Da Financial Times del 21/11/2005
Originale su http://news.ft.com/cms/s/c75393ca-5a32-11da-b023-0000779e2340.html

A divisive ruler

The way in which Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, governs his country never ceases to amaze - and dismay. Far too often, his priorities appear to be personal, or narrowly party political. He has been remarkably successful in keeping his centre-right coalition together and staying in office for four and a half years.

His latest achievement has been to force big constitutional changes through the Italian parliament without any serious attempt at cross-party agreement. Yet at the same time he is bent on reversing the very electoral reforms that have brought much-needed stability to Italian governments in the past decade.

Not only are the measures contradictory, they are in danger of absorbing so much parliamentary time that the only significant economic reforms of Mr Berlusconi's government - to overhaul the state pension system and strengthen the regulation of financial markets - may fail to become law before next April's elections.

The constitutional reforms will devolve significant powers from Italy's central government to its regions, including responsibility for education, healthcare, and law and order. They also seek to enhance the prime minister's powers, and reduce those of the state president, for example to dissolve parliament and appoint cabinet ministers. Devolution will appease the populist Northern League, junior partner in the ruling coalition. But critics fear it will weaken the cohesion of the Italian state, and make fiscal transfers from the wealthy north to the poorer south much more difficult. Yet instead of seeking a broad consensus to make such fundamental changes, Mr Berlusconi used his parliamentary majority to force them through.

Those reforms still need a national referendum to be approved. The prime minister's electoral reforms - to return to the old system of proportional representation that produced chronically unstable Italian governments for 45 years - need no such confirmation. The move is a blatant attempt to improve the chances of Mr Berlusconi's coalition next April, although it still lags well behind the centre-left opposition in opinion polls. It would revive the power of venal party barons, and weaken executive authority.

On top of all this, Mr Berlusconi is still seeking to win approval for a law to reduce the statute of limitations for crimes including corruption, which would inter alia wipe out the conviction imposed on Cesare Previti, his former personal lawyer, in 2003. And he has vowed to introduce a new law in time for the elections to lift restrictions on political advertising, allowing him to exploit his vast media empire.

Against such priorities, vital economic reforms threaten to come a poor second. If they do, Mr Berlusconi will go down in history as the man who squandered a unique opportunity in pursuit of a selfish agenda.

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