May 17, 2006

Italy’s Prodi forms new government

By Silvia Aloisi and Francesca Piscioneri

ROME (Reuters) - Romano Prodi was finally sworn in as
Italy's new prime minister on Wednesday and vowed to soothe
political tensions in a country split in two by the closest
election in its post-war history.

Prodi, who was given the mandate to govern by President
Giorgio Napolitano on Tuesday, took the oath of office with his
new cabinet after protracted negotiations with his centre-left
coalition partners over the distribution of portfolios.

"There is a great desire for a new start combined with a
desire for cohesion and unity," the 66-year-old former European
Commission chief said after announcing his team, drawn from
eight centre-left parties.

Prodi's coalition won a razor-thin victory in the April
9-10 ballot over the centre-right bloc led by Silvio
Berlusconi, who governed for a record five years and is still
contesting the result of the vote.

"The first commitment will be to rebuild a spirit of
solidarity and a consensus on the goals needed for the country
to move forward, and that means lowering the level of tension
and litigiousness," Prodi said.

Ten years to the day since he began his first stint as
prime minister, Prodi named former European Central Bank board
member Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa as economy minister, responsible
for tackling Italy's weak growth and debt mountain.

Massimo D'Alema, who comes from the biggest party in
Prodi's bloc, was made foreign minister and will share the role
of deputy prime minister with Daisy Party leader Francesco

Giuliano Amato, a former prime minister, will head the
interior ministry. Six women, fewer than the nine promised by
Prodi, are among the 26 members of the new government, but only
one has a high-profile ministry.

Prodi called his cabinet "a united team, not just a group
of individuals," even though he had to battle through the night
to put the final touches to the list, pressured by allies who
have squabbled over top jobs for weeks.


The infighting laid bare the problems that Prodi is likely
to face as he governs with a very slim parliamentary majority
stretching from Roman Catholic moderates to communists.

His government needs to get down to work quickly as rating
agencies have threatened to downgrade Italy's debt unless
overdue but unpopular reforms are enacted soon.

But Berlusconi has pledged a head-on opposition and
analysts say Prodi will find it hard to push through any
far-reaching policies.

Under the headline "More left than center," Italy's leading
newspaper Corriere della Sera said wrangling over cabinet posts
had skewed the government's balance from its centrist roots. "A
government is born that is weighted to the left," it wrote.

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

He must still win a confidence vote in the Senate, probably
on Friday, and another in the lower house early next week,
before fully taking charge.

Many commentators wonder how long he can last. His first
spell in government ended after two years in 1998 when the
communists withdrew their support.

Berlusconi, in his final news conference as prime minister
on Tuesday, said his was "only a see you later," not a

(Additional reporting by Massimiliano Di Giorgio, Giselda
Vagnoni, Rachel Sanderson)