Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi announced a new government Saturday, leaving key ministries untouched while bringing in his longtime ally and former economy minister Giulio Tremonti as deputy premier.
He's smiling again
Seeking to end Italy's worst political crisis in four years, Berlusconi retained National Alliance (AN) leader Gianfranco Fini as his other deputy prime minister and foreign minister in a government dubbed "Berlusconi II" that he hopes will carry him through to general elections next year.
The prime minister faces a vote of confidence in parliament next week when he is to present his new government program.
Berlusconi with Giulio Tremonti
Berlusconi apparently overcame Fini's objections to the appointment of Tremonti, sacked last year after the AN leader accused him of allowing Italy's budget deficit to spin out of control.
The coalition's Northern League reportedly backed the return of Tremonti, a northern Italian credited with renewing ties between Berlusconi and the League after it brought down his first government in 1994.
Berlusconi announced the new cabinet list -- which also retains Domenico Siniscalco as economy minister and brings in Francesco Storace of Fini's AN as health minister -- after meeting with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
New cabinet or photocopy?
Asked on Friday by Ciampi to stay on and form another government, the 68-year-old media magnate had insisted that his new team would not be a "photocopy" of the previous one.
Berlusconi had resigned Wednesday in the wake of a major electoral rout early this month, after the Christian Democrat UDC party withdrew its ministers from his cabinet and asked for a new government with a revamped program.
Opposition criticizes lineup
Romano Prodi, the former EU commission president
Opposition leader Romano Prodi (photo) was quick to criticize the return of Tremonti, whom he referred to as "the main person responsible for the downturn in the Italian economy," and the appointment of Storace, the defeated president of Rome's region Lazio.
Prodi said Storace lost in the April 3-4 regional elections because of "poor management of the health system in Lazio."
The swearing in of the new government Saturday afternoon followed crisis talks with Fini and Siniscalco early Saturday aimed at finding a line-up strong enough to avert early elections -- which polls say the coalition would likely lose.
Berlusconi in parliament on Wednesday
After the allies met Friday, the prime minister said his new team would start work next week "to realize the new objectives that the coalition has agreed to," including relaunching the Italian industry, increasing the spending power of large families, and boosting aid for the country's lagging southern regions.
Has Berlusconi received the message?
Berlusconi is keen to show that the coalition had received the message from Italian voters after losing six of eight regional governments it formerly controlled. The vote of confidence is expected to take place early next week.
Ciampi had asked Berlusconi to hold a final meeting with his allies to be certain that the coalition was united enough to carry the country through to elections scheduled in May 2006.
Berlusconi had initially resisted resigning after the electoral defeat but was forced to give in to his allies, ending Italy's longest-serving government since World War II at more than four years.
The opposition had dismissed the new lineup in advance.
"Leftover soup," was the comment of Lilli Gruber (photo), a European lawmaker of the left-wing Union umbrella group.
"This government will be a faded photocopy of the previous one and -- if it were possible -- even worse," said Alfonso Pecoraro Scanio, leader of the opposition Green party, late Friday.
"Early elections would have been the best solution because leaving Italy without a leadership for another year is irresponsible," he added.
Recent opinion surveys said the Union would win early elections, garnering about five percentage points more than Berlusconi's House of Freedoms.