RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Italy has a new government, now that a new prime minister has been sworn in to preside over a grand coalition of that country's political parties, among them, the party of Silvio Berlusconi, if not the man himself. It took a lot of wrangling, leaving Italy without a government for two months, and it still has to get past a confidence vote in parliament today. We go now to NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome. Good morning.
SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Let's begin with a shocking event that marred the celebration of yesterday's swearing-in: A man shot two police officers and a passerby as the swearing in ceremony was taking place right out front.
POGGIOLI: That's right, and it really stunned the country. The man was 49-year-old Luigi Preiti. He's been jobless for two years. He told investigators: I wanted to shoot a politician and then kill myself, but I ran out of bullets. He said, I don't hate, but I'm desperate. And, you know, the shooting came, really, as social malaise in Italy is soaring. There's been a spike in suicides, particularly by small businessmen.
And there's massive anger at the political establishment, which is seen as detached from reality. That feeling was visually captured on TV. Split-screens showed smiling new ministers being sworn in, unaware of the shooting, next to images of panicked people screaming and running in the street and the two agents on the ground. It was a sober reminder that the government's first task will be dealing with an acute economic and social pressure.
MONTAGNE: And this new government itself didn't come about easily. It was cobbled together after, as we've said, weeks of partisan bickering. So what is the Cabinet lineup?
POGGIOLI: Well, most analysts say this was the only possible outcome to avoid another round of elections. It's an unprecedented left-right coalition, an uneasy alliance between two archenemies: the center-left Democratic Party and the conservative party of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Many Democrat voters find the deal abhorrent.
The new prime minister is a youthful and highly respected young Democrat, Enrico Letta. He has put together a Cabinet of new, young faces in an attempt to reverse what he himself called Italian politicians' total loss of credibility. And there's an Italian record: There are seven women among the 21 ministers. And it's also unprecedented that one of them is an Afro-Italian.
She's the Congo-born Cecile Kyenge, an ophthalmologist who will serve as minister of integration. But she was immediately attacked by the xenophobic Northern League, which said she's a symbol of a hypocritical, do-gooding left that would like to abolish the crime of illegal immigration.
MONTAGNE: And given that the country's going through its worst recession in 20 years, what's the top of the agenda?
POGGIOLI: Well, this is one area where the left and the right are in total agreement, and that is convincing European Union officials to ease up on their fixation with austerity policies. Polls show that an overwhelming majority of Italians reject austerity. Prime Minister Letta has said his priority will be to focus on growth and investment to pull the country out of its economic doldrums, so he wants to renegotiate Italy's agreements will Brussels.
He's a very staunchly pro-European. He will be flanked by the new economy minister, Fabrizio Saccomanni, a long time official at the Bank of Italy and a new foreign minister, Emma Bonino, who is well-known in European corridors of power. So the trio is in a good position to make Italy's voice heard in Brussels.
MONTAGNE: But this government has also been described as Berlusconi's political comeback, and that even if he's not in the government - which he is not - he's a king-maker.
POGGIOLI: Well, his influence is very strong, and he could bring the government down in a moment. Berlusconi is caught up in several legal battles. He's on trial for tax fraud and paying for sex with a minor, and he faces other investigations. Many analysts say Berlusconi's number-one priority is avoiding conviction which would ban him from political office. It's in no way clear how this could be done.
However, he has an unofficial veto power, and could block every single government action if he wants. So this could prove to be a very turbulent government.
MONTAGNE: Sylvia, thanks very much.
POGGIOLI: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli, speaking to us from Rome, where Italy has a new government today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.