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US embassy cable - 05ROME1389
ITALY: ARE BERLUSCONI\'S TROUBLES MORE SERIOUS THAN HE BELIEVES?
Origin: Embassy Rome
Created: 2005-04-22 15:45:00
Tags: PGOV PREL IZ IT ITALIAN POLITICS
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
S E C R E T ROME 001389
E.O. 12958: DECL: 25X1-HUMAN
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, IZ, IT, ITALIAN POLITICS
SUBJECT: ITALY: ARE BERLUSCONI\'S TROUBLES MORE SERIOUS
THAN HE BELIEVES?
REF: A) 03 ROME 1143 B) 02 ROME 11 C) 03 ROME 757
Classified By: THE AMBASSADOR, REASONS 1.4 (B) AND (D).
1. (S) Italian Senate President Pera alleged that President
Ciampi, together with the center-left and Chamber President
Casini, was plotting a \"constitutional coup d\'etat\" against
Berlusconi, attempting to force June elections. In a
separate, earlier meeting, however, Casini accused PM
Berlusconi of \"trying to give the government to the left as
fast as possible\" and insisted angrily that the PM \"must face
reality.\" Pera, a loyal ally to PM Berlusconi, has in the
past seen the sky to be falling when it was not. Casini,
however, is deeply ambitious. Offered the Presidency of the
Republic after Ciampi, he might be hard-pressed to resist.
On balance, we are inclined to think that Berlusconi will
regather his coalition and we will see a \"Berlusconi Bis\"
government confirmed next week, but this remains a very
uneasy alliance. END SUMMARY.
PERA PREDICTS COUP
2. (S) Ambassador paid farewell courtesy calls on Senate
President Marcello Pera (Forza Italia, FI) and Chamber of
Deputies President Pier Ferdinando Casini (Union of Christian
Democrats of the Center, UDC) on April 22 and April 21,
respectively. While Casini made clear that intra-coalition
arguments were not resolved, Pera predicted direly that
President of the Republic Ciampi, working with the left and
Casini, was plotting a \"constitutional coup d\'etat\" against
PM Berlusconi with the goal of forcing the current government
out and holding June elections. Pera harkened to the role
Ciampi played questioning U.S. deployment from Italy to Iraq:
\"What he did to you in Iraq, he is trying to do to
Berlusconi now.\" (Ref A)
3. (S) Pera told the Ambassador that he and Casini had each
received a letter from Ciampi immediately prior to the
Ambassador\'s arrival. Pera believed the letter represented a
threat to force elections in June. (He did not show the
Ambassador the letter; Pera only spoke of it.) He had
immediately telephoned Berlusconi to warn him. Ciampi will
be calling you in a few hours, Pera said he told the PM. You
must have your list of ministers in hand and you must tell
the President that the confidence vote will be Tuesday.
Although worried, Pera seemed to think such a strategy -- if
it could be pulled off within the coalition -- could succeed
in outflanking Ciampi. He and the Ambassador briefly touched
on various possibilities for a new line-up, and Pera implied
a new list of ministers was workable, if all partners were
willing. (Note: Berlusconi will see Ciampi at 18:30 local
4. (S) Pera told the Ambassador that Ciampi\'s letter said
Parliament should have \"re-styled your constituencies.\" Pera
did not elaborate, but he thought this phrase represented a
Ciampi threat to prevent a reconstituted Berlusconi
government. It is a reference to redistricting, which has
not been an issue in Italy, except in one relatively
noncontroversial context. The 2001 law to permit Italians
living abroad to vote (Ref B) requires electoral districts to
be redesigned in order to create an \"overseas district.\"
There is no deadline for accomplishing this in the
legislation. One conclusion could be that the districts
would have to be drawn before the next election. If Pera\'s
hypothesis is correct, Ciampi could have found an
interpretation allowing him to assert that the Government\'s
recent contingency plans for early elections violated this
law, for example. From our reading in-house, it would seem a
weak case, but lawyers could presumably argue both sides.
CASINI BLAMES BERLUSCONI
5. (C) In the Ambassador\'s call on Casini the prior day,
Casini said he had just quarreled with Berlusconi on the
telephone. (UDC Secretary Follini and Mario Baccini, former
Minister for Public Administration, were leaving Casini\'s
office as the Ambassador arrived.) Not sounding like one in
league with the left, Casini fumed that Berlusconi was
\"trying to give the government to (the left) as fast as
possible. We told him he must look reality in the face.
Before, Italians were with you regardless of your merits.
Now, they are against you regardless of your merits.\" Casini
asserted that \"the political winds\" were against Berlusconi.
More calmly, he said that if Berlusconi would give voters the
message he gave Parliament, admitting to problems and
resolving to face them, he might regain their trust. The PM
also needed to develop a realistic plan, Casini said. \"We
need a single party of the right,\" he added, \"A grand
moderate party, with no more divides.\" The Ambassador asked
if there was a program to which all four coalition parties
could agree. Three of the parties are close, Casini replied.
