May 18, 2006

Prodi vows to “jolt” Italy

By Silvia Aloisi

ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Romano Prodi on Thursday
vowed to undo most of the policies of his predecessor, Silvio
Berlusconi, and pledged to bring all Italy's troops home from
what he called the "occupation" of Iraq.

Outlining his program a day after his centre-left
government was sworn in, Prodi said Italy needed a social,
economic and moral jolt to mark a clean break with the past.

"We consider the war in Iraq and the occupation of the
country a grave error," Prodi, who beat Berlusconi by a narrow
margin in a national election last month, told the upper house
of parliament.

"It has not resolved, but complicated the situation of
security," he said to loud jeering from centre-right senators.
"Terrorism has found a new base in Iraq and new excuses for
terror attacks both inside and outside the country."

Prodi said he would propose to parliament bringing home all
of Italy's some 2,600 soldiers, but said the pullout would be
agreed with all the sides involved and that he intended to
continue Italy's traditionally good relations with Washington.

Berlusconi, faced with widespread domestic opposition to
the war and the deployment of Italian troops, had already

to bring the soldiers home by the end of this year.

Prodi did not give a precise timeframe and some members of
his coalition are demanding an immediate withdrawal.

The Senate, where Prodi only has a two-seat majority, will
hold a confidence vote on the government's program on Friday.

On the domestic front, he vowed to overturn many of the
policies that defined Berlusconi's five years in power,
including electoral rules, labor flexibility, media regulation
and immigration.


"Our country needs a strong jolt," Prodi said in his
90-minute speech, adding this not only referred to its weak
economy but also to the need to "restore a culture of

"In our society, there is a climate of tolerance and being
accustomed to ethically reprehensible, if not outright illegal,
behavior, to huge conflict of interests, to sudden and
shameless enrichment," he said.

"There is a moral crisis: the cunning must not prevail," he
said, vowing to fight tax evasion.

Prodi said his government felt a sense of "urgency" as
Italy recorded zero growth in 2005 for the second time in three
years and its debt mountain rose for the first time in a

Rating agencies have threatened to downgrade Italy's debt
unless Prodi's government pushes through overdue but unpopular
reforms to put its public finances into order.

Prodi promised new regulation for the media industry and
pledged to toughen conflict of interest laws, a clear reference
to accusations which dogged Berlusconi, who controls Italy's
largest private broadcaster.

He vowed to review a law meant to increase labor market
flexibility but which the center left says undermines job

He also pledged to modify immigration rules, toughened by
his predecessor, and change an electoral law wanted by
Berlusconi which restored proportional representation.

But analysts doubt whether his government, drawn from eight
parties ranging from Roman Catholic moderates to communists,
will be strong enough to pass any far-reaching reform.

Hours after the new government was sworn in, cracks
appeared over issues ranging from the construction of a bridge
to Sicily to a planned military parade for the anniversary of
the Italian republic on June 2.