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Prodi's coalition holds two-day meeting to set priorities, show unity

Prodi's coalition holds two-day meeting to set priorities, show unity

Premier Romano Prodi and ministers of his center-left Cabinet, beset by tensions over the economy, opened talks at a palace complex Thursday to find a unified position on liberalization, labor reform and cutting red tape.
"Today the whole government gathers to work on the economic program of the upcoming months," Prodi said shortly before the meeting at the 18th-century Royal Palace complex in the southern Italian city of Caserta.
Prodi promised that on Friday, the last day of the gathering, he would unveil a "strategic plan" to help boost the economy in Italy's underdeveloped south. He did not offer details.
The meeting gathers some 30 officials, including Cabinet ministers and party leaders. It comes amid tensions in the ruling center-left coalition following a controversial 2007 budget, leaving Prodi with the task of bringing his allies together.
"Saying that the coalition shows up divided at Caserta is a euphemism," top daily Corriere della Sera wrote Wednesday. "Any success would taste like a heroic feat."
During a stop in Naples on his way to Caserta, Prodi told reporters that one of his main topics of discussion during the summit would be how to generate more foreign investment.
"A country that remains isolated from foreign investments as Italy has been in the past decades is not a country that has a role in an integrated and globalized world," the premier was quoted as saying by Italian news agencies ANSA and Apcom.
Prodi has outlined an ambitious agenda for the new year, promising to reduce bureaucracy, improve competitiveness and spur growth. "2007 will be the year of the turnaround," he vowed.
But the new year opened on a sour note for the premier, who had suffered a decline in his approval rating after the budget announcement.
An economist known for supporting market-friendly reforms quit the coalition's largest party, saying his views and those of the party had become increasingly "distant."
The resignation of Nicola Rossi from the Democrats of the Left party did not have any direct impact on the government's stability. But it highlighted discontent among moderate, reform-oriented lawmakers in the coalition over what they see as the exaggerated influence of radical leftists on government policies.
Prodi has been trying to mediate between the two sides, saying reforming the country is a long-term project that will involve the entire five-year legislature. The coalition has a minimal majority in the Senate and needs to close ranks to pass measures.
While the Caserta gathering aims at demonstrating cohesion, the conservative opposition led by former Premier Silvio Berlusconi views it as a mere attempt to mask deepening rifts.
"The center-left arrives at this summit amid a thousand controversies. I think we'll see few reforms," conservative lawmaker Maurizio Gasparri said. "They will try to stay afloat and go on for a little longer."
Topping talks at the summit were a series of measures aimed at introducing more competition in various sectors of the economy. The move is potentially controversial, since a similar set of measures last year involving law firms, cab drivers and other sectors spurred massive protests _ and some were eventually watered-down.
Also on the agenda were energy and environmental measures, as well as efforts to cut down bureaucracy. Potentially divisive issues, such as a revision of electoral law, were left out.
The premier has made turning around the country's economy a priority of his term. He is aiming to cut the 2007 deficit to below 3 percent _ as required by EU rules. But the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted Italy would break budget rules again in 2007, for the fifth consecutive year.
The OECD also predicted in its November report that, since the 2007 budget was "heavily skewed toward revenue increases rather than spending cuts," growth would slow to 1.4 percent next year. It was 1.8 percent in 2006.
The government also might take up another thorny issue at the summit: whether to forward to Washington an extradition request by an Italian prosecutor for 26 Americans accused in the alleged CIA kidnapping of an Egyptian cleric in Milan in 2003. The case continues to be an irritant to U.S.-Italian relations.
The retreat _ the latest in a several months meetings to decide government policies _ was being held in a Baroque palace, completed in 1774, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Naples and nicknamed the "Versailles of Naples" for its lavish gardens and 1,200 rooms.


Updated : 2021-10-25 06:22 GMT+08:00