Backroom fixer given task of reforming Italy

ANDREW GUMBEL

Rome

Antonio Maccanico, 71, a constitutional expert with little profile at home or abroad, was yesterday asked to form a new Italian government. The appointment came as the parties agreed to work towards institutional reform rather than rush into a general election.

Mr Maccanico, who has a history as a backroom negotiator, emerged as a compromise candidate after several other names, including his predecessor, Lamberto Dini, were rejected by the two big parliamentary blocs.

He will conduct negotiations to put together a government mixing cross- party political appointments with technocrats. If he succeeds, Italy may have a government by mid-February.

"I am sure that parliament has the moral and intellectual energy ... to open a new phase of growth, and civic and democratic progress in our country," Mr Maccanico said, after accepting the mandate of prime minister designate from President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro.

He outlined four main priorities: continuing fiscal and monetary rectitude to bring the lira back into the European exchange rate mechanism; giving Italy an "incisive role" in its current six-month presidency of the European Union; clear rules on conflicts of interest, particularly in broadcasting, where the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi still wields enormous influence; reform of the constitution to reinforce the powers of the executive over parliament, increase the role of the regions and consider the direct election of a presidential figure.

The last point has been the focus of the last month of crisis, with the extreme-right leader, Gianfranco Fini, calling for a directly-elected prime minister, or president, with sweeping powers.

Mr Fini yesterday expressed his satisfaction at Mr Maccanico's appointment. The centre-left had more mixed feelings, with some deputies saying they would never co-operate with the centre-right under Mr Maccanico's leadership.

Mr Maccanico is likely to keep on some members of Mr Dini's team. He himself is unlikely to make much of a splash. A southern-born lawyer, he was minister for institutional reform in the late 1980s. Under his aegis no institutional reforms were introduced.

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