Prodi staggers from the labyrinth to rescue Albania

Andrew Gumbel on the fall-out from Italian political power games

First the good news. Italy will, as planned, lead the multinational peace-keeping force going into Albania next week. What's more, the Italian government looks like it might actually win today's confidence vote in the Chamber of Deputies and live to fight another day. Or another week. Long enough, anyway, to see the soldiers off and recover a portion of its wounded pride.

The bad news is that a major international foreign policy initiative almost came to grief because of the chronic political instability of its most active advocate. As a result, Italy has abjectly failed in its attempt to be taken seriously by the rest of the international community and finds itself backsliding dangerously towards the bad political habits of its past.

For a while, with Albania tumbling ever further into anarchy and no other Western power daring to stick its neck out, Italy looked like the right country in the right place at the right time to clear up the latest mess in the Balkans. The world forgot, however, that when it comes to anarchy - at least of the political variety - then Italy takes some beating, what with 55 post-war governments to its name and no clear sign that the Byzantine coalition-broking and endless power games of the past are even close to being eliminated.

It's worth examining the hoops that the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, had to jump through on Albania to understand just how appalling Italian political life still is. Although the intervention force enjoyed the support of the overwhelming majority of political parties, it was opposed by the keyRifondazione Comunista, which holds the balance of power in the Chamber of Deputies.

As it emerged that Rifondazione's "no" on Albania was definitive, the opposition started making waves of their own by introducing a rival motion on the intervention force. If you want the force to be approved, they told Mr Prodi, you'll have to vote for our motion, not your own. And by the way, once you've done that, we think you ought to resign.

By Tuesday evening it looked as though both Mr Prodi and the Albanian enterprise were sunk. What saved them was a complex piece of "variable geometry", as the Eurocrats would call it. Thanks to a last-minute deal with the opposition, Mr Prodi managed to push a joint motion on the intervention force through parliament on Wednesday night with only Rifondazione and a couple of other parties voting against.

Then, acknowledging the loss of his government majority, he went to the President, Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, to tender his resignation. President Scalfaro promptly sent him back to parliament for a confidence vote - one that Rifondazione had indicated it would support, thus saving Mr Prodi's bacon.

The frustrating thing about the whole rotten spectacle is that issues of substance, such as Albania's future, have been completely submerged by the petty dictates of power politics. Rifondazione Comunista issued long lists of reasons why they opposed the intervention force, but the deeper truth is they saw an opportunity to hold the government to ransom - not for the first time - and remind everyone just how indispensable they are.

While everyone else was staggering around parliament looking shell-shocked on Wednesday night, Rifondazione's irrepressible leader, Fausto Bertinotti, was having the time of his life discussing the finer points of his choice of suit and tie.

He is a man with a reputation for saying "no" to just about anything, but he has never knowingly turned his nose up to well-cut clothes.

The Albanian crisis is the most visible sign so far of the government's weakness, but far from the only one. Everything from privatisation policy to broadcasting reform has been slowed down or halted by Rifondazione's intransigence. Yesterday, Italy's industrialists took to the streets for the first time since 1962 to protest against the country's latest Maastricht- inspired austerity budget package. Their gripe: the government's decision - or rather Rifondazione's - to siphon money off company savings funds rather than make any cuts in the welfare state.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
New Articles
tvDownton Abbey Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: Stanley Tucci, Sophie Grabol and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvSo Sky Atlantic arrived in Iceland to film their new and supposedly snow-bound series 'Fortitude'...
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
Arts and Entertainment
Kellie Bright as Linda Carter and Danny Dyer as Mick Carter

EastEnders Christmas specials are known for their shouty, over-the-top soap drama but tonight the show has done itself proud thanks to Danny Dyer.

Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashion
Sport
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy
tvCall the Midwife Christmas Special
Sport
Laura Trott and Jason Kenny are preparing for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow
sport
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth with Tess Daly in the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing Christmas Special
tvLouis Smith wins with 'Jingle Bells' quickstep on Strictly Come Dancing's Christmas Special
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
tv
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

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there