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Cablegate: Veltroni: Lifeline for Left, but Might Sink Prodi

VZCZCXRO6579
RR RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHRO #1494/01 1901151
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 091151Z JUL 07
FM AMEMBASSY ROME
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8528
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHFL/AMCONSUL FLORENCE 2510
RUEHMIL/AMCONSUL MILAN 8793
RUEHNP/AMCONSUL NAPLES 2661

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ROME 001494

SIPDIS

NOFORN
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/05/2017
TAGS: PGOV IT

SUBJECT: VELTRONI: LIFELINE FOR LEFT, BUT MIGHT SINK PRODI

REF: A. ROME 1324

B. ROME DAILY REPORT (28 JUNE 2007)
C. ROME DAILY REPORT (6 JULY 2007)
D. ROME 0877

ROME 00001494 001.2 OF 003


Classified By: CDA Anna M. Borg for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).


SUMMARY
-------

1. (C/NF) Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni's candidacy and near
coronation as leader of the soon-to-be Democratic Party (PD)
establishes him as an alternative pole of leadership to PM
Prodi within the center left. Veltroni, who successfully
presents himself as a political outsider despite a lifetime
at the center of politics, told the Ambassador he does not
want to destabilize the Prodi government but that he sees
parliamentary elections in 2009, or as soon as 2008. If PM
Prodi once had to worry about his radical left and centrists
like MoJ Mastella bringing down his government, with Veltroni
on the scene the core parties forming his coalition are also
now looking beyond him. END SUMMARY.


WITH THE FUTURE DEMOCRATIC PARTY LOOKING IMPERILED
--------------------------------------------- -----

2. (C/NF) The two largest parties comprising the reformist
component of the center-left coalition, the Democrats of the
Left (DS) and the Democracy is Liberty-the Daisy Party
(Daisy), agreed in April to dissolve and form a new
Democratic Party (PD) (REF A). They subsequently agreed to
hold a constituent assembly on October 14 to elect/select the
Party Secretary and resolve the many policy differences
between the two parties. With the Prodi government stumbling
badly at every opportunity (REF B) and persistent internal
squabbling over the future structure, leadership and policies
of the yet-unborn PD, center-left politicians were becoming
increasingly pessimistic that a resurgent former PM
Berlusconi could threaten not only the Prodi government but
the viability of the future PD.


VELTRONI WAS DELIVERED AS THE PARTY'S SAVIOR
--------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, a former DS Party
Secretary, has long been considered a likely center-left

SIPDIS
candidate for the premiership, and speculation that he would
run for the PD leadership in October coincided with the
announcement the PD would be formed. By mid-June, Veltroni
had received the public blessings of DS President D'Alema and
Daisy President Rutelli, and Veltroni formally announced his
candidacy on June 27 (REF C). Recalling the image of his
political idol, Robert Kennedy, Veltroni was spun as the
savior of the center left.

VELTRONI TALKS OF TURNING THE PAGE
----------------------------------

4. (C/NF) Announcing his candidacy, Veltroni recognized the
achievements of the Prodi government, but spoke of the need
to turn the page, isolate the radical left and attract swing
voters. (Note: Veltroni admitted to the Ambassador in a
meeting July 3 that marginalizing the far left could cost him
as much as ten percent of the electorate, but that it was
necessary in order to implement reforms and that he hoped to
attract swing voters to compensate for the loss. End Note.)


5. (U) Veltroni announced four main goals: (1) addressing the
increasingly problematic challenges of climate change; (2)
developing a new compact among the generations to tackle
outstanding social unbalances with an emphasis on poverty,
long-term care for the elderly, social mobility (along the
U.S. model), flexible postponement of the retirement age, tax
reductions, improving universities for a knowledge-based
society and a containment of fiscal spending; (3) addressing
""precarieta,"" or the instability and frustration that Italy's
youth face in the labor market which prevents many of them
from establishing a family; and (4) improving personal
security in large cities. He confirmed these priorities at
his July 3 meeting with the Ambassador. Veltroni only once
mentioned foreign policy in his 90-minute speech, saying he
is against war.


6. (C/NF) Poloff met July 5 with Matteo Rebasani, Director of
International Relations for the City of Rome. Rebasani said
Veltroni is pro-U.S, has close ties with Rome's Jewish
community and would favor increased ""solidarity with Africa,""
and improved global health. Rebasani further described
Veltroni as a multilateralist and pro-EU. Rebasani said

ROME 00001494 002.2 OF 003


Veltroni does not yet have a foreign policy team (or really
any kind of national policy team) and noted that as the Mayor
of Rome he has been able to avoid directly commenting on many
of the foreign policy challenges of the past six years.
Rebasani said any foreign/domestic policy team would have to
take into account existing party positions.


