by the European Commission which is allowing the debtor nations more time to implement their restructuring plans.”
Conservative Die Welt writes:
“Italy’s government doubtless represents a first. Prime Minister Enrico Letta, chosen by the elederly president, is very young by Italian standards, as is his cabinet. Even though, as was to be expected, there wasn’t a real reduction in the number of ministerial posts, it has some noteworthy features, such as the number of women and experts in the cabinet. Emma Bonino of the libertarian Radical Party has been made foreign minister — she is known for her unflinching stance on human rights and she’s likely to be a red rag to the obediently pious brand of Vatican Catholicism. Everything is balanced. The PD is represented, but not too massively. The cabinet contains a number of experts and in that sense follows in the footsteps of the technocrat government of Mario Monti, but without the authoritarian tone of the specialists.”
“Yes, this cabinet could turn into something. One should stress the word ‘could,’ however: Because there’s still not much to suggest that it will. The old godfathers stand behind the parties carrying this government. One finds it hard to seriously believe all of them that they are ready to step back and give the national interest priority over their own party political games. Let us be skeptically hopeful, though.”
Center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
“Letta’s PD and Silvio Berlusconi with his PdL refrained from dispatching their hardliners into the cabinet. That permitted the creation of a government that combines the old and the new and could therefore get the transformation going somewhat smoothly. It’s important that the new ministers embody the urgently required generational change, and that this cabinet has more women than ever (before seen in an Italian government), including a minister of African descent. Newcomers from the parties, a few established politicians, specialists with no party affiliation — with this cabinet, Letta is fulfilling the wishes of his voters and demands of the 5-Star protest movement of Beppe Grillo.”
“Letta could bridge the gap between the opposing camps of the center-right and center-left — that hasn’t been possible for the last 20 years. If Letta’s government can contribute to a reconciliation of the political camps, and to a more balanced tone of political discourse, the benefit would be enormous.”
“Given the unpredictability of Italian politics, it’s impossible to forecast how long Letta’s government will last. It could be anything from a few months to a few years. It won’t be an easy time, the PdL is likely to make blackmail attempts and complicate policymaking especially in areas affecting Silvio berlusconi’s interests — in particular regarding the introduction of a wealth tax or a new anti-corruption law. Besides, Letta isn’t safe from traitors in his own party. His political life will depend on how quickly and constructively this experimental cabinet can deliver results.