Italy under influence

June 14, 1996

More than 200 Italian academics, including such eminent names as economist Luigi Spaventa and linguist Tullio De Mauro, have formed an interdisciplinary think tank to influence the new Italian government.

The Associazione per una Cultura di Governo hopes to contribute to issues as varied as Italy's move towards federalism, economic and fiscal policies and reform of the schools and university system.

Eugenio Sonnino, professor of demographics at Rome's La Sapienza University and one of the ACG founder members, said: "It all started in 1994 after media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi and his alliance of the right won the elections. As academics with leanings to the left, or at any rate opposed to the right-wing alliance headed by Berlusconi, we decided it was our duty to set up a body which used our competence and prestige as academics to criticise constructively the work of the government."

During the short-lived Berlusconi government the ACG organised conferences and debates on themes such as possible forms of government, economic policy, social and education policy and media legislation, a particularly hot issue under Berlusconi.

The Berlusconi government fell at the end of 1994 and was followed by a non-political interim government until general elections in April 1996. These saw a victory of the centre-left alliance led by Romano Prodi, himself a professor of economics "on loan" to politics. The advent of a "friendly" government has posed questions as to what the ACG's role in this new political climate should be, and an inner circle of about 20 ACG members met in Rome last week to map out future efforts.

Luigi Spaventa, one of the ACG leaders, is one of Italy's most respected economists. He was also treasury minister in the government that preceded Berlusconi's rise to power and was a candidate for the left in the 1994 elections.

He said: "Today we are very pleased that Italy has a government of the centre-left, but our role in offering positive ideas and suggestions will be more difficult."

Professor Spaventa suggested that the issues on which the ACG should work include plans for institutional reforms towards a federal state and the problems of Italy's public health service.

Among the various speakers, however, the favourite theme was the reform of the university system and the idea of breaking up the mega-universities like Rome's La Sapienza with its 200,000 students, into smaller and more manageable units. University reform is one of the priorities for the new government.

"We cannot be absent in this reform," commented Gianni Orlandi, president of the engineering faculty at La Sapienza.

Piero Scoppola, history professor at La Sapienza, is a veteran political activist and a promoter of radical institutional reforms. "The key thing now," he said, "is to create and keep open channels of communication with the government so that our ideas will contribute effectively to government policy."

"So far we have no official status as far as the government is concerned," explained Professor Sonnino.

"But certainly there is constant informal discussion between individual members of the ACG and members of the government. I believe that now that Italy has a government which broadly reflects our own political views we should not change our original role. We must remain critical, constructively critical, on the basis of scientific and objective analysis of the issues involved."

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