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No. 6, May 2000
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Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.

Giuliano Amato
Italy's new Prime Minister

Giuliano Amato (61) is, as an Italian journalist put it, a lay politician who pleases the Catholics with his position regarding abortion and family. Born in Turin, the major industrial town in northern Italy, he studied law at the University of Pisa and graduated from New York's Columbia University with a Master's degree in Comparative International Law. He was Professor of Comparative International Law at the Universities of Modena, Perugia, Florence and Rome. Giuliano Amato is married. His wife and daughter are both Professors too. His son is an actor.
 
Amato began his political career in 1958 in the Socialist Party (Psi) for which he was a Member of Parliament form 1983 to 1993. He served as undersecretary to Prime Minister Craxi (1983-1987) who discovered and fostered him. Amato was Vice-President of the cabinet in 1987-88 and Minister of Finance from 1987 to 1989. In 1992/93 he served as Prime Minister for almost 300 days, in the midst of Tangentopoli, as the Italian corruption and party finance scandals are called. He earned his nickname "il dottor sottile", "the subtle doctor", during his deft tenure as Prime Minister, when the corruption scandals caused the collapse of the Socialist party - Amato was party chief and Craxi's right hand but, apparently, emerged clean from charges of corruption and bribery - as well as the end of the Christian Democratic party that had dominated Italian post-war politics. In 1997 Amato was president of the Antitrust organization. In the government led by Massimo D'Alema, Amato served as Minister without portfolio for the Constitutional Reforms and, again, as Minster of Finance.
 
Parliament approved Giuliano Amato as Prime Minister on April 28 by a margin of 21 votes in a vote of confidence (of the 622 members of the lower chamber of parliament present, 319 voted for, 298 against the new cabinet; 5 abstentions). But this was just a temporary success. The problem with the left that has been leading Italy for the past five years and especially with its main party, Massimo D'Alema's former Communists, is the conservatism of the union leaders that still live in the past. They block important reforms and that is why the former Communists cannot find a larger part of voters in Northern Italy, one of Europe's richest regions (on the level of Bavaria in Germany or even richer). If the left does not adjust to the requirements of globalization, international competitiveness and economic freedom, in fact to modern, liberal society, the Left will be swept away in next year's general elections.
 
D'Alema chose Amato as his Finance Minister in order to give his party a sign. He tried to continue on Prodi's path to modernization. But the majority of the former Communists are still not ready for it. Now they can try once more to adjust, with Amato as their Prime Minister. For the moment, they have borrowed time, but will it be enough to regain voters confidence and, more important, will they take steps which deserve confidence? In 1992, Amato's mission was to save the country from bankruptcy. In 2000, it is to modernize the left. Mister Veltroni of D'Alema's party was right when he said in parliament that in no other European country would a government have to resign because it lost a regional election, as the opposition demanded. That would just cause another unnecessary instability. The left has now been in power for five years. With the very able Romano Prodi, now President of the European Commission to the relief of his rivals (D'Alema, Dini, Berlusconi, Fini, etc.), Italy managed to become part of the European Monetary Union by fulfilling the Maastricht-criteria.
 
Amato has a reputation for economic expertise. As Prime Minister, together with today's President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, he cut down Italy's huge budget deficit. He is likely to pursue the economic politics of Prodi and D'Alema. But Amato also wanted to cut down the government. He only managed to reduce the number of ministers from 25 to 24. Amato was in favor of a woman as President, as head of the Italian state. But in his new government there are only four women compared to the six under D'Alema. The fact that Amato has taken two new technocrats into the cabinet cannot allow the observer to forget that the formation of the new government was once more a horse-trade. Amato has made Umberto Veronesi, Italy's best known cancer specialist, the new Health Minister. But he also appointed Ottaviano Del Turco, a former union leader and head of the anti-Mafia committee in Parliament, as Finance Minister. This was no choice made on the basis of qualification. That is no sign of renewal.
 
Senator Antonio Di Pietro, the former prosecutor who played a key-role in Tangentopoli, was outraged to see Amato rise to power. Di Pietro accuses Amato of having tried to protect the late Craxi and therefore decided not to support the coalition government anymore. Since Di Pietro is only a Senator of a very small party, the Democrats (which are divided over the strategy to follow), his decision did not prevent Amato from becoming Prime Minister. Still, Di Pietro's step is writing on the wall. The Green party caused problems, too, because Amato refused to keep one of its members as Minister of Environment. At a moment when pension and election reforms should be decided, the cohesion of the center-left remains more than ever endangered.
 
What does the opposition offer? No credible alternative. Silvio Berlusconi, the leader of the center-right Forza Italia party and former Prime Minister (in the year 1994) is a businessman who had close ties to former Prime Minister Bettino Craxi. Berlusconi's incredible economic success is related to his close relation with Craxi and the system of Tangentopoli. If he presents himself as mister proper today, he is not credible. Berlusconi not only faces corruption charges and could well be sentenced to prison, he also uses politics to protect his private interests. There is no other Western country in which the opposition leader is at the same time the country's first media tycoon. Berlusconi's TV-channels are far from being independent and fair during election campaigns.
 
What worries one even more are Berlusconi's political allies: Gianfranco Fini of Alleanza Nazionale represents the successor organization to Mussolini's Fascist party. He is a fine tactician and presents himself as a man of reason and in a better way than most other Italian politicians. His rise to power could follow once Berlusconi is out of his way. With D'Alema, the former Communists have had their Prime Minister, why not not let the former Fascists govern too? His other ally, Umberto Bossi of Lega Nord, is a man who changes opinions, convictions and strategies from one day to the next; he is no reliable ally, as Berlusconi himself experienced in 1994 when Bossi brought his government down. Sometimes, Bossi wants to divide Italy and create an independent Northern Italy.
 
In other words, Italian politics is once more at a very low point. The political center has disintegrated under the corruption charges of the mid-1990s. The old right and left wing parties have moved closer to the center but have not yet filled in the vacuum and have not sufficiently cut their ties with their old ideologies. But as always, Italian politics is close to opera buffa. The individualistic tradition and strong regional ties prevent a man rising too high above the others. Economically, Italy is the fifth or sixth power in the world and more stable than ever - although still "sick". Of course, it does not seem Italy will disintegrate soon, but the Euro, Foreign investment in Italy and the country's credibility suffer from its political instability.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

www.cosmopolis.ch
No. 6, May 2000
current edition & archives
Art  Film  Music  History  Politics  Archives
Links  For Advertisers  Feedback  German edition  Travel

Copyright 2000  www.cosmopolis.ch  Louis Gerber  All rights reserved.