\"The Northern League is the problem, and Berlusconi is too
close to the League.\" (Note: Numerically, the coalition can
likely survive without the League. It would retain its
majority in the Senate and be two votes shy in the Chamber,
votes it could possibly gain from independents. This is
clearly not Berlusconi\'s preference. The coalition loses its
majority in both chambers without UDC. End Note.)
IS A COUP IN THE WORKS?
6. (S) Pera has predicted that the sky was falling in the
past; he tends to offer a pessimistic view of events when the
political situation gets tense. On the other hand, President
Ciampi, while in most cases preserving the neutrality
normally expected of Italy\'s President of the Republic, is
more closely affiliated with the left then the right. (In
point of fact, this is true of most older Italian
politicians, as the only \"right\" that existed in Italy until
the emergence of Berlusconi\'s Forza Italia and the
restructuring of Fini\'s National Alliance (AN) was the
Fascist Party, AN\'s predecessor.) He is also close to many
of those in the former Christian Democrat (DC) party
structure, until the 1990s \"Tangentopoli\" scandal THE power
structure in Italy. It is widely assumed that, as a cultured
professional politician, Ciampi shares the distaste for
Berlusconi held by many of Italy\'s (and Europe\'s) political
elite. Considered a brash, rich businessman, the PM is not
what the political class considers one of its own. Pera told
the Ambassador that the PM \"will have to go to Bermuda, or he
will go to jail.\" Pera\'s perceived Ciampi-Casini-left
alliance \"will get rid of\" the PM, he insisted.
CASINI, UDC AND THE \"GRAND CENTER\"
7. (S) Casini is a man of expansive personal ambition; he
wants to be either Prime Minister or President of the
Republic. He and his UDC colleagues, including Marco
Follini, believe in the holy grail of the former Christian
Democrats -- the dream of a \"grand center.\" For Casini, the
dream would be even more alluring if he had a principle role.
In an April 22 meeting with the DCM on a separate subject,
the PM\'s Diplomatic Adviser (and nominee for Ambassador to
Washington) Giovanni Castellaneta, referred to those
(unnamed) who \"still have the dream of reconstituting the old
DC.\" Castellaneta categorized the notion as a \"false dream;\"
history has moved on, he said. We agree. We see no logical
reason for UDC to sabotage the governing coalition, unless it
were to crassly jump ship and join the center-left. Casini
has said he would not do this. If, however, Prodi came to
him and said \"Help the left take back Parliament, and you
will be President of the Republic,\" what would Casini answer?
This could happen without UDC\'s specifically joining a
8. (S) If elections were called now, virtually all
observers (with the possible exception of Berlusconi) agree
the center-right would lose. Voter dissatisfaction over lack
of delivery on promised programs, and most importantly,
perceived losses in economic standing, is high. The dream of
an UDC-led grand center, however, posits that UDC would draw
back into the fold all former centrist Christian Democrats --
Francesco Rutelli\'s Margherita, members of FI, a few from AN,
and others from hither and yon. Are Casini and Follini
convinced now is the time? The numbers are not there for the
\"grand center\" to take a majority. Those who believe the
search for this grail is motivating UDC, however, say the
party does not seek a majority -- only enough to be kingmaker
of the next governing coalition. Logical flaws remain. UDC
has said it would not govern with the left. If that is true,
why follow the quest, eviscerating the only coalition UDC
could join and leaving it on the sidelines -- maybe with the
one-man prize of the Presidency? Under all permutations of
the grand center scenario, it strikes us that the Italian
voters would see this for the blatant political maneuver it
would be, and we wonder if they would reject out of hand the
actors in the drama. But perhaps a good salesman (and Casini
is a skilled politician) could sell the product effectively.
ITALY IN IRAQ
9. (S) In both of the Ambassador\'s conversations, the
subject of Italy\'s participation in Iraq arose. Pera told
Ambassador that if early elections come and Prodi wins, \"he
is guaranteed to pull Italian troops out of Iraq, just like
Zapatero.\" Casini, on the other hand, praised effusively
Berlusconi\'s willingness to lead Italy into Iraq. \"It is the
best thing this Government has done,\" Casini told the
Ambassador, \"And it is to Berlusconi\'s personal credit.\" No
one else could have done it, Casini said. The Ambassador
underscored the importance of what Italy and America are
accomplishing in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. \"We are
changing the world, and Italy is at our side.\" Casini echoed
the Ambassador\'s conviction that our joint international
efforts and Italian-American friendship were crucial.
10. (S) On balance, we are inclined to believe that
President Pera is experiencing another bout of philosophical
\"depression\" about this fractious, fragile coalition\'s
future. We are inclined to think that, by heeding Pera\'s
warning and exerting his utmost persuasion and tact,
Berlusconi will regather his coalition and we will see a
\"Berlusconi Bis\" government confirmed next week. We cannot,
however, entirely rule out Casini\'s ambition or UDC\'s quest.
NOTE: SVC FOR DECLASS DATE
2005ROME01389 - Classification: SECRET