In Italy, Tide Turns Against `Politics As Usual'
European unity lends urgency to latest drive for political reform
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First among these are the ``leagues'' blossoming in Italy's industrial north, in cities like Milan, Turin, and Venice. Polls show the leagues with 5 to 10 percent of the Italian electorate, but in Lombardy they have been strong enough to elect a member of the European Parliament.Skip to next paragraph
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A direct response to what the public considers the corruption and inefficiency of the central government, the leagues favor increased regional powers and a distancing from the less-prosperous south.
Some experts worry that in the long run, as a borderless Western Europe develops out of the EC's single market, the leagues could end up a catalyst for a ``Balkanization'' of Italy, with the north turning its back to the nation in favor of Germany and the rest of industrial Europe.
The irony of Italy is that, despite increasing reference among Italians to a ``crisis,'' the economy, while slowing, is still performing well. That dampens the sense of urgency and delays action. ``Our problem is that the crisis is in the Constitution, not in the economy, so people are not feeling a daily incentive for change,'' says Bartocci.
Another problem is that even many of those advocating reform are so tied into the current system and its patronage that their calls for change are compromised.
``Look at Confindustria,'' says one political observer, referring to Italy's principal organization of business management.
``No doubt there are sincere proponents of reform there, especially the big companies. But the organization's director is a political appointee,'' he says, ``so there's a link to the system. And many small companies have thrived with local patronage and lax tax collection.''
That doesn't mean there are no concrete proposals for change.
Socialist leader Bettino Craxi approves of the idea of a referendum on a strong presidential system. The Communist Party, which is in the midst of a self-imposed metamorphosis into a West European-style party of the left, favors a strong national leader, but still derived from party leadership, and a German-style federal system giving more power to the regions.
The Christian Democrats, who have guided Italy since the war and who at about 35 percent of the electorate remain the country's largest party, rightly consider that they potentially have the most to lose in any reform, and are the least committed to it.
The major stumbling block to reform remains the two-thirds vote of Parliament required for constitutional revision. No one political party or coalition of parties commands the votes to approve change.
``Reform is a necessity, everybody knows it,'' says Piero Fassino, director of the Communist Party's political commission. ``But it will take an agreement among all the parties, and that won't be easy.''
Yet with the economy not expected to fail soon, observers say the catalyst for the needed political reform will have to come from somewhere else.
One possibility is a government collapse, which many here believe could come as early as spring. That could force elections - but not necessarily any political reforms: Italy is already on its 49th government in 44 years.