Berlusconi aims to boost Italy’s economy and image

ROME – Silvio Berlusconi is promising to clean up the trash in Naples, save Alitalia airlines and revive the economy. But some fear the new premier will pander to his conservative political base and an anti-immigrant coalition partner rather than confront Italy’s woes.

As congratulations came pouring in yesterday, including from President Bush and French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, the charismatic media magnate said he would waste no time in getting to work.

He will slim the Cabinet to 12 ministers, half the number in the outgoing center-left government, and has announced his selection for some key posts, including economics and foreign minister.

His list of priorities starts with clearing away the mountains of trash that have piled up in Naples since last year, after dumps filled up and efforts to open new ones were blocked by local protests.

Berlusconi also has set an ambitious agenda of structural reforms to streamline the lawmaking process and jump-start the sluggish economy.

“I want to go down in the history of this country as the statesman who has changed it,” he said.

He has the numbers to implement his agenda in his third try in the premiership. He has a significant majority in both houses of parliament, which for the first time since World War II does not include what was once western Europe’s largest communist party or the Socialists who had been in governing coalitions for decades.

Berlusconi’s conservative bloc commands a majority of about 40 seats in the Senate (compared to the one-seat edge of his predecessor, Romano Prodi) and some 100 lawmakers in the lower house.

The coalition is also, at least on paper, more cohesive since it lost a centrist ally that proved troublesome in the past.

But Berlusconi will face demands from the volatile Northern League party, an ally that had a better-than-expected showing in the election and is crucial to ensuring the Senate majority – giving it critical leverage.

“Now we need to implement reforms. If not, we will lose our patience,” Northern League leader Umberto Bossi said in an interview with Turin-based newspaper La Stampa.

The league wants tougher immigration rules and zero-tolerance on crime, and it demands greater autonomy for Italy’s wealthy north, including control over tax money.

Despite his victory, Berlusconi has refrained from indulging in celebration and instead is maintaining a sober tone.

“Difficult months and years await us, and I’m getting ready to govern with the utmost commitment,” Berlusconi said.