- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2001

Billionaire Silvio Berlusconis House of Freedoms coalition swept to power in Italy yesterday, ending the lefts domination in the major capitals of the Europe and pledging better relations with the United States.
Led by his own Forza Italia party, the center-right coalition won a comfortable majority in Italys upper house and appeared to have won a clear but smaller majority in the lower house, giving Italys richest man a good chance of serving out his entire five-year term.
"Those who have voted have shown their desire for change," Mr. Berlusconi said in a brief address to voters yesterday. "We will not let them down and will govern with stability for a full five years."
Former Rome Mayor Francesco Rutelli, losing candidate of the leftist Olive Tree coalition, congratulated Mr. Berlusconi but said the opposition would demand that the new Italian leader remove the conflicts of interest stemming from his vast media, real-estate and business empire.
The State Department yesterday congratulated Mr. Berlusconi on his victory and said it expected the close bilateral ties between Italy and the United States to continue.
Mr. Berlusconi, who served a brief and unproductive term as prime minister in 1994, clearly represents a new face in Rome after a long dominance by the pro-European Union left.
"He will immediately become the dominant conservative figure inside the EU," predicted Clay Clemens, a specialist in European politics at the College of William & Mary in Virginia. "He will be raising some questions about the direction of the EU that Italys previous run of prime ministers never did."
Mr. Berlusconi during the campaign was already sharpening his differences with some of Italys leading EU partners, questioning German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeders blueprint for a more federal Europe and saying he would seek common cause with the center-right government of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar.
"A Europe governed by a federal government, like the U.S. federal governments links with the 50 states, is a utopian vision that is a reflection of Eurocratic theology, not down-to-earth, practical, realistic politics," Mr. Berlusconi told The Washington Times and United Press International in a pre-election interview.
Britains Labor Party and Mr. Schroeders Social Democrats appear entrenched in London and Berlin, while Frances socialists share power with pro-EU President Jacques Chirac.
The European Unions center-left governments last year engineered the diplomatic blackballing of Austria when the right-wing populist Freedom Party of Joerg Haider was invited to join the government. Derided as ineffective, the boycott was dropped several months later.
German and Belgian officials both floated the idea of a similar stand against Mr. Berlusconis government, which includes the anti-immigration Northern League under Umberto Bossi and the conservative National Alliance, which has its roots in Italys fascist past. But, given Italys size and financial weight within the European Union, such talk cooled quickly as Mr. Berlusconis poll numbers rose.
"This is really not good news for people with certain sensitivities," French European Affairs Minister Pierre Moscovici told the Reuters news agency yesterday. "… But this is a democratic vote in a democratic country. All we can do is be attentive and vigilant."
For his part, Austrias Mr. Haider praised the Italian results yesterday.
Italian voters gave the new government a stronger mandate than some had predicted, avoiding the weak and short-lived coalition governments that have plagued the country since World War II.


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