The confirmation of the government of Giovanni Spadolini, Italy's new prime minister, and the first since the founding of the republic not to be a Christian Democrat, now seems a certainty.
The Senate approved his government by a confortable majority July 9, and the lower house is expected to follow suit.
But there will probably be very little change in practical, everyday terms, and his premiership will have almost no effect on Italy's man in the street. Spadolini's occupancy of the prime minister's chair may have turned things upside down -- his Republicans numerically count least in his coalition, and hold only 4 percent of the seats in parliament -- but the Christian Democrats insisted on and got more than half, or 15 of the 27 Cabinet seats. This means any Cabinet decision will need their approval.
They also remain the biggest party in parliament. Most of their Cabinet members are old-timers at that job, so the Spadolini Cabinet does not "look" much different from others of the last 10, 20, or 30 years, except that the man presiding over the Cabinet meetings, and the man who will speak for the government before parliament and the public, happens to belong to the Republican Party. At best, the rotund Florentine bachelor will set the tone and perhaps the pace of the new government.
After more than 35 years under the Christian Democrats, Italian government may change in small ways with the Spadolini premiership. And those little changes could mean a lot.
The prime minister faces three immediate problems in Italy: moral, civil, and economic.
The moral emergency could be summed up in the current P-2 scandal, referring to a Masonic lodge called the P-2, in which nearly 1,000 important politicians, bankers, generals, and admirals were enrolled and which, or so it is said, was planning an eventual coup.
Spadolini said that all secret societies were to be outlawed, and those members of the P-2 lodge would be suspended from any public office. (The P-2 scandal is the only one involving members of the country's military- industrial complex, and the Christian Democrat Party.)
The civil emergency is terrorism, which took another victim July 6. The economic emergency in one word is inflation, which has been moving for the last three years at an annual rate of 20 percent. (The Italian government, and the individual citizen, is living beyond its means. Italy imports 85 percent of its energy and about 55 percent of its food.) If Spadolini deals with success with even one of these emergencies, he will have done well.
Giovanni Spadolini's novelty is not only that he is not a Christian Democrat. He is not strictly speaking a dyed-in-the-wool politician.
He became a full professor of contemporary history at Florence's university at the age of 25. He founded a politico-cultural review, and began turning out volumes of history, including one on relations between the Italian laic (secular) state and the Vatican. He was offered the editorship of Bologna's daily, Il Resto del Carlino, and a few years later the editorship of Milan's Il Corrier Della Sera -- Italy's most influential paper.
He was dismissed by the owner in 1972 and immediately offered a candidacy in the Senate on the Republican ticket. He accepted, joined the party, and was elected.
When Ugo la Malfa died two years ago, the Republicans decided that Spadolini was their best man, electing him party chairman. When the Christian Democrats couldn't get their act together last month, Sandro Pertini, the somewhat impetuous Italian President, decided to try someone not from the Roman Catholic party. Spadolini, being head of the smallest governing party, could not have many enemies, his party was relatively free of corruption. Spadolini got the job.