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  • Romano Prodi: 4 Must-Know Facts
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    APRIL 23, 2006 - For Italian Americans the weeklong debacle about who really won the Italian election for prime minister is déjà vu. As Silvio Berlusconi demanded a recount, we all shuddered at the memory of George W. Bush's debatable win against Al Gore in 2000. Just like Gore, Berlusconi was asked yesterday to concede defeat after an appeals court confirmed a two-seat Senate majority for incoming Prime Minister Romano Prodi.

    As is custom with Berlusconi he used off-color remarks to basically say that he's not giving up, nor will he call Prodi to congratulate him. Although we might be sad to see the end of such entertaining Italian politics, the rest of us - if we learned anything from the Busch-Gore debacle six years ago - should quickly accept the fact that Prodi is the new prime minister whether we voted for him or not. Here are some interesting facts about the leader:

    This is not his first time. Prodi served as prime minister of Italy for the first time from 1996 to 1998. Then, he was president of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004. In fact, he was the first to establish a left-leaning government since World War II. And he was considered quite successful. In 2005, he won the chance to run against Berlusconi.

    Italians think of him as a piece of meat. It's not what you're thinking. The public nicknamed him Mortadella, the mildest of Italian salami for his mild-mannered nature. A college professor, he tends to be reserved and, in some ways, is the polar opposite of the charmer Berlusconi. In other words, don't expect Prodi to call people “coglioni,” sign on to sing an album with a popular Italian singer, or rant and rave about Italian soccer.

    He's the euro king. Against difficult odds, Prodi convinced the European Union to include Italy in the single currency Europe. That's why lire has been replaced with euro. The decision certainly gave Italy more political leverage in Europe. But it has had its downfall. Many Italians gripe that the euro was never adjusted for inflation and that since making the switch, they've been paid less for their labor but have to pay more for everything from groceries to clothes. This has also had an impact on tourism, which is a major force in the Italian economy, say many citizens. It's too early to say whether the long-term affects will put Italy in a better position both politically and financially, so Prodi will have to confront criticism about this from day one.

    Prodi is a bookworm. He graduated from Milan's Catholic University in 1961, studied at the London School of Economics, and served as a professor at the University of Bologna and for one year at Harvard. Economy was his specialty. In fact, according to the BBC, his fiscal discipline was what secured Italy's place among the euro bunch.

    Maybe smarts - as opposed to entertainment - is just what Italy needs to move forward, revive the economy, adjust to the country's changing demographics in the face of a low birth rate and immigration, and confront the possibility of terrorism on its soil.

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