Romano Prodi Forms Italian Government

Center-left leader Romano Prodi was sworn in Wednesday as premier of Italy's 61st postwar government, officially ending the conservative and sometimes rocky rule of Silvio Berlusconi.

Five weeks after his narrow election victory, Prodi submitted a Cabinet list to President Giorgio Napolitano that gave some indication of the new government's priorities: fixing Italy's ailing economy and focussing more on Europe.

Analysts do not expect relations with the United States to suffer.

CountryWatch: Italy

New Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema, a former Communist and former premier, opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq — like all of Prodi's coalition — and has criticized American foreign policies. But as Italy's premier from 1998 to 2000, D'Alema supported the NATO-led airstrike against Yugoslavia and allowed the use of air bases on Italian soil.

In Washington, he is considered a reliable ally, said Franco Venturini, who writes for top Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Berlusconi made much of his personal friendship with U.S. President George W. Bush, and that type of attitude is likely to change. However, relations between Italy and the U.S. are expected to remaing good.

"The left has always used great caution with the United States," said Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist who teaches at Rome's John Cabot University. "While I think there will be a movement towards Old Europe, like France and Germany, I don't think that this will bring a great detachment from the United States."

Prodi also named a respected economist, Tommaso Padoa Schioppa, to fix the country's finances.

"It's a team that will last the entire legislature," Prodi said. "It is very homogeneous and I hope it will get along well."

One of Prodi's biggest challenges is to revive Italy's ailing economy while cutting its debt and deficit to conform with European monetary union rules.

"I think we can only speak well of Padoa Schioppa," Venturini said of the politically independent former member of the European Central Bank's executive board. "He is a technocrat who was inserted to reassure everyone. ... He is a fundamental part of Prodi's government."

The stagnant economy and ballooning budget deficit probably cost Berlusconi the election, although his Forza Italia party remains the country's largest and an opposition force to be reckoned with.

The new Cabinet includes another former premier: longtime Socialist Giuliano Amato as the new interior minister, in charge of civilian police forces and intelligence services.

A close Prodi aide, centrist Arturo Parisi, was appointed defense minister.

The Cabinet was formed after last-minute meetings with party leaders in Prodi's coalition following days of bickering over key posts.

"It's a beautiful day," Prodi said during a break of his Cabinet's first meeting. "Italy expects a lot. We must not fail."

The government must now win a confidence vote in Parliament. The vote was scheduled for Friday in the Senate — where the ruling coalition has a mere two-seat majority — and Tuesday in the lower house.

The Cabinet list was presented exactly 10 years after Prodi's first government was formed May 17, 1996. That stint lasted until 1998, when a Communist ally withdrew support.

Prodi, 66, served as European Commission president, the EU's top job, for five years until 2004.

He scored a narrow victory over Berlusconi's conservative forces in April 9-10 elections, among the closest in modern Italy.

Since the election, Prodi has been working on the makeup of the government, trying to satisfy allies in his coalition, which includes two larger mainstream forces and a mixed group of smaller parties that range from Communists to centrist, ex-Christian Democrats.

"They are satisfied, maybe not all of them are happy," Prodi said shortly before announcing his Cabinet.

The diversity of his allies and his slender majority in the Senate have raised doubts that he would remain in power for long. His government follows Berlusconi's five years in office, the longest stretch in Italy since the end of World War II.

The media tycoon raised Italy's profile on the world stage — but not always for the best. He befriended President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he often embarrassed the country with his gaffes and his recurring legal woes.

Berlusconi vowed that he would lead a tough opposition in parliament.