Six women in D'Alema's new cabinet

Political realignment: Italy swells the ranks of Europe's new left club, leaving Blair isolated in the centre

THE ITALIAN Prime Minister, Massimo D'Alema, has announced a team of cabinet ministers that the Italian media has already described as "un governo tinto di rosa" - a pink-tinged cabinet - because of the record six female ministers.

While the term may offend the new female Equal Opportunities minister, it accurately depicts the political hue of the new government, a mixture of red for the Communists and white, the symbol of the former Christian Democrat Party.

Presenting the new line-up, Mr D'Alema, 49, head of the Left Democrats, said the cabinet had been enlarged to 25 to accommodate a larger female component. Political commentators say that the horse trading and crossed vetoes on candidatures meant more jobs were essential.

The new government,which will be the 56th post-war administration, must still be ratified by parliament. Mr D'Alema is keen to be firmly in the prime minister's seat before this weekend's European Union summit in Austria.

In the cabinet, Mr D'Alema's Left Democrats have seven ministers, the Popular Party - heirs to the Christian Democrats - six, the small UDR party (Union of Democrats for the Republic) three, the Greens, the moderate Italian Renewal and the Italian Communists two apiece and the tiny Socialist party one. The remainder of the 25 jobs were filled by technocrats.

The most significant of the female appointments is that of 62-year-old Rosa Russo Jervolino, a former Christian Democrat to the Interior Ministry, until now a male bastion. The American- educated environmental campaigner, Giovanna Melandri, takes over the Ministry of Culture. Ms Melandri, 36, has put up with her male colleagues voting her the most glamourous woman in parliament.

One of the most hotly disputed posts had been that of education because of a long battle over state financing for Catholic schools. The small UDR party, whose support was crucial for the formation of the government, proposed Rocco Buttiglione, a Catholic philosopher, who was boycotted by the Italian left as a fundamentalist. The issue was resolved by splitting the job in two - allowing the current left-wing minister to remain and appointing a moderate Catholic to the new Ministry of University and Research.

One of the few real surprises was the appointment of Oliviero Diliberto, of the Italian Communists, to the Justice Ministry, an especially sensitive job given the involvement of the opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi in many corruption investigations and his attacks on the independence of the judiciary.

Antonio Bassolino, 51, the charismatic mayor who was responsible for the renaissance of Naples, becomes Labour minister, and the former prime minister Giuliano Amato takes over the port- folio of institutional reform.

Political analysts say the equilibrium between widely divergent political forces will be difficult to maintain but the government could be in place until the end of this legislature, in 2001.

Having brought the Communists to government, Mr D'Alema is no longer subject to the intermittent threats to pull the plug that dogged his predecessor, Romano Prodi. The main threat is likely to come from the astute political veteran Francesco Cossiga and his desire to re-create a large centre party, just like the old Christian Democrats, that would hold the balance of power in Italian politics.

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