Da Financial Times del 12/04/2005
Originale su http://news.ft.com/cms/s/a5091118-aaac-11d9-98d7-00000e2511c8.html

Italian business chiefs urge early elections

di Tony Barber

Rome - Italy's centre-right government, reeling from a comprehensive thrashing in regional elections, came under pressure from business leaders on Monday to call a snap general election rather than wait until next year.

“What's needed is to tackle Italy's real, concrete problems, away from political and party tactics. What's needed is a government that governs. Otherwise, it's better to hold early elections,” said Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, head of Confindustria, the Italian industrialists' association.

“For too long, the economy hasn't grown. There is a need to create general conditions that will help businesses become more competitive,” Mr Montezemolo, the chairman of carmaker Fiat, told a conference.

It was a blunt message for Silvio Berlusconi, prime minister, and his four-party coalition, which in the April 3-4 regional polls crashed to its heaviest defeat since it came to power in 2001, losing 11 out of 13 contests to the centre-left opposition.

Leaders of the government parties will meet on Thursday to find a way out of the crisis, which has reopened their internal divisions and even prompted a few centre-right politicians to air the previously unthinkable idea that Mr Berlusconi should not lead them in the next general election.

The election need not be held until May 2006. But Mr Berlusconi said last week he was open to staging it in October. Forza Italia, Mr Berlusconi's party, suffered far more than its three coalition partners in the regional polls, and an important calculation for the premier will be how much time he needs to improve the party's appeal to voters.

For Mr Montezemolo and other businesspeople, the problem is that the longer the delay, the greater the risk that the government will avoid taking difficult measures needed to strengthen the Italian economy and public finances.

One government minister said that if the coalition decided against early elections, a substantial overhaul of the cabinet and its policies would be necessary. This might involve Mr Berlusconi's resignation and reappointment at the head of a new team after a parliamentary confidence vote, the minister said.

Among leaders of the coalition's smaller parties, only Marco Follini of the Democratic Union of the Centre (UDC) has called for an early election. But the UDC and conservative National Alliance have wasted no time in blaming the populist Northern League for the debacle in the regional polls.

They say the League alienated voters in central and southern Italy, less prosperous areas than the League's northern base, by insisting on a constitutional reform that would give more self-rule to northern Italy and by denigrating the south as corrupt and inefficient.

“The League's mistake is that it doesn't give a fig about the damage that it causes with its propaganda,” Ignazio La Russa, a high-ranking National Alliance politician, told Italian radio.

Mr Berlusconi finds himself caught between National Alliance and UDC politicians who dislike the constitutional reform and Northern League leaders who promised yesterday to continue supporting the government but made clear the reform must pass.

He also faces opposition to his plan to fight the next election on a programme of big income tax cuts. Mr Follini, whose UDC party is being wooed by the centre-left opposition, declared himself against such cuts.

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