May 19, 2006

Prodi faces confidence vote in Italy’s Senate

By Robin Pomeroy

ROME (Reuters) - Italy's new Prime Minister Romano Prodi
faced a confidence vote in the Senate on Friday, seeking the
stamp of approval for his government from the upper house of
parliament where he has just two seats more than the

With such a fragile majority -- after winning a general
election by the narrowest margin in post-war history -- the
vote was transformed from what is usually a symbolic rite of
passage into a real test which could even sink his government.

The center-left administration has 158 Senate seats against
156 for the opposition led by Silvio Berlusconi, the former
prime minister who still contests the April 9-10 election
result and has predicted the new government will soon collapse.

"Well see in a couple of hours," Prodi replied to hecklers
from the opposition benches who suggested just that, as he
addressed the Senate ahead of the vote.

"We have a solid and cohesive majority in both chambers,"
he said to howls of derision from center-right members.

With the extra support of most of Italy's seven honorary
senators for life, Prodi is likely to survive this first test,
but just hours ahead of the vote, cracks were already showing
in his coalition that stretches from the center to the hard

A junior government party, Italy of Values, said it might
vote against Prodi to protest against his decision not to
appoint a cabinet minister in charge of the interests of
Italians abroad. At the last minute, the party appeared to have
withdrawn its threat.

Prodi would probably have survived such a desertion, but
even the talk of it just two days after becoming prime minister
was a bad omen for future votes where he will have to rely on
coalition loyalty to get legislation past a hostile opposition.


In his Senate speech, Prodi reiterated Italy would withdraw
its more than 2,000 troops from Iraq before the end of the
year, but stressed he would still pursue a close relationship
with the United States in fighting terrorism.

"Something that struck me (in the parliamentary debate) was
the discussion about the fight on terrorism, and I have to say
we won't accept lessons from anyone on that," he said.

Berlusconi prided himself on his close relationship with
President George W. Bush, whereas Prodi is keen to see Italy
work closer with the European Union on foreign policy. But the
new prime minister said he had good relations with Washington.

"As president of the (European) Commission, I constructed,
together with the United States, a network of new, strong,
serious, transparent relations for the fight against

An Italian general in Iraq, Natalino Madeddu, was quoted in
Friday's Corriere della Sera daily as saying it was
"reasonable" to consider a pull-out in 60-80 days.

Prodi will face tougher tasks at home, where the economy
has stagnated in two of the last three years and the budget
deficit remains stubbornly above the EU limit of 3 percent of
gross domestic product.