Italian Government Falls Apart Again

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The Italian parliament was the scene of crying, spitting, fainting and champagne popping last week as the Senate voted to book Prime Minister Romano Prodi. Corriere della Sera columnist Beppe Severgnini makes a bid for your attention.

ALISON STEWART, host:

There was crying, there was spitting, there was fainting, there was even champagne popping - just another day in parliamento Italiano, the Italian parliament.

RICO GALLIANO, host:

Last Thursday, the senate there descended into chaos when a majority voted to boot Prime Minister Romano Prodi out of power. He resigned. The government's in turmoil. The people are protesting. It's not quite la dolce vita in Roma these days.

STEWART: The country's political history is always changing: 61 governments since Mussolini was in charge, according to Italian news agencies. So given this long history of instability, and as long as there is still fabulous fashion out of Milan and wine from the Piemonte region, does it really matter to the average American that yet another Italian administration has got some trouble? Well, that, I believe, brings on the phrase Make Me Care, coming from the BPP's staff. Hit it.

(Soundbite of song, "Baby Elephant Walk")

STEWART: Joining us to take the challenge is Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Italy's largest newspaper, Corriere della Sera. He joins us on the phone from Italy. Hi, Beppe.

Mr. BEPPE SEVERGNINI (Columnist, Corriere della Sera): Hi, Alison. How are you?

STEWART: I am doing well. Buon giorno to you.

Before we get to this whole 60 seconds, your bid to make us care about this, I want to set up the issue just a little bit more. The prime minister's head of justice got caught up in this extortion probe and resigned. And he took all his Christian Democratic Party with him. So what kind of political position does that leave the prime minister in?

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Well, when the justice minister resigned, he took away all three senators, because the party was very tiny. But the majority was rather razor thin for the Prime Minister Prodi, so we always knew that he was like leading on a brink of something, of disaster, from his point of view. And it happened. So the electoral law is a complete disaster. You may not like your long process, but at least you got a president in the very end, and he's going to be there for four years.

In Italy, what happens, you elect a government and the system - I won't try to explain it to you now. But believe me, you got a - the majorities are different, the list are proposed by the party so we cannot choose anybody. It's an utter disaster and actually turned out to be a disaster for the - I guess, it's 60, not 61. I think your calculation is wrong.

STEWART: Well, okay. Well, I guess if we count this one as being a problem. All right. Let's play this Make Me Care. You've made it sound very dramatic, but I need to really feel this. I need to know why this is important to me and to all our listeners. So you know the deal. We're going to put 60 seconds on the clock. When you hear the ticking, you only have 10 seconds left. So, Beppe, you have one minute to make us care about the current collapse of the Italian government. Go.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Okay. You and Rico, you take a flight to Malpensa, and the airport is not a hub anymore because we are selling off Alitalia - or maybe not, because the government is not there. Then, you're taking this little train to Milan and why that isn't a fast train like all the other European airport, because we - there's supposed to be one, but the government cannot decide whether to put one or not.

Then, you're going to Milan and it's a disaster - too much traffic, and your fashion is far away. You not reached the fashion show. You want to go to a restaurant, but then you find - you cannot find a parking spot because the decision about this or that had not been taken. And I could go on and on and on.

A good government, it means managing a democracy, make everybody's life more easier, kind of more comfortable. And when I say everybody, that includes Italians and, yes, my dear, also American visitors. How did I do?

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Fabulous.

GALLIANO: Pretty good. I do have to say that all the stuff about trains and traffic, it sounds like Los Angeles to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of clock chiming)

STEWART: Beppe, well, I have to admit, I have a huge soft spot. I love Italy. So you mess with Italy…

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Me, too. I spend the whole 2006 traveling the U.S. on a book tour and trying to explain what the Italian mind is. So I know why you like it and why you think why they care about a government, because Italy will be a better place with just a decent government, basically with any government. It's okay without a government, but it would be much better with a government. Trust me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GALLIANO: I think we can all agree that civilization works best. The - let me ask you, though. I think we can both agree that you've convinced us. But let's get some more information out of you, therefore. Is there any talk of electing a new prime minister?

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Yes. Mr. Berlusconi, who's been around since 1994, and he may well be elected again, knows that he's going to win again because he's a leader. He basically honed - owns the center right coalition. And, of course, he is very well-loved by a good half of the Italian electorate. And so, he wants an election soon because he wants to go back to Palazzo Chigi, which is our White House…

GALLIANO: Mm-hmm.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: …right in the middle of Rome. And - but we - quite a few people say - not only of the center left, say that with these electoral law, again, we're going to produce a very weak parliament that, for any reason, may fall. Also, we have a referendum about electoral law in a (unintelligible) time, so it may well be the case. And the president of the republic is pushing for it.

Again, he say, okay, guys, let's do this. We elect a kind of pro tempore and a part-time government just to fix this bloody electoral law, and then in eight months time, we produce a decent parliament who - which is going to stay for some time. And, in fact, the president stopped talking to the various leader for the parties today. So we'll know what is going to happen in, probably, in the next 48, 72 hours.

GALLIANO: So there is some talk about electoral reform, because if I get this right, is it true that Prodi was subjected to close to three dozen confidence votes in 20 months? Is that right?

Mr. SEVERGNINI: It was absolutely crazy. He had to survive on what we call life senators, like former president of - special people that were given, like, senators for life. You don't have those in America, but we do.

GALLIANO: Sort of.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: And it's not entirely fair, I have to say that, that one elected government has to rely on those people who are not elected.

But the system was crazy, so we had a huge majority in the lower House and almost no majority in the upper House. And the other really nasty thing is that political party leaders draw a list of people, and we are given no choice about candidates whatsoever. Can you imagine? You have primaries. You decide the Republican are, the Democrats are - and one day in November, you go to decide for the man who's running the show. In Italy, not possible. We don't like that.

GALLIANO: All right. Well, from the company that also brought us Cicciolina, the porn star in parliament, I can't say that it's all that much of a surprise, but thank you very much for telling us.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: No, Cicciolina. Forget about it. That's long time ago. But anyway…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEVERGNINI: …can we borrow Obama?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Bye.

STEWART: Beppe Severgnini, thank you so much for making us care and pretty much entertaining us, thoroughly.

Mr. SEVERGNINI: Bye-bye.

(Soundbite of music)

STEWART: He made me want to move to Italy.

All right. Coming up on THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, The Best Song in the World Today. Producer Ian Chillag will tell you quite a tale that involves his car, a homeless man and Nina Simone.

GALLIANO: And Richard Wolffe from Newsweek gives us a State of the Union rundown.

You've been listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT, and will continue to do so if you know it's good for you, from NPR News.

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