Mon, Apr 19, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Berlusconi pledges reform as he plays down schism

REUTERS , MILAN, ITALY

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Saturday a row with his main conservative ally would not unravel Italy’s ruling coalition and he pledged to complete an overhaul of the tax system within two years. After winning regional elections last month, the 73-year-old conservative leader had promised reforms to free business from stifling red tape and taxes before his term expires in 2013.

But a row with Gianfranco Fini, ex-leader of the National Alliance that merged with Berlusconi’s People of Freedom (PDL) party last year, fueled speculation of a split in the ruling group.

“I have wooed Fini this week,” the billionaire media mogul told reporters, adding that the rift could be healed. “But the government will go ahead even if we cannot get back together. Our [parliamentary] majority will survive, the government will continue, we will overcome this.”

Fini, regarded as a potential successor to Berlusconi, has bridled at the growing influence of the pro-autonomy Northern League party in the ruling center-right coalition.

After winning its first two governorships at last month’s regional elections, the League adopted a more assertive tone, calling for greater influence over the north’s powerful banking foundations and a swift implementation of fiscal federalism. In a tense meeting on Thursday, Fini asked Berlusconi whether he was committed to the PDL or preferred to focus on relations with the League, political sources said.

After a turbulent week, ­Berlusconi attempted to return the political focus to promised reforms which he says have been stalled by Italy’s worst economic downturn since World War II.

“Within two years we will finalize a single tax code which will allow us to eliminate the thousands of laws which create so much confusion,” said Berlusconi, who faces two court cases for tax fraud and bribery. Several trials against him in the past have failed to obtain a conviction.

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