The prospect of a united European front against U.S. policies on trade, taxes, the environment and defense has evaporated with the election of Silvio Berlusconi as Italys new prime minister.
“I want to make Italy Americas biggest ally in Europe,” Mr. Berlusconi said even before his victory was confirmed.
“We are proud to be part of Europe, but we are also proud of the special relationship we have with the United States,” Mr. Berlusconi said in his national TV address once his election was certain.
The new Italian leader has strongly endorsed positions taken by Mr. Bush that have provoked criticism from other European leaders.
On missile defenses, Mr. Berlusconi dismissed doubts of French and German officials about the potential damage to strategic stability and the current arms control system, and declared bluntly, “It is right to take such precautions.”
Mr. Bushs blunt dismissal of the Kyoto agreement to cut emissions of greenhouse gases outraged all other European leaders, including the previous center-left Italian government. But Mr. Berlusconi said Mr. Bush was right all along: “Kyoto would be devastating for the economy and for jobs.”
Mr. Berlusconi also has echoed Mr. Bushs promise of bold tax cuts, promising to slash both income and corporate taxes by 10 percent within the next three years. Just before election day, he went further, promising a flat 33 percent tax for higher earners, which would be the lowest in Europe.
Modeling himself on the Republican Congressional leadership under Newt Gingrich and its “Contract With America” on the day after his victory, Mr. Berlusconi promised a contract with Italy.
“I will tack it to my bedroom door,” he pledged, waving the five-point plan that promises tax cuts, 1.5 million new jobs, public works projects, better pensions and tough new measures against crime. If he fails to deliver at least four of the five vows, he said, he would resign.
Mr. Berlusconis path of reform lower taxes and more entrepreneurship, more stock ownership and less-powerful labor unions, more privatization of state-owned businesses and less concern for the environment is sharply distinct from the policies of the European mainstream. Indeed, they are aimed explicitly at making Italy look more like America.
However flattering that may sound in the White House, the real significance is that President Bush can be sure that he will find no united European front against him and his policies at his summit meeting with European Union leaders in Sweden next month.
But this comes with a price. Mr. Berlusconi, Italys richest man, is an unsavory partner for Mr. Bush. Serious criminal and civil charges for fraud, tax evasion and influence-buying still hang over him, in Spain as well as in Italy. He owns Italys three private TV channels and, as premier, controls the other three state-owned channels. He has yet to specify what precautions he will take against inevitable conflicts of interest.
[In Madrid, the Spanish center-left daily El Pais reported yesterday that prosecutors in Sicily were gathering testimony from Mafia turncoats to show that Mr. Berlusconi had ties to the mob, the Associated Press reported.
[El Pais said it had access to documents showing that former Mafia members gave prosecutors detailed descriptions of meetings between underworld leaders and Mr. Berlusconi or his associates. Mr. Berlusconi has denied having had anything to do with the Mafia.]