May 17, 2006

Italy’s Prodi readies to take power

By Rachel Sanderson and Massimiliano Di Giorgio

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's incoming prime minister Romano
Prodi will formally take power on Wednesday after protracted
coalition bickering over cabinet posts and more than a month
after his narrow general election victory.

The 66-year-old former European Commission chief, who
accepted the mandate from President Giorgio Napolitano on
Tuesday, is due to present his list of ministers and hold the
first cabinet meeting of his centre-left government.

"The list of ministers is closed and it is done well,"
Prodi told reporters in the early hours of Wednesday after
late-night negotiations with his allies.

Prodi's patchwork coalition -- spanning communists to Roman
Catholic centrists -- has been fighting over cabinet posts ever
since its victory over Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right bloc
five weeks ago.

The bickering has underscored the problems Prodi is likely
to face as he prepares to govern with a razor-thin majority in
parliament after the closest election in modern Italian

A source in Prodi's coalition confirmed most of the posts
had been decided with former European Central Bank board member
Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa named economy minister and former Prime
Minister Massimo D'Alema given the foreign ministry.

D'Alema would also share the role of deputy prime minister
with Daisy Party leader Francesco Rutelli. Interior Minister
would be Giuliano Amato, a former prime minister.

However, haggling looked set to continue about some minor
briefs. Vice ministries should also be decided before the
cabinet is sworn in at 1200 GMT.

The first cabinet meeting is due to begin at 1400 GMT.

Prodi appeared to have failed to meet a pledge to make a
third of his cabinet women, with Italian newspaper reports
showing only six of the 25 posts going to female lawmakers.


Italy's leading newspaper Corriere della Sera under a
headline "More left than center" said wrangling had skewed the
government's balance from its centrist roots to the left.

"A government is born that is weighted to the left, even
more than expected by the greater part of those who voted for
it and the natural orientation of the coalition," it wrote.

Pleasing all strands of his multi-party coalition with the
cabinet posts has been vital for Prodi because he will need all
their support to govern, Berlusconi having ruled out any
cooperation with the new administration.

Berlusconi has also said parliament must launch a probe
into "irregularities" in the April 9-10 election, which he lost
in the lower house by less than 25,000 votes.

Prodi's first spell in government ended after just two
years in 1998, when the communists withdrew their support
complaining his policies were not left wing enough.

His path to power since the election has been painfully
slow, delayed by the need to choose a new head of state as the
former president's mandate expired just after the election.

Once he has announced his team he must still win a
confidence vote in the Senate, probably by Friday, and another
in the lower house early next week, before starting work.

His first months in government will be intense as he tries
to revive a stagnant economy. Two ratings agencies have
indicated they will downgrade Italy's debt unless he quickly
produces a strategy to improve public finances and boost
Italy's dwindling competitiveness.

(Additional reporting by Gavin Jones)