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Prodi facing tough times amid squabbling coalition and opposition to 2007 budget

Prodi facing tough times amid squabbling coalition and opposition to 2007 budget

A public row with the management of one of Italy's biggest companies. Opposition to the government-proposed 2007 budget. A coalition that is showing cracks.
Coming off diplomatic successes this summer over his role in Lebanon peace efforts, Premier Romano Prodi has awakened to a harsh reality back home.
The premier's troubles are likely to continue as he seeks to win parliamentary approval for the budget and fights to carry out an ambitious plan to merge his center-left coalition's largest parties.
"It's undoubtedly his most difficult moment," said James Walston, political science professor at the American University in Rome. "However, the situation is dangerous but not critical. ... The government is not going to fall tomorrow."
Walston said the most serious risk to the government's stability comes from the budget, which envisages euro33.4 billion (US$42 billion) in spending cuts and tax hikes and must be approved by Parliament by the end of the year.
The measures have been attacked by government allies, unions and the country's powerful industrialists' lobby. The conservatives and even some in Prodi's camp contend the budget unfairly punishes the middle class.
This week mayors across Italy, including prominent center-left ones, have joined the protests, complaining about cuts in the local authorities' funding.
"I'm sorry, I can't live with that," Bologna Mayor Sergio Cofferati told Corriere della Sera on Thursday. "They are taking away euro4 billion (US$5 billion) from local administrations, leaving them the choice of reducing essential services or increasing local taxes."
Prodi _ who has made cleaning up Italy's finances a top priority since he defeated Silvio Berlusconi in April elections _ maintains the budget will bring Italy's deficit under 3 percent of gross domestic product, as demanded by the European Union, and will redistribute wealth.
But, faced with fierce opposition, he has conceded that the measures passed by the Cabinet last week may be amended in Parliament.
The battle in Parliament is uphill, especially in the Senate where Prodi commands the narrowest of majorities.
The defection of a senator last month has left the center-left coalition with a one-seat margin in the upper house: 157 seats to the center-right's 156 seats. However, the center-left can often count on the support of an independent senator and of most of the seven senators-for-life _ former presidents and citizens appointed for their life achievements.
Tensions have been running high in the ruling bloc, which lost two votes in Parliament recently.
This week, two prominent ministers bickered openly, and vehemently, over a justice reform, exposing the frictions in a coalition that includes almost a dozen parties as diverse as the Communists and the center-right Christian Democrats.
Prodi was still reeling from an embarrassing spat with Telecom Italia, which drew accusations that the government interfered in private business affairs and even raised suspicions it wanted to buy back some of Italy's largest phone company.
Prodi has denied both accusations but during an address to Parliament last week he was heckled so much that he had to start a sentence almost a dozen times.
The dispute, centering on Telecom Italia's plans for reorganization, has resulted in the resignation of the Telecom chairman and a close aide to Prodi.
This weekend, Prodi will seek to reverse his fortunes when he and his allies cloister themselves in a medieval palace in the central Italian town of Orvieto to discuss proposals for the single party.
The idea of merging the Democrats of the Left and the moderate Daisy party into a single formation supported by about a third of the Italian electorate is a major gamble that if successful would likely strengthen Prodi's leadership.
Critics contend the two parties are too divided on several key issues to allow a successful merger.


Updated : 2021-02-27 18:46 GMT+08:00