Friday, 23 February 2007

Communists topple Italian government

As so often happens in Italy, another government coalition has fallen apart. It still remains to be see what’s going to happen, this could actually have the effect of strengthening the Prodi government and giving it the strength to refuse the US’s request to expand the military base in Vicenza. But it could also put Burlusconi back in power.

It’s interesting because what happened last night actually pulls together a number of the things I’ve been writing about. To brief you on what led up to the Italian government’s fall, Prodi won an election nine months ago by a razor-thin margin, and formed a government by assembling a very loose coalition of political parties that ranged from Communists to centrist Catholics. The government has tried to push through a number of controversial reforms since then, one of which was granting civil union rights to non-married couples (including gays).

But the biggest test of the government has come with the US request to enlarge a US-staffed NATO base in Northern Italy. The Prodi coalition was in a bind. It was elected largely as a rebuke to Burlusconi’s sycophantic pro-American policies, and there is widespread opposition to the base’s expansion in Italy. On the other hand, the not allow the expansion would have been seen as a rebuke to the US and the Bush Administration may have retaliated be re-examining other agreements.

At the same time, the Italian troop presence in Afghanistan is also fairly unpopular. So, the senate had a “non-binding resolution” on whether or not they support the Prodi administration’s foreign policy. It failed by two votes, caused by the abstensions of two communists, members of Prodi’s coalition. The difference being that when the US senate has a non-binding resolution, it means nothing. When they have one in Italy (both were essentially “no confidence” votes in the government’s foreign policy), the government falls. Funny how that works out.

Prodi’s troubles are symptomatic of the problem facing many center-left governments throughout Europe, from Blair in the UK to Zapatero in Spain, and perhaps soon Royal in France. The public is broadly opposed to the foreign policy actions of the United States, and they want to see their governments stand up to the American Juggernaut. But as long as Europe relies on the US for its own security, the hands of these leaders are relatively tied, particularly when it comes to the actions of the US on their own soil, as demonstrated by the secret prisons mess.

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