Right jostles for jobs in new Berlusconi government

ROME, May 7 (Reuters) - Silvio Berlusconi put the finishing touches to his cabinet line-up on Wednesday before being sworn in later this week as the head of what could be Italy’s most right-wing government since World War Two.

The media mogul held last-minute negotiations with his main allies from the National Alliance (AN), a party with fascist roots, and the vehemently anti-immigrant Northern League over how many cabinet posts they should receive.

Berlusconi, 71, will recycle ministers from his first two governments in 1994-5 and 2001-6, with Giulio Tremonti’s third stint as economy minister and European Commissioner Franco Frattini back for a second spell as foreign minister.

About half a dozen names mentioned for his new cabinet held similar jobs in the last Berlusconi government, whose main achievement was to make him the first premier in more than 50 years to last a full term. In economic terms, it oversaw stagnation and rising public debt.

An unexpectedly strong election victory last month gives Berlusconi’s People of Freedom -- his own Forza Italia merged with the National Alliance -- a strong mandate in parliament.

It also produced a historic purge of smaller parties, with only six winning seats versus more than 20 in 2006. One casualty was Berlusconi’s estranged Christian Democrat allies, who gave his last government a centrist counterweight to the right.

Its absence, plus an upset AN win in Rome’s town hall and the League’s surprise gains, are likely to produce the most right-wing government since fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.


While Berlusconi should avoid the degree of infighting that brought down Romano Prodi’s coalition in January, he could still be vulnerable to sniping from Northern League leader Umberto Bossi, who felled his first government after seven months.

Politicians meeting President Giorgio Napolitano, in formal talks prior to the inauguration of the new government expected by Saturday at the latest, said the horse-trading continued.

“Clearly if we want the welfare ministry and don’t get it, we have to be compensated,” said the AN’s Altero Matteoli, a 67-year-old former minister seen getting a powerful new post merging infrastructure, transport and environment portfolios.

“We will settle this today but there are still problems,” said Matteoli.

The League seemed happy enough with its haul of ministries for Bossi to joke after seeing Napolitano: “If all the ministers were from the League, the country’s problems would be solved.”

The 66-year-old Bossi, whose often violent rhetoric has not been toned down by a stroke, says he will return as minister of reform.

Party colleague Roberto Calderoli, who as a minister in 2006 provoked bloody riots with his T-shirt with a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, will be in charge of slashing red tape as head of the Legislative Simplification Ministry.

The centre left is fretting over the likely priorities of a government led by Berlusconi, owner of Italy’s largest private broadcaster and AC Milan soccer club.

“This government’s first moves will show us whether there will be ‘zero tolerance’ for the poor and ‘full tolerance’ for white collars,” said Antonio Di Pietro, former anti-corruption magistrate, Prodi minister and a bitter enemy of Berlusconi.