Albanian mission puts Italy's government to the test

In the bad old days of revolving-door coalitions and policy decisions steeped in corruption, it used to be said that Italy did not have a foreign policy. Finally, this most unlikely of regional powers has found an international role as head of the multinational peace-keeping force being sent into Albania. But the enterprise is being undermined by that old Italian bugbear - political instability.

Yesterday, after a weekend of futile arm-twisting and backroom haggling, the small but feisty far-left party Rifondazione Comunista confirmed that it would vote against the intervention force in parliament. The decision is not a catastrophe, because Rifondazione is not a part of the centre- left governing coalition and its votes alone are not enough to scupper the operation. But it is still bad news for Romano Prodi, the Prime Minister, who normally relies on Rifondazione to make up his majority in the Chamber of Deputies and was looking for the broadest possible cross-party support to send Italy's 2,000-odd peace-keeping troops confidently on their way.

Instead of a foreign policy triumph, Mr Prodi is faced with a dangerous crack in the architecture of his government. Instead of concentrating on the mission itself, he will have to resort to some low political tricks to ensure it gets off the ground. "Of course I'm fed up with this," Mr Prodi confided in a newspaper interview. "But the interests of the country come ahead of my personal feelings."

The root of the problem lies with the cards Mr Prodi was dealt in last April's general elections. Although his Olive Tree coalition was handed a clear majority in the Senate, it fell just short of 50 per cent in the lower house and so was forced to recruit Rifondazione as a peripheral coalition partner.

Unluckily for Mr Prodi, Rifondazione's leader, Fausto Bertinotti, is an adept master of the art of political brinkmanship - always pushing for that last little concession and forever threatening to withdraw his support if he does not get it.

That explains why Italy's swingeing budget cuts, aimed at qualifying the country for European monetary union on time, have not touched the welfare state, falling back instead on accounting tricks. That largely explains, too, why Mr Prodi and his ministers have often looked so weak - they never know when Mr Bertinotti is going to jump on them next. The Albanian mission is safe because it has the support of most of the opposition, which may abstain in parliament but certainly won't vote against.

But Mr Prodi's government looks less secure, what with various centrist groups clamouring for a rethink of the coalition and the main left-wing party, the PDS, threatening to dissolve parliament if a clear governing majority cannot quickly be re-established.

The irony is that all this has been sparked by a desire to bolster political stability, albeit in a neighbouring country.

Asking Italy to bolster the stability of anything can never be a particularly good idea; but with Mr Bertinotti loving the power of his pivotal position, it looks an impossibility.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
News
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
i100
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness