Sunday, July 11, 2004

Political problems abound

Despite warning growls from the European Parliament’s Socialist grouping (PES) José Manuel Durão Barroso, the former Portuguese Prime Minister has “accepted” the job of the President of the European Commission, leaving, as our readers will recall, something of a political mess behind in Lisbon.

The Socialists had intended to capitalize on the government’s unpopularity and their own success in the European election to demand the dissolution of the Social-Democrat government and an early election.

Instead, President Jorge Sampaio, himself a Socialist, has announced that he intends to stay with the government already in power and that he has asked the Social Democrats to serve out their term.

The Social Democrats were expected to name the Lisbon Mayor Pedro Santana Lopes as the head of the coalition. He has already become leader of the party in the days before Barroso’s resignation.

In response, the leader of the Socialists, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, has resigned, announcing that the President’s decision, which he, naturally, respected, was a political and personal defeat. So now it is the Socialists who are without a leader in the hour of their seeming triumph.

Meanwhile, members of another coalition, this time in Italy, are fighting like cats and dogs. In the wake of the poor showing of Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia in the regional and European elections, his partners in the government have begun circling round him.

A meeting is due on Sunday, at which the partners are expected to present their demands. Roberto Maroni, a leader of the Northern League which brought down Berlusconi's first government in 1994 when it yanked its support, has said that his party will not be fighting for more cabinet seats (how very odd) but will demand that the government turn its attention to reforms that will give more power to the regions. This is entirely unconnected with the fact that the Northern League is strong in some parts of the country but weak in others to the point of non-existence.

Account of demands to be presented by Marco Follini, leader of the Christian Democrats vary. Some say that he will concentrate on tackling the conflict of interests between Berlusconi’s roles as a media mogul and politician. Other reports say that Follini’s interest is in ensuring that the tax cuts promised by Berlusconi will not jeopardize Italy’s attempts to reduce its budget deficit to below the EU's required 3 per cent.

Then again, he may well demand a partial return to proportional representation, which favoured small parties such as the Christian Democrat is at present and, incidentally, was responsible for much of Italy’s political chaos.

Above all, the coalition partners are likely to demand that Berlusconi find an Economic Minister soon and stop hogging the portfolio. The feeling is that he is hogging it in order to hand it to Mario Monti when the latter stops being Competition Commissioner.

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