DARIO FRANCESCHINI ON THE TICKET
--------------------------------

7. (C/NF) Daisy Party member and former Christian Democrat
Dario Franceschini will be Veltroni's number two, as a result
of a selection process that Veltroni likened to a U.S.-style
electoral ticket. Veltroni told the Ambassador he had
selected Franceschini for party balance (Veltroni is from the
DS and Franceschini is from the Daisy) and because
Franceschini is from the North (Veltroni is from Rome). A
Franceschini assistant told Poloff July 2 that Veltroni would
remain as Mayor of Rome for the foreseeable future as he was
reelected only one year ago. In contrast, Franceschini would
likely step down as Ulivo Group Leader in the Chamber of
Deputies and take over day-to-day management of the PD.
Rebasani confirmed this probable division of labor on July 5.


VELTRONI ON THE VELTRONI EFFECT
-------------------------------

8. (C/NF) The Ambassador hosted Veltroni for lunch at Villa
Taverna on July 3 and asked Veltroni how he plans to
coordinate with the Prodi government. Stating that his
relations with the Prodi government will be his most
difficult challenge, Veltroni said ""Prodi is weak,"" and that
he does not want to ""upset the stability"" of the government.
Veltroni predicted the Prodi government would last until 2009
and that elections would likely be held in the spring of 2009
but said it ""could be as early as 2008."" Veltroni continued
that Prodi ""is not liked"" by Italians and added that if
elections were held today, ""Berlusconi would clean up.""


9. (C/NF) The press has speculated that U/S Enrico Letta,
Development Minister Pier Luigi Bersani, and others are upset
with the apparent selection from on high of Veltroni as the
future PD Party Secretary and might challenge him in party
primaries. Veltroni brushed off any concern, telling the
Ambassador he was certain he would be 'elected' at the
October 14 assembly. Rebasani also said he doubted there
would be any serious challenge to Veltroni's leadership but
admitted that others might soon announce their candidacy.


PUNDITS ON THE VELTRONI EFFECT
------------------------------

10. (C/NF) Prodi's government continues to stumble, with
pension reform proving particularly difficult (REF D), and
other scandals periodically resurfacing. As Veltroni put it,
Prodi is weak, and no political analyst is predicting he will
get stronger. Veltroni's announcement that he would run for
PD Party Secretary has sparked muted optimism in many
center-left politicians (but not about the Prodi government)
and expressions of concern from some on the center right who
concede Veltroni would be a strong opponent.


11. (C/NF) Veltroni has a long history in center-left
politics but after five years off the national scene as
Rome's Mayor, he successfully sells himself as a political
outsider and fresh face. A former member of the defunct
Italian Communist Party (PCI), Veltroni recently announced he
was never really a communist to relatively few expressions of
disbelief. Veltroni is widely viewed as media savvy; he
brought a major film festival to Rome and cleaned up Rome's
once dirty city center. Despite the fact that Romans
complain that he has done nothing to improve Rome's crumbling
infrastructure outside the historic center, Veltroni easily
won last year's election with sixty percent of the vote.


12. (C/NF) Politicians and analysts from both the left and
right say Veltroni presents a solid opponent for the center
right whenever Italy next holds parliamentary elections.
They are split as to whether Veltroni strengthens or weakens
Prodi in the short run.


13. (C/NF) A minority says that Veltroni does not want to see
the Prodi government fall in the near future. They say it
would be catastrophic for the future PD to be created
precisely when the Prodi government falls. As a result, they
say Veltroni and current DS/Daisy leaders will want to keep
the moribund Prodi government on life support at least
through the difficult budget battles of the fall.


ROME 00001494 003.2 OF 003


14. (C/NF) Most analysts predict Veltroni's leadership role
will quickly eclipse Prodi's ability to manage the
increasingly complicated center-left political balancing act.
More importantly, the future of the center left and its
politicians will depend more on Veltroni's prospects than the
fate of Prodi's current government. Some say that Veltroni,
and his new party, will want to take advantage of Veltroni's
popularity and relatively fresh image to take on a center
right led by the 71-year-old Berlusconi as soon as possible.


COMMENT
-------

15. (C/NF) There is no doubt that Rome Mayor Walter
Veltroni's entrance on the national scene has revitalized the
center left and that his presence will increasingly challenge
Prodi's leadership. It is less certain what impact Veltroni
will have on the moribund Prodi government's longevity. Some
say Veltroni will want elections as soon as possible in order
to capitalize on his current popularity. But he told the
Ambassador he will need time in order to face the resurgent
former PM Berlusconi on the right terms. Until now, PM
Prodi's main internal challenge has been the radical left and
centrists like MoJ Mastella. With the rise of Veltroni,
however, the mainline parties of his center-left coalition
are also looking beyond him to a new political alignment
better able to confront the center-right. END COMMENT.
BORG
"

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