Amato shores up government and wobbles on: Italy's Prime Minister buys time with a new foreign minister, secret service chiefs and a wages deal, Fiona Leney writes from Rome

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Giuliano Amato this weekend began to shore up its crumbling edifice after a week of political disasters, by appointing in rapid succession new heads of the secret services and a new foreign minister, and pushing through an accord between employers and the biggest unions aimed at curbing wage costs.

It was already becoming clear yesterday, however, that the measures would do little more than buy time for an administration, rent by internal squabbles, that faces an unprecedented combination of economic collapse, corruption scandals and a resurgent Mafia.

The deal on wages killed off an Italian sacred cow almost as venerable as the Christian Democrat Party itself: the scala mobile (sliding scale) under which wages had been linked to inflation since 1946. The accord, signed on Friday night, was being hailed as a breakthrough, when one of its signatories Bruno Trentin, leader of the biggest union, the Communist CGIL, resigned. His decision, which revealed unhappiness over what many CGIL members see as a betrayal of their ideals, raises the spectre of the union reneging on the deal or of a split in its ranks. Either would cause industrial chaos that could kill the sickly coalition government.

The chances of a more popular government being formed are even feebler: all main parties have been damaged by revelations of corruption among government officials in Milan and Venice; even the former foreign minister Gianni De Michelis is implicated. 'It is as if Douglas Hurd were found with his hands in the till,' says Giovanna Picarreta, a disillusioned Socialist supporter.

Even if the accord holds, Mr Amato faces an uphill battle to control Italy's public sector deficit. He managed to push a 30tr lire (about pounds 14bn) package of spending cuts and tax increases through the lower house, but even so Italy's budget deficit is expected to be nearly 11 per cent of GDP, compared with the 3 per cent established by the EC as the qualification for economic and monetary union. Italian diplomats say it is an open secret that senior German officials consider Italy to be a millstone around the Community's neck.

Grief and anger over the killing, within a period of six weeks, of the country's two leading anti- Mafia judges, Giovanni Falcone and his friend Paolo Borsellino, and of a senior investigator into a Mafia extortion operation, have forced the government to take action against the organisation. Mr Amato has replaced the heads of the internal and external intelligence agencies. Angelo Finocchiaro, the new head of the internal secret service, comes in from the special anti-Mafia commissariat in Sicily.

The implication is that the government is preparing to use the secret services to infiltrate the Mafia, much like Britain's Secret Service operations against the IRA. Mr Finocchiaro, however, has been much criticised for inaction at the commissariat. Seen as a grey administrator, he has hardly emerged with credit after the Falcone-Borsellino murders and, especially, the suicide of a young woman Mafia informer whose welfare was supposed to have been his responsibility.

The government promised improved security for the surviving magistrates of Palermo, after eight of the anti-Mafia judicial pool resigned, accusing Rome of abandoning them to their fate. As the inquiry into the revolt at 'the Poisoned Palace', as the Palermo justice ministry has been dubbed, proceeds, it is becoming clear that the state's approach to the Mafia is in the dock.

Magistrate after magistrate has testified that Borsellino and Falcone distrusted their immediate boss, Pietro Giammanco. It seems likely that he will be transferred from Palermo, but it is by no means certain: conservative factions across the political parties are giving him considerable support. If he is not moved, and the dissident magistrates go instead, at one stroke the city will lose its remaining experienced Mafia investigators.

The public seems no longer prepared to tolerate sacrificing the state's interest on the altar of party politics. Polls taken after the resignation of the Christian Democrat foreign minister, Vincenzo Scotti - known as Tarzan because of his skill at negotiating the Christian Democrat jungle by swinging from one political branch to the other - showed overwhelming condemnation. 'It looks like Tarzan has missed his liana,' commented one political wag with glee.

Mr Scotti resigned over a requirement, introduced by his party, that ministers give up their parliamentary seats: a measure aimed at prolonging the life of governments by depriving ministers of a comfortable alternative should the cabinet collapse.

Mr Scotti was replaced by the veteran Christian Democrat politician Emilio Colombo, who has already held the post five times. He comes from the party's central faction, and his appointment is perhaps the clearest indication that, despite its declared ambition, Italy's government is in no position to pursue the reforms the country so badly needs.