Craxi is far from giving Italy a socialist stamp

The formation of a new government for Italy - the 44th coalition in 37 years - marks the end of Bettino Craxi's long march for the premiership. But the leader of Italy's Socialist Party is still far from branding Italy with a socialist stamp. And its program and composition bear little resemblance to the kind of socialism practiced by Italy's neighbors in Spain, Greece, and France.

Within two weeks after being asked by Italy's socialist President Sandro Pertini, to form a government, Mr. Craxi, as head of Italy's third largest party and the first socialist to lead a postwar government, triumphantly announced that an agreement had been reached among the five center-left parties to form Italy's 44th coalition in 37 years.

However, the list of the new ministers in his Cabinet reflects that the still-dominant Christian Democrats exacted a heavy price for Craxi's premiership.

''The Socialist Party is a prisoner in a cell, and the Christian Democrats hold the key,'' huffed Communist Party leader, Enrico Berlinguer, who had been ardently wooing Mr. Craxi to join his party to form a left alternative to the present Christian Democratic hold on Italian government.

Despite the shocking setback at the polls in June, the Christian Democrats were awarded 16 of the 29 ministerial posts in the new government, including the three most powerful after the premiership: the post of deputy premier, the Foreign Ministry, and Interior Ministry.

Former Republican Prime Minister Giovanni Spadolini will hold the fourth most important job - that of defense minister. Craxi's own party holds only five portfolios as compared to 8 of 27 in the last coalition.

Perhaps more important, the program for governing that Craxi hammered out with his coalition partners over the past weeks is a decidedly watered-down version of the proposal the Socialists campaigned on this spring.

But the outlook for the durability of this coalition is not so bleak as it was for others in the past, analysts say. First, the man who was responsible for the downfall of the last four governments now has every incentive to hold this coalition together. That is Bettino Craxi himself.

And, after a disastrous showing at the polls in which their electoral support fell almost 6 percent, the Christian Democrats are scarcely ready for another bout at the polls. Last, with the kind of bite-the-bullet program that Craxi has been forced to outline, he will be forced to bear the brunt of public discontent over the unpopular austerity measures.

The new Craxi program contains the positions he promised in the campaign. For instance, he reaffirmed his commitment to the cruise missiles ''which will become operative at the expected time if the negotiations fail in the coming months,'' said his document. Craxi had vowed to cut inflation but not at the expense of the unemployed.

He had warned in his campaign that he would never support ''conservative'' economic policies involving major cuts in social spending. In fact, Craxi's plan includes a commitment to reduce inflation from 16 percent to 10 percent by 1984 and to freeze the public deficit at the present $60 billion level for at least three years. He plans to put the lid on the deficit by curbing public spending in the health care and social security sectors.

Free health care will still be given to the most needy, but a private health insurance plan will be the norm for everyone else. The retirement age will be raised, and the criteria for invalids to receive pensions will be reevaluated. Craxi's original draft promised to use public sector revenues to create new jobs. In the final version, those funds are earmarked for reducing the public debt.

Craxi's original proposals to fight the Mafia were also weakened by his partners, although the bomb attack on Sicily's leading investigative judge last week eventually worked to strengthen Craxi's hand on this point.

The government's new plans call for beefing up police forces in cities strangled by organized crime, and for creating special tribunals for trying dangerous and vindictive Mafia bosses.

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