Berlusconi takes office with slimmed-down right-wing Cabinet
Richard Owen in Rome
Silvio Berlusconi will this afternoon be sworn in as Prime Minister of Italy for the third time with a slimmed down right-wing Government containing four women ministers, including a former television showgirl.
The new Government — Italy's 62nd since 1945
— faces confidence votes in the lower house of parliament next Wednesday and in the Senate the following day. However, it is bound to be confirmed in office since it enjoys a commanding majority in both houses.
In a handover ceremony at Palazzo Chigi, the office of the prime minister, Mr Berlusconi will today receive from Romano Prodi, the outgoing centre-left Prime Minister, the bell used by premiers when chairing Cabinet meetings.
Mr Berlusconi has vowed to hold his first Cabinet meeting in Naples to tackle the rubbish crisis, but is unlikely to to able to keep to his campaign pledge to continue holding Cabinet meetings in the city “until the emergency is resolved”.
Mr Berlusconi, who was accused by critics of spending his last period in office — from 2001 to 2006 — passing laws to protect his own interests and avoid corruption charges instead of reviving the Italian economy, said that given the Government's majority, “we have no excuses this time. The conditions are all there to put Italy back on its feet and if we fail the fault will be ours alone.”
Acting with a speed unusual in Italy, Mr Berlusconi presented his list of ministers to President Napolitano the moment he was summoned to the Quirinal Palace last night to be asked to form a government. The process of forming a Cabinet normally takes several days.
However the number of parties in parliament has been reduced from 26 to 6, as voters excluded smaller factions, including all those on the Far Left. This has streamlined parliament and raised hopes of a more efficient and more stable legislature.
Mr Berlusconi, whose centre-right alliance won a convincing victory in elections last month, gave senior posts to some of his most trusted long-standing allies in what will be one of Italy's most right-wing Cabinets since the Second World War.
However, there are also 13 new faces in the list of 21 ministers — down from the 26 of the outgoing Government. Even though Mr Berlusconi is 71, the Government as a whole is relatively young, with an average age of 52.
Mr Berlusconi lived up to his pledge to appoint four women ministers, though some feminist commentators were disappointed that he did not go further. He recently caused controversy by saying that the centre-left Cabinet in Spain was “too pink".
Two of the four woman ministers — Stefania Prestigiacomo, 41, (Environment) and Maria Stella Gelmini, 34, (Education), both from Mr Berlusconi's Forza Italia party — have Cabinet rank. The two others however — Mara Carfagna, 32, (Equal Opportunities) of Forza Italia and Giorgia Meloni, 31, (Youth) of the far-right Alleanza Nazionale — are among nine ministers outside the Cabinet.
Ms Carfagna, a former Miss Italy contestant and television presenter for RAI, Italian state television, and for Mr Berlusconi's commercial networks, hit the headlines last year when Mr Berlusconi praised her beauty during a television awards dinner, saying that he would "marry her like a shot" if he were not already married.
He later had to apologise publicly to his wife, Veronica Lario, the former actress, for his extravagant public flirtations with Ms Carfagna and other showgirls, saying that he was merely being “gallant”. Ms Carfagna, who has a law degree, said that she would uphold "traditional family values" as a minister. La Stampa said this had not stopped many Italian men searching the internet for images of Ms Carfagna in naked or semi-naked poses.
Some commentators expressed surprise that Michela Vittoria Brambilla, a striking brunette who is a protege of Mr Berlusconi and runs his network of supporters clubs, was not also named a minister. She is likely however to become Deputy Minister of Welfare, a post which she said would "fully satisfy my expectations".
La Repubblica said that the new Government bore Mr Berlusconi's personal stamp and reflected "King Silvio's" continued dominance of the Italian political scene 14 years after the billionaire media and property tycoon entered politics to reshape the Centre Right after the collapse of Christian Democracy.
Giulio Tremonti, 60, returns as Economy Minister and Franco Frattini, 51, leaves his Brussels post as Italy's European Commissioner to become Foreign Minister. Both held the same jobs in previous Berlusconi governments. In a surprise move however the Justice portfolio goes to Angelino Alfano, 37, a respected Sicilian lawyer and Forza Italia loyalist.
Roberto Maroni, 53, Deputy Leader of the stridently anti-immigrant Northern League, becomes Interior Minister, which oversees the police, while the Defence Ministry goes to Ignazio La Russa, 61, of Alleanza Nazionale, which jettisoned its neo-Fascist legacy in the 1990s to become a mainstream conservative party.
The moderate Christian Democrats, who in Mr Berlusconi's previous governments provided a centrist counterweight to the Right, abandoned their alliance to run independently in last month's election and are therefore not in government. By contrast the weight of the Northern League, often accused of xenophobia, has increased following it surprise gains in the election, when it doubled its national vote to more than 8 per cent.
The unpredictable and outspoken Northern League leader, Umberto Bossi, brought down Mr Berlusconi's first Government in 1994 after only seven months, and remains a troublesome ally. Mr Bossi, 66, who suffered a stroke four years ago, ignored Mr Berlusconi's pleas during the election campaign to "drop the hyperbole", instead repeatedly warning that his supporters in northern Italy were "ready for clashes" and itching to "pick up their guns".
Mr Bossi has been given the portfolio of Federalist Reform, and could withdraw the Northern League from the Government if its demands for fiscal autonomy for the north Italian regions are not fully met. Mr Berlusconi would still have a majority, but his authority would be undermined.
Roberto Calderoli, a Northern League senator who resigned in 2006 after he appeared on television wearing a T-shirt bearing a satirical Danish cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, is to head a newly created ministry to reduce and simplify Italian laws.
Eleven people were killed in rioting outside the Italian consulate in Benghazi after Mr Calderoli's T-shirt gesture. Last week Saif el-Islam, the son of the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, gave warning of "catastrophic consequences" for Italy's relations with Libya if Mr Calderoli, 52, was made a minister. However the Arab League said that the matter was an internal one.
Mr Berlusconi gave warning that Italy faced tough years ahead and that he would have to push through "unpopular" reforms. Many analysts say that the Centre Left lost and the Right made gains in the election because Italians fear for their jobs and personal security in an era of globalisation, immigration and economic decline.