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Casini warns Italy of shift to right
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'Five lost years' if Berlusconi gets in UDC leader rejects two-way coalition

In the constantly shifting sands of Italian coalition politics, one man more than most knows Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister, and warns that Italy faces a shift to the right and five more wasted years if he returns to power in April's electipns.
Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of a small Catholic party, had been an ally and even potential successor to the 71yearold billionaire businessman for 14 years, but their politicai divorce in February has led to some bitter recriminations.

"Certain characteristics he always had are now worse," Mr Casini says in an interview with the FT, accusing Mr Berlusconi, a twotìme former prime minister, of "regression not evolution" and adding: "With age they worsen instead of improving."

ViewDocGsk.jpg Mr Casini, 52, a former speaker of parliament favoured by some senior Italian clerics, is now aiming for the centreground, Some opinion polis indicate his Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC), winning 7 per cent nationally, could end up holding the balance of power in the senate with a handful of seats. By Italian standards this election campaign "is not very aggressive", Mr Casini admits, ascribing a lack of real debate to earlier efforts by Mr Berlusconi and Walter Veltroni, leader of the ruling centreleft Democratic party, "to make a deal".

Mr Casini holds out the possibility that, in the event of a dose finish or hung parliament, the two main rivals will try to form a Germanstyle "grand coalition". He says the UDC could be willing to join, but rules out a twoway coalition with Mr Berlusconi.
Of a possible Berlusconi comeback, Mr Casini says: "We risk losing five more years to resolve the problems of the country."

He ascrìbes the media mogul's rightward shift to pressure from remaining coalition partners, and the influence of Giulio Tremonti, his "protectionist" former finance minister, as illustrated in their opposition to the takeover of the lossmaking national carrier Alitalia by Air FranceKLM.

The immediate cause of Mr Casini's exit was Mr Berlusconi^ decision to respond to the emergence of the Democratic party by setting up his own new centreright People of Freedom.

"Participation reduced to zero, runaway populism," Mr Casini says of the new party, which he refused to join.
One of the unacceptable conditions for the UDC was that it drop its emblem, the crusaders' red cross on white shield  stili remembered as the sign of the Vaticanbacked Christian Democrats who dominated Italian politics after the second world war until their collapse amid corruption scandals in 1993.

Speaking in his rooftop office with a view of the Vatican, Mr Casini projects his party as "defender of the Christian identity of Italy and Europe". He enjoys a strong dialogue and "excellent channels" with the Church but insists the UDC is not its "single point of reference".

Opinion polis bear this out. A recent Ipsos survey found that 33 per cent of voters identified themselves as practising Catholics. Of those sure of their vote, 42 per cent were for Mr Berlusconi, 27 per cent for Mr Veltroni and 10 per cent for Mr Casini.

by Gui Dinmore

Source > 
Financial Times

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