Berlusconi picks three Fascists

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The Independent Online
ITALY found itself last night with a neo-Fascist deputy Prime Minister and two neo- Fascist cabinet ministers - the first in Europe since the Second World War - after the television magnate Silvio Berlusconi announced his right- wing government.

The 25-member government included five ministers from the federalist Northern League, seven from his own four-month-old Forza Italia political party - including two of his own closest aides - four from minor conservative parties, several technocrats and a total of five from the neo- Fascist-led National Alliance.

Of those, three - Giuseppe Tatarella, the deputy Prime Minister, who will also be responsible for posts and telecommunications, Adriana Poli Bortone, Agriculture Minister and the only woman in the cabinet, and Altero Matteoli - were members of the neo-Fascist Movimento Sociale.

The party was the pariah of Italian politics until it merged with other right-wingers to form the National Alliance and went on to reap remarkable successes, especially in the south of the country, in last month's elections.

None of the new ministers is old enough to have been involved in the old Fascist Party, and Mr Berlusconi, after strong protests at home and abroad, was careful to keep real neo-Fascist diehards out of the government.

The final selection reflected the remarkable victory for the right in the country's first majority-system elections last month, and represents the biggest political change in Italy since the immediate post-war years. The previous 52 post- war governments were mostly combinations of some five centre-left or centre-right parties whose irremovability led to the massive corruption which finally brought down the system over the past two years.

The new government looked like such a dramatic departure that President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, apparently to placate alarm abroad and probably concerned about his own responsibility to history, took the extraordinary step of publishing an exchange of letters with Mr Berlusconi in which he insisted, among other things, that his team stick to certain principles.

Among those were the European Union and Italy's international alliances - a possible sign of unease over the Foreign Minister Antonio Martino, reputed to be a Thatcher-style Europhobe, and the only Italian founder member of the Bruges Group - and peace, a warning against any attempt by the National Alliance to reopen abandoned claims on former Italian territory in Slovenia and Croatia.

The ministers must also respect the constitutional principle that Italy was 'one and indivisible' and respect liberty and legality, the President warned. Mr Berlusconi assured him that they would.

Mr Berlusconi's announcement came six weeks after the milestone elections, and 11 days after he was designated prime minister - a sign that the system still needs further reforms.

It was, nevertheless, a triumph for patience after a tough and noisy battle by the Northern League, which threatened not to take part until it got what it wanted.

In the end it did - the key Interior Ministry and the portfolio for Institutional Reform, both vital platforms from which to start work on decentralising the country and giving greater autonomy to local government on various levels.

However, the Northern League's chances of turning Italy into a federation, given the firm opposition of its allies, look slim at present.

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