February 21, 2007 19 29 GMT
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi resigned Feb. 21, making former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi the man to beat in what likely will be fresh elections.
Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi accepted the unworkability of his fractious nine-party coalition Feb. 21 and tendered his resignation to President Giorgio Napolitano after losing a key vote. Barring a sudden fit of political reason in which the coalition is somehow able to select a successor — Prodi got the job because all of his coalition members knew they could not agree on anyone else — new elections are imminent. Prodi will now go down in history as the country’s 53rd post-WWII prime minister — and the 34th Italian prime minister to hold his post for less than a year.
Prodi’s coalition — a ragtag group ranging from Roman Catholic centrists to unrepentant communists who staunchly disagree on everything from the United States to the European Union to pension reform to gay marriage to the budget to the military — has been marking time since the day it was elected: April 10, 2006.
The one item that they did have in common was their loathing for the previous prime minister, the effervescently eccentric Silvio Berlusconi. That hatred held them together throughout the election campaign, but proved insufficient for building a stable government.
Now Berlusconi — repeated plastic surgeries, odes to foreign leaders, public tirades and all — is the man to beat in what will likely be fresh elections. In opinion polls he has raked back all the ground he lost during the 2005 election campaign and more, and his center-right House of Freedoms Party enjoys a slight lead in Italy’s ongoing if-elections-were-held-today polls.
Assuming that Berlusconi does not suffer an upset, Italy will slide away from what Prodi attempted to make it: a unified, activist power that is fully engaged in Europe and striving to be a major world power while simultaneously holding the United States at arms length. Berlusconi envisioned an Italy that was the opposite: a staunch, euroskeptic ally of Washington, with power devolved to the localities.
Ideologies aside, that last item — devolution — is far more realistic view of Italy’s place in the world. Culture in Italy is chaotic in nature and local in origin, and Prodi’s foreign policies often seemed an artificial attempt to cast Rome as the leader of a more unified nation like Germany or France. That, however, it has not been since the time of the Romans. Under Berlusconi — who incidentally holds the title of Italy’s longest-serving post-reconstruction prime minister — Italy will settle back into its comfortable role as Europe’s enthusiastically colorful, yet peripheral, southern anchor.