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Home / World / Berlusconi forms new Italian government

Berlusconi forms new Italian government

Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi starts his third stint as premier with the swearing in on Thursday of Italy's 62nd postwar government.

world Updated: May 08, 2008, 08:38 IST

Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi starts his third stint as premier with the swearing in on Thursday of Italy's 62nd postwar government.

The 71-year-old Berlusconi will be in charge of a Cabinet that includes longtime allies and some fresh faces.

He faces the difficult tasks of kick-starting a sluggish economy, boosting productivity and cutting the privileges of a political class that is much maligned and largely discredited.

Franco Frattini, the outgoing EU Justice commissioner, will serve as foreign minister while Giulio Tremonti was named finance minister. Both return to posts they held in previous Berlusconi governments.

Berlusconi's right-hand man and closest aide, Gianni Letta, returned to his job of Cabinet undersecretary.

The government also includes Roberto Calderoli, a controversial Northern League official who caused an outcry two years ago when he showed up on TV wearing a T-shirt of the Prophet Muhammad.

It was blamed for sparking deadly clashes at the Italian consulate in Libya, and rumours that he might reappointed to a Cabinet post led to a warning from Tripoli days ago. He will be in charge of cutting red tape.

Berlusconi formally received the mandate to form the government from President Giorgio Napolitano, as demanded by the Italian constitution on Wednesday. The two met at the presidential palace for about an hour.

After the government is sworn in, it will face a vote of confidence in parliament, which is safely controlled by Berlusconi's conservative forces.

Berlusconi scored a commanding victory in a general election last month, ousting his center-left rivals and returning to power after a mere two years. It will be his third time in charge: He served a brief stint in 1994 and a record-breaking term between 2001 and 2006.

This time around, Berlusconi faces an uphill struggle in overhauling Europe's fourth-largest economy.

The Italian economy has grown more slowly than the 15-nation euro-zone average for more than a decade, and it risks falling into recession this year amid the global slowdown. Berlusconi has promised tax breaks on overtime work and bonuses linked to productivity gains.

Another priority for Berlusconi is cleaning up the garbage that has piled up in the streets of Naples. He has repeatedly said that the garbage crisis had done great damage to Italy's image, and he has promised to hold Cabinet meetings in the southern Mediterranean city until the problem is solved.

The Northern League, an ally that did better than expected in the election, features prominently in the Cabinet. Party leader Umberto Bossi will be able to pursue his plan to give greater autonomy to Italy's affluent north as reforms minister, while Roberto Maroni, another prominent party official, will be in charge of police forces in his post as interior minister.

The Northern League has been a troublesome ally in the past, bringing down Berlusconi's first government by yanking its support. But it proved a solid coalition ally in his last administration.

Italy's rich cultural heritage will be run by Sandro Bondi, another close Berlusconi ally and for years a top official of Berlusconi's party.

Among the new faces is 31-year-old Giorgia Meloni, who will be in charge of policies for the youth. Meloni comes from the ranks of the right-wing National Alliance party, which at the last election ran under the Freedom People banner along with Berlusconi's own Forza Italia party.

ht epaper

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