Cablegate: The Ambassador's Courtesy Call On Senate President
C O N F I D E N T I A L ROME 003081
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/12/2015
TAGS: PREL PGOV IT ITALY NATIONAL ELECTIONS
SUBJECT: THE AMBASSADOR'S COURTESY CALL ON SENATE PRESIDENT
Classified By: Ambassador Ronald Spogli f...
SUBJECT: THE AMBASSADOR'S COURTESY CALL ON SENATE PRESIDENT
Classified By: Ambassador Ronald Spogli for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) SUMMARY: During a courtesy call with Ambassador
Spogli, Senate President Marcello Pera (Forza Italia) said
the center-left would win elections if held today. He cited
intra-coalition squabbling (especially over the leadership of
the coalition), poor economic performance, fall-out from the
Euro and voter apathy as the main issues. Pera said Italy's
foreign policy would be a ""disaster"" in the hands of the
center left, and praised PM Berlusconi's bold leadership that
has brought Italy respect on the world stage. He continued
that one immediate consequence would be a quick withdrawal of
Italian troops from Iraq. Pera called the progress on the EU
consitution and expansion ""frozen,"" and though he reiterated
Italian support for Turkish entry into the EU, he said most
Europeans are not ready to welcome a Muslim state into the
Union. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) Ambassador Spogli paid a courtesy call September 12 on
President of the Senate Marcello Pera (Forza Italia). Pera
was accompanied by his Diplomatic Adviser. Pera was
friendly, forthcoming and eager to discuss his upcoming visit
to the United States where he noted he would attend a
luncheon with the President, and have meetings with the Vice
President, the Secretary, and the National Security Adviser.
Pera also said he would be returning to the United States in
October to deliver a presentation at Columbia University.
The Ambassador thanked Pera for his personal donation of Euro
5,000 to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
POLITICS: THE CENTER RIGHT COALITION AND ELECTIONS
3. (C) Pera said internal squabbling inside the center right
coalition would result in a victory for the center left if
elections were held today--even if he did not think the
Italian public is ready for a left-leaning government. He
noted that the dispute between Chamber of Deputies President
Pier Ferdinando Casini (UDC) and PM Berlusconi over the
leadership of the coalition had become too personalized and
threatened to rupture the coalition before the elections. In
fact, Pera predicted the UDC would abandon the governing
coalition prior to the elections and ""go its own way.""
According to Pera, Berlusconi had raised ""discontinuity""
during the spring, but the issue had ""gone away"" until Casini
picked it up and began using it against Berlusconi. At this
point, Berlusconi cannot step aside as leader of the House of
Freedom coalition without it being viewed as a personal
4. (C) After four years of government, center-right voters
have lost their ""enthusiasm."" Pera blames the center-right,
including himself, for underestimating the economic
consequences of 9/11 and not adjusting voter expectations.
According to Pera, Berlusconi took power in 2001 on a
platform of cutting taxes, which he delivered. However, for
the larger program to deliver the desired result, Italy
needed to continue at economic growth rates common in the
1990's. Instead, Pera said there was an economic slowdown
caused by 9/11, and the government tried to keep its broader
promises of economic reform. However, those promises had
become unrealistic and the government failed to deliver,
disillusioning many of the coalition's supporters. He added
that Italy's massive fiscal debt is an aggravating factor,
making reform all the more important even if ""it would take
ten years to complete Berlusconi's 2001 economic agenda.""
5. (C) Pera also blamed the Euro for many of the economic
problems faced by the Italian people. ""Italians have
suffered from the Euro,"" he said. The Lira-Euro exchange
rate initially negotiated by the previous center-left
government was too high, and the problem has been aggravated
by an ""overvalued Euro versus the dollar."" That said, Pera
noted that responsible politicians cannot criticize the Euro
too much or the people will clamor for a return to the Lira.
In the end, Pera summarized: ""It's the economy, stupid,""
noting that while Berlusconi's foreign policy has been
excellent, foreign policy does not pay electoral dividends.
6. (C) Pera predicted the Northern League's Umberto Bossi
would run a campaign based on three negative themes: abandon
the Euro, stop European integration, and combat extremist
Islam. Pera said Bossi would win votes with these issues.
ON WHAT TO EXPECT FROM A CENTER-LEFT GOVERNMENT
7. (C) Pera predicts Italy's foreign policy would be a
""disaster"" in the hands of the center left. Pera claimed
Berlusconi's courageous foreign policy had changed the
world's view of Italy, turning Italy into a premier player.
He also commended Berlusconi's Israel policy, noting with
particular emphasis that Italy had traditionally been
extremely pro-Yasser Arafat. Pera said a win by the center
left would bring a ""Zapatero-like"" foreign policy and the
return of Italy as an unreliable partner that takes positions
on international issues according to what is most convenient.
One immediate consequence would be a quick withdrawal of
Italian troops from Iraq. That said, Pera offered that if
Nicolas Sarkozy takes over from Jacque Chirac in France and
Angela Merkel gains a clear victory in Germany, these could
serve as moderating influences on EU foreign policy in
general, and on Italy in particular.
8. (C) Pera was critical of Italy's center left politicians
trying to be politically correct and avoiding the obvious
link between Islamic extremism and terrorism. He said the
struggle with Islamic extremism would last for several years.
On other domestic issues, Pera said a center left government
would pursue family policies similar to Zapatero, including
the approval of homosexual marriages, which he said the
Italian people are not ready to sanction.
THE EU AND TURKEY
9. (C) Pera stated the European project is ""frozen,"" and that
it would not be possible to begin a reasonable discussion on
an EU constitution in the near future. The Ambassador asked
what this would mean for Turkey's admission to the EU. Pera
said Italy strongly supports bringing Turkey into the EU but
noted France and Germany could not accept Turkey's accession
into the EU for domestic political reasons in the near term.
He continued it is also hard for Italy to support Turkish
participation in the EU and noted that the persistence of a
terrorist threat and Islamic extremism will determine the
timing of Turkey's entry into the EU as much as ""having its
cards in order."" He agreed Turkey is ostensibly ""democratic
and moderate"" but that European people are not ready to bring
a Muslim state into Europe.
10. (C) COMMENT: Berlusconi has been a vital and trusted
ally, and we have benefited enormously from his foreign
policy leadership. That said, we believe Pera's dire
comments regarding potential center left foreign policies
might be exaggerated, and that we could work with an eventual
center left government led by former EU President Romano
Prodi if he is elected Prime Minister next spring. Though a
center left Italian government would not be nearly as
supportive of U.S. foreign policy as Berlusconi has been, it
contains a broad spectrum of parties whose views on U.S.
poliices, especially Iraq, are more nuanced. A DS
international affairs adviser recently assured us that any
withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq would be completed in
a ""responsible manner."" Prodi is facing primary elections
next month and is reaching to the left in order to keep
voters from supporting Communist party leader Fausto
Bertinotti. We will see if he moderates his positions as the
contest moves to a challenge of Berlusconi. END COMMENT
2005ROME03081 - Classification: CONFIDENTIAL