ROME (AP) — Ten "wise men" will try to do what Italy's bickering politicians haven't been able to accomplish since inconclusive elections in late February — figure out a formula to help form a new government fast for the recession-mired nation as financial markets impatiently await an end to the impasse.
President Giorgio Napolitano created the panel of experts last week after center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani failed to form a governing coalition with wide support in Parliament, and the 10 members will have their first meeting with him at the Quirinal Presidential Palace on Tuesday, which coincides with the resumption of financial trading after the long Easter weekend.
Napolitano has referred to the group as working committees, while the media and other politicians immediately dubbed them the "10 wise men."
Bersani's forces won the lower Chamber of Deputies in the elections, but fell short of controlling the Senate. He refused the offer of archrival Silvio Berlusconi, the former center-right premier whose coalition finished runner-up, to form a "grand coalition" government. And the third bloc in the gridlocked political puzzle, the anti-establishment, anti-euro newcomer, 5-Star Movement headed by comic Beppe Grillo, refused to back anybody but themselves for the job of governing Italy.
The panel, including lawmakers, professors and a central bank official, will try to devise a reform agenda that a broad spectrum of parties can embrace, especially electoral and economic reforms, in a bid to avoid new elections soon.
They're hardly impartial. Several of them have been lawmakers in either Bersani's or Berlusconi's parties. Another panel member is a minister in the caretaker government of Mario Monti, who was appointed in late 2011 to replace Berlusconi as premier as Italy veered toward the abyss of the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis.
European Union and central banking officials credit Monti with keeping Italy from succumbing to the crisis. But voters resoundingly rejected his harsh medicine for financial recovery — higher taxes, slashed government spending and tightening the generous national pension system. Monti's new centrist movement finished a poor fourth in the balloting, as Italians tired of making financial sacrifices that weren't