United Press International
News. Analysis. Insight.
September 1, 2002
Italy minister resigns after gaffe
ROME -- Italy's interior minister Wednesday stepped down days after making embarrassing comments about a labor adviser apparently
killed by leftist militants four months ago following a firestorm of protest.
It was the latest in a series of gaffes and revelations that have plagued the year-old government led by media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.
Wednesday was the second time in four days that Claudio Scajola offered his resignation since Saturday's comments about Marco
Biagi, the key government adviser who was slain outside his Bologna home in March. Berlusconi did not accept the first resignation. But
amid fierce media criticism and attacks from opposition political parties, the Italian prime minister accepted the second resignation offer.
Giuseppe Pisanu, the minister in charge of implementing the government's agenda, was named as Scajola's replacement. A
replacement to head Pisanu's lower-level ministry was not immediately named.
In a letter given to both Berlusconi and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Scajola said his decision to leave office was "an act of service
and a duty."
The resignation leaves Berlusconi without one of his strongest allies. Scajola was one of the chief strategists in Berlusconi's dramatic
2001 election victory over the center-left coalition that had run the country for the previous six years, and he has been an unbending
supporter of Berlusconi's for years, even when public support was thin.
Scajola is the second government minister to quit so far this year, following the country's foreign minister who stepped down after
clashing with Berlusconi regarding Italy's mixed reaction to the switch to the euro currency.
After that resignation, Berlusconi -- a foreign policy novice -- assumed the foreign minister's post as well, surprising observers by saying
that he was the only person in Italy with "the talent" to do the job.
Last year, Berlusconi caused a rift among a U.S-led coalition that had just started attacking Taliban rulers in Afghanistan and Muslim
leaders worldwide by saying that Western culture had proved itself to be "superior" to Islam.
Around the same time, Berlusconi's promise to help the U.S.-led military coalition was contradicted at almost the same moment by
Defense Minister Antonio Martino, who put several conditions and limits on such help -- a slip-up that required public back-tracking from
Later, when it became clear that Italy and Finland had become the two favorites to host a proposed European Union food safety agency,
Berlusconi mocked the Finnish candidacy by saying that Finns knew nothing about good food because they "didn't even know what
prosciutto (a gourmet Italian ham) was." The comments sparked outrage in Finland, and Berlusconi was forced to apologize.
Additionally, Berlusconi's tenure in office has been marked by criticism surrounding conflict of interest problems arising from the prime
minister's $13 billion media holdings and his indirect control over the state-run media machine. Berlusconi promised to unveil
legislation to remove the conflict concerns within 100 days of taking office, but now, nearly 400 days after taking power, legislation is still
"Berlusconi's government has had its share of embarrassments, but the bottom line is still that it remains popular (in Italy)," Claudio
Gaija, a political pundit and consultant, told United Press International. "In other areas, such as foreign affairs, the start was difficult and
now the government is doing much better."
Gaija and others said that the comments from Scajola might have hurt the government's popularity if the minister did not resign -- in part
because Biagi, the slain minister, has become an icon in Italy since his death.
Last week, it was revealed that Biagi, who was working on controversial labor reform initiatives, had repeatedly asked Italian authorities
for more protection in the year before he was murdered. The requests were turned down by Scajola, who said in crude terms Saturday
that the slain economist had been a pain in the neck, calling for help to exaggerate his own importance.
Scajola publicly apologized to Biagi's family on Monday but that was not enough to stem the criticism that led to his resignation.
This article originally appeared in