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Italian Elections 2006 (2 updated)

News from the Italian election campaign trails.
1)     Involving His Holiness in the fight
As The Guardian reported yesterday, the Pope was at the centre of a political storm last Monday night, after it emerged he was to welcome Silvio Berlusconi to the Vatican just a few days before the general election.
To tell the truth, the Pope should have been to welcome Mr Berlusconi, since later on Italian Prime Minister decided not to attend the hearing granted to political leaders and members of the European People’s Party, whose congress will be held in Rome on March 30 or 31. In announcing that he would not go, Mr Berlusconi said “the meeting was only for European members of parliament.” But his purpose was clearly to calm the storm. As a matter of fact,
the centre-left parties were fearing the impact on undecided Catholic voters of a high-profile coverage of the visit by Mr Berlusconi’s three television channels. After all, as reported by The Guardian itself,
[l]ast week, there was an outcry over the time they devoted to the prime minister’s visit to the US to meet George Bush and address Congress.
Moreover the announcement of the meeting had come
after months of courting of the Roman Catholic vote by Mr Berlusconi and his allies. This year’s budget contained a tax break that frees the church from having to pay local authority rates on its properties.
Mr Berlusconi’s health minister has waged a war against the spread of the abortion pill Mifepristone and, at the end of last year, announced a plan to put pro-life volunteers into state-funded abortion advice centres to discourage women from terminating their pregnancies. Many on the left believe that if Italy’s 1978 law legalising abortion could be at risk if Mr Berlusconi is returned to office.
2)     The problem of identity
Which is the biggest surprise of the campaign? According to The New York Times (and IHT), it is Marcello Pera, Italian Senate President, who has raised the problem of a disappearing Italian and European identity. Since the article is available online for subscribers only, the following quotation is from a thorough summary provided by Agi-Online:
Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam“Pera has launched a manifest promoting the idea that there is nothing racist, fascist or embarrassing in expressing alarm about the Islamic integration threat represented by European democracy. He supports Europe’s right to ask Muslim populations in Europe for a sort of political and cultural "reciprocity". As a member of Berlusconi’s party, Pera is not void of party-political responsibility within the state hierarchy after the Republic President and enjoys the lustre of an intellectual legitimacy gained from having been a University Professor of Philosophical Sciences. Last month his book was published in the United States. A book about Europe’s decline entitled Without Roots, that gathers documents and interviews from two years ago between Pope Benedict XVI (then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger) and himself". "Pera holds nothing back. He says that Europe is vanishing, hiding away from reality and incapable of defending its values. That happens, according to Pera, because its political elite and intellectuals, obsessed by a dialogue that does not exist and by a multiculturalism that rationalises every action against the West, does not have the courage to establish reciprocal pluralistic parameters. The result of all this, he retains, is that Europe buries its own identity not demanding respect for its values. He defines the British attempt at multicultural integration as disastrous and describes the France’s behaviour towards their Muslim community as "nationalist". The concept is that the French find themselves in an ever-less-able State, in religious vacuum. Speaking in his office Pera described Prodi as a man who tries to pass Europe off as a happy Island, a counterbalance to America, that does not need to worry about its own security or identity, while Pera sustains that the exact opposite is true. Pera also talked about Berlusconi, who appears to be willing to support the Manifest", continued the Herald Tribune, "in a cautious manner saying that this time he is a bit timid. I think that means that Berlusconi has not quite made his mind up and that in Europe’s current economic-social situation the identity question could be the winning line between centre right and centre left. Pera concluded speaking about the need for a ‘civil, non confessional, religion’ founded on Europe’s Christian traditions, as a cure for Europe and as the way back home. These are extremely abstract words, considering the politics from where they come. In these times, to win an election in Europe, a more encouraging language is needed. In fact, at the moment Pera’s reasoning does not appear to be landing or entering in the debate. But credit to Pera", concluded the Herald Tribune, "for having put the accent on defending the European identity".

Read the address to the American University of Rome—delivered on February 21, 2006—for a better understanding of Marcello Pera’s views on the issue of European identity: "Europe at a crossroads." 

Update (March 10, 12:04 AM)

Edward, at A Fistful of Euros, has linked to this post, commenting and extending its issues with interesting remarks. There is also a reply I posted in the comments section.   

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