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Viewing cable 08ROME681, ITALY: BERLUSCONI'S IMPRESSIVE START: DELIVERING

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
08ROME681 2008-05-30 11:11 2011-02-19 11:11 CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN Embassy Rome
VZCZCXRO6822
RR RUEHBW RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHRO #0681/01 1511124
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301124Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ROME
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0387
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHFL/AMCONSUL FLORENCE 3064
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN 9404
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 3213
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ROME 000681 
 
NOFORN 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/28/2018 
TAGS: PGOV ECON IT
SUBJECT: ITALY: BERLUSCONI'S IMPRESSIVE START: DELIVERING 
ON CAMPAIGN PROMISES, HIGH APPROVAL RATINGS 
 
REF: A. ROME 0472...


Classified By: Ambassador Ronald P. Spogli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
SUMMARY 
------- 
 
1. (C/NF) Capitalizing on his strong electoral victory and a 
weak opposition, PM Berlusconi is enjoying high approval 
ratings for his quick delivery on campaign promises to reduce 
taxes and increase security.  Since April, Berlusconi has 
dominated the Italian political stage.  By reaching out to 
the opposition and keeping his allies placated, Berlusconi is 
also cutting a more statesman-like figure than in previous 
terms.  END SUMMARY. 
 
BERLUSCONI SETS UP GOVERNMENT WITH RECORD SPEED 
--------------------------------------------- -- 
 
2. (C/NF) Berlusconi's overwhelming victory in Italy's April 
13-14 parliamentary elections earned his center-right 
coalition a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament 
(REF A).  Despite early predictions that the success of the 
Northern League (LN), Berlusconi's populist and sometimes 
anti-immigrant coalition partner, would complicate the 
government formation process, Berlusconi was the first 
PM-designate in the history of the Italian Republic to 
present the President his list of cabinet ministers the 
moment he was asked to form a government.  Senate President 
Renato Schifani told the Ambassador May 14 that Berlusconi 
had neutralized the LN, with its heavy focus on security 
issues, by giving them the Ministry of Interior. 
 
BERLUSCONI TACKLES SECURITY, TAXES, TRASH, CRIME 
--------------------------------------------- --- 
 
3. (SBU) In his first address to Parliament on May 13, 
Berlusconi outlined his government's priorities and called 
for cooperation with the opposition, saying his government 
would move quickly to resolve the Naples garbage crisis, 
abolish property tax on a family's first home (and lower 
taxes in general), improve public safety, increase regional 
control over locally-sourced tax revenues, and stimulate 
economic growth in the South.  For the first time, Berlusconi 
noted the need to combat organized crime as a government 
priority (REF B). 
 
4. (C/NF) Highlighting the importance of resolving the Naples 
garbage issue, which has evolved into a crisis of public 
order, Berlusconi held his first Council of Ministers (CoM) 
meeting in Naples on May 21, at which he created an 
Undersecretary position for working on the trash crisis and 
threatened to jail anyone blocking the movement of garbage 
trucks.  The CoM also decided on promised tax cuts and new 
security measures, including specific measures against 
illegal immigrants (REF C). Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti 
claims that lost revenue will be made up for by spending cuts 
and a crack down on tax evasion, but many -- including EU 
officials -- are skeptical. Previous Berlusconi governments 
ran deficits that violated EU limits. 
 
NEARLY UNPRECEDENTED PUBLIC APPROVAL 
------------------------------------ 
 
5. (SBU) Polls published the last week of May indicate that 
between 50% and 60% of Italians approve of Berlusconi's 
performance to date, versus only 20% who do not.  25% of 
people who voted against Berlusconi give him positive marks, 
a remarkable statistic in Italy.  The same polls indicate 
that an even higher percentage of Italians support the 
content of the decrees/draft laws approved May 21 by the CoM. 
 89% favor harsher penalties for drunk drivers; 87% support 
the elimination of property taxes on a family's first home; 
and 74% approve of quicker measures to expel foreigners 
convicted of crimes, while 58% support making illegal 
immigration a crime.  Though opposition-leaning newspapers 
highlight that only 9% believe Berlusconi will solve Naples' 
long-running trash crisis within one month, 48% believe he 
will solve the crisis in under one year. 
 
BERLUSCONI IV, REACHING ACROSS THE AISLE 
---------------------------------------- 
 
6. (C/NF) Most analysts expected Berlusconi's victory to be 
narrow and cited meetings between Democratic Party (PD) 
Secretary Walter Veltroni's confidant Goffredo Bettini and 
 
ROME 00000681  002.2 OF 002 
 
 
Berlusconi adviser (and Undersecretary) Gianni Letta as 
evidence that they were planning some kind of post-election 
grand coalition.  The scale of Berlusconi's victory made 
bipartisanship numerically unnecessary for all but 
constitutional reforms.  Nevertheless, Berlusconi reached out 
specifically to Veltroni in his May 13 address and has made 
several other overtures across the aisle.  For the most part, 
Veltroni has responded positively. 
 
A DISORGANIZED OPPOSITION 
------------------------- 
 
7. (C/NF) Veltroni was weakened politically by the magnitude 
of his loss in the April 13-14 elections, as well as by the 
PD's loss in the key Rome mayoral race two weeks later. 
Veltroni has formed a British-style shadow government in 
opposition to Berlusconi, but former FM and PD heavyweight 
Massimo D'Alema refused to participate in it and has begun to 
challenge Veltroni on several fronts.  Chamber President 
Gianfranco Fini told the Ambassador that D'Alema has put 
Veltroni ""in the freezer"" and will try to engineer a way to 
dump him next year from the PD leadership. 
 
8. (C/NF) No communist or far-left parties are represented in 
the Italian parliament.  One time Berlusconi ally 
Pierferdindando Casini leads a small centrist caucus, but 
Casini is in a difficult position politically given that most 
of his views are ideologically similar to Berlusconi's. 
Antonio DiPietro's small Italians of Value (IdV) party offers 
the most vigorous opposition to Berlusconi, but its size 
makes it of only minor significance. 
 
COMMENT 
------- 
 
9. (C/NF) Berlusconi's strong, popular start contrasts 
starkly with the Prodi government's two years of internal 
squabbling.  With support even from many Italians who voted 
for the opposition, Berlusconi dominates the political 
landscape while outmaneuvering his domestic opponents at 
every turn.  To be sure, prospects of weak economic growth, a 
large fiscal deficit and the reality that the Naples trash 
crisis could take a long time to resolve all present 
significant challenges.  Moreover, the opposition, both in 
and out of parliament, will not remain disorganized and quiet 
indefinitely.  But for the moment, Berlusconi has started his 
fourth governing mandate like a statesman with potential to 
address many of Italy's most serious problems.  END COMMENT. 
SPOGLI 
"