The trouble with having Romano Prodi as Prime Minister of Italy – or the benefit, depending how you looked at it – was that the rest of Europe had to start treating Italy seriously. Gone was the dubious showmanship of Silvio Berlusconi, replaced by Mr Prodi's sober suits, grave mien and proven competence. Gone, too, it seemed, was the interminable carousel of unstable governments. For, despite regular predictions that his coalition would collapse, it turned out to be surprisingly durable. Until Thursday night, that is, when he resigned after losing a vote of confidence in Parliament.
In 20 months in office, Mr Prodi brought an unaccustomed sense of solidity to the complex business of governing Italy. Now, in all probability, the country faces new elections. At worst, this will return the Berlusconi circus to power – with deleterious consequences not just for Italy but for Europe. At best, Mr Prodi will get another chance. The consolation in the meantime is that no country is more adept than Italy at managing without any government at all.