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Cablegate: Italy: Berlusconi's Impressive Start: Delivering

VZCZCXRO6822
RR RUEHBW RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHRO #0681/01 1511124
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 301124Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY ROME
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0387
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHFL/AMCONSUL FLORENCE 3064
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN 9404
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 3213

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ROME 000681

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/28/2018
TAGS: PGOV ECON IT
SUBJECT: ITALY: BERLUSCONI'S IMPRESSIVE START: DELIVERING
ON CAMPAIGN PROMISES, HIGH APPROVAL RATINGS

REF: A. ROME 0472...


Classified By: Ambassador Ronald P. Spogli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).

SUMMARY
-------

1. (C/NF) Capitalizing on his strong electoral victory and a
weak opposition, PM Berlusconi is enjoying high approval
ratings for his quick delivery on campaign promises to reduce
taxes and increase security. Since April, Berlusconi has
dominated the Italian political stage. By reaching out to
the opposition and keeping his allies placated, Berlusconi is
also cutting a more statesman-like figure than in previous
terms. END SUMMARY.

BERLUSCONI SETS UP GOVERNMENT WITH RECORD SPEED
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (C/NF) Berlusconi's overwhelming victory in Italy's April
13-14 parliamentary elections earned his center-right
coalition a comfortable majority in both houses of parliament
(REF A). Despite early predictions that the success of the
Northern League (LN), Berlusconi's populist and sometimes
anti-immigrant coalition partner, would complicate the
government formation process, Berlusconi was the first
PM-designate in the history of the Italian Republic to
present the President his list of cabinet ministers the
moment he was asked to form a government. Senate President
Renato Schifani told the Ambassador May 14 that Berlusconi
had neutralized the LN, with its heavy focus on security
issues, by giving them the Ministry of Interior.

BERLUSCONI TACKLES SECURITY, TAXES, TRASH, CRIME
--------------------------------------------- ---

3. (SBU) In his first address to Parliament on May 13,
Berlusconi outlined his government's priorities and called
for cooperation with the opposition, saying his government
would move quickly to resolve the Naples garbage crisis,
abolish property tax on a family's first home (and lower
taxes in general), improve public safety, increase regional
control over locally-sourced tax revenues, and stimulate
economic growth in the South. For the first time, Berlusconi
noted the need to combat organized crime as a government
priority (REF B).

4. (C/NF) Highlighting the importance of resolving the Naples
garbage issue, which has evolved into a crisis of public
order, Berlusconi held his first Council of Ministers (CoM)
meeting in Naples on May 21, at which he created an
Undersecretary position for working on the trash crisis and
threatened to jail anyone blocking the movement of garbage
trucks. The CoM also decided on promised tax cuts and new
security measures, including specific measures against
illegal immigrants (REF C). Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti
claims that lost revenue will be made up for by spending cuts
and a crack down on tax evasion, but many -- including EU
officials -- are skeptical. Previous Berlusconi governments
ran deficits that violated EU limits.

NEARLY UNPRECEDENTED PUBLIC APPROVAL
------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Polls published the last week of May indicate that
between 50% and 60% of Italians approve of Berlusconi's
performance to date, versus only 20% who do not. 25% of
people who voted against Berlusconi give him positive marks,
a remarkable statistic in Italy. The same polls indicate
that an even higher percentage of Italians support the
content of the decrees/draft laws approved May 21 by the CoM.
89% favor harsher penalties for drunk drivers; 87% support
the elimination of property taxes on a family's first home;
and 74% approve of quicker measures to expel foreigners
convicted of crimes, while 58% support making illegal
immigration a crime. Though opposition-leaning newspapers
highlight that only 9% believe Berlusconi will solve Naples'
long-running trash crisis within one month, 48% believe he
will solve the crisis in under one year.

BERLUSCONI IV, REACHING ACROSS THE AISLE
----------------------------------------

6. (C/NF) Most analysts expected Berlusconi's victory to be
narrow and cited meetings between Democratic Party (PD)
Secretary Walter Veltroni's confidant Goffredo Bettini and

ROME 00000681 002.2 OF 002


Berlusconi adviser (and Undersecretary) Gianni Letta as
evidence that they were planning some kind of post-election
grand coalition. The scale of Berlusconi's victory made
bipartisanship numerically unnecessary for all but
constitutional reforms. Nevertheless, Berlusconi reached out
specifically to Veltroni in his May 13 address and has made
several other overtures across the aisle. For the most part,
Veltroni has responded positively.

A DISORGANIZED OPPOSITION
-------------------------

7. (C/NF) Veltroni was weakened politically by the magnitude
of his loss in the April 13-14 elections, as well as by the
PD's loss in the key Rome mayoral race two weeks later.
Veltroni has formed a British-style shadow government in
opposition to Berlusconi, but former FM and PD heavyweight
Massimo D'Alema refused to participate in it and has begun to
challenge Veltroni on several fronts. Chamber President
Gianfranco Fini told the Ambassador that D'Alema has put
Veltroni ""in the freezer"" and will try to engineer a way to
dump him next year from the PD leadership.

8. (C/NF) No communist or far-left parties are represented in
the Italian parliament. One time Berlusconi ally
Pierferdindando Casini leads a small centrist caucus, but
Casini is in a difficult position politically given that most
of his views are ideologically similar to Berlusconi's.
Antonio DiPietro's small Italians of Value (IdV) party offers
the most vigorous opposition to Berlusconi, but its size
makes it of only minor significance.

COMMENT
-------

9. (C/NF) Berlusconi's strong, popular start contrasts
starkly with the Prodi government's two years of internal
squabbling. With support even from many Italians who voted
for the opposition, Berlusconi dominates the political
landscape while outmaneuvering his domestic opponents at
every turn. To be sure, prospects of weak economic growth, a
large fiscal deficit and the reality that the Naples trash
crisis could take a long time to resolve all present
significant challenges. Moreover, the opposition, both in
and out of parliament, will not remain disorganized and quiet
indefinitely. But for the moment, Berlusconi has started his
fourth governing mandate like a statesman with potential to
address many of Italy's most serious problems. END COMMENT.
SPOGLI
"

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