Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Italians Step Up Calls for Deep Political Reform A Failing Economy, Rising EC Influence, and Protest Movements Push Italy Ot Revamp a Stagnant Politicla System

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Italians Step Up Calls for Deep Political Reform A Failing Economy, Rising EC Influence, and Protest Movements Push Italy Ot Revamp a Stagnant Politicla System

Article excerpt

THE grimy and crumbling monuments of historic Rome stand as apt symbols of a country whose postwar political system teeters on the verge of collapse.

Almost as profoundly shaken by the demise of communism as the countries of Eastern Europe, Italy finds itself saddled with a political system that was designed to keep what was once the West's largest communist party out of power, but ended up institutionalizing inertia, breeding corruption, and ruling out genuine democratic alternatives.

"Our system resulted in a frozen democracy where only one majority - that of the Christian Democrats and the Socialists - was possible," says Pier Luigi Romita, a Socialist member of Parliament and a recent minister of European affairs.

"Many of our problems result from our having no majority alternative," says Mr. Romita. "But now the pressures {for reform} are too great to resist," he adds.

A number of factors have come together to constitute the pressure for reform that Romita and others here talk about:

* The collapse of communism and of Italy's own Communist Party, making a system based on keeping Communists out of power irrelevant.

* Deepening political corruption revelations, including the public-works financing scandal in Milan, have turned growing numbers of Italians away from the traditional parties of power.

* The rise of the "leagues," a political movement that supports distancing Italy's wealthy north from "corrupt" Rome and the country's poor south. The leagues were once dismissed as a protest movement, but with recent elections suggesting they are now the most popular party across large swatches of the north, pressure is on to move away from Italy's proportional representation system.

* A collection of grass-roots referendums focused on political and public financing reforms and now set for next spring. The referendums' likely popularity is pushing political leaders to do the reforming before an angry public does it for them. Italy's constitutional court just last week ruled the referendums legal, pushing the pressure up a few notches.

* The growing influence of European Community decisions in Italian affairs and the need to work more closely with the EC. Italy is notoriously behind its EC partners in implementing the Community's single market, for example, largely because of its laborious legislative process.

* Europe's economic downturn and Italy's own deep economic crisis, both of which have discredited the feelings once widely held here that the country's political inertia was irrelevant. The economic crisis has made Italians aware that the state can no longer be everything to everybody, which means political choices must be made.

Just what form Italy's political reform will take is as yet unclear, but the country appears likely to move toward a majority system of government that weakens the power of small parties and encourages traditional Western left-right, or conservative-progressive, alliances.

One picture of Italy's future can be seen in a cramped office not far from Rome's Trevi Fountain. …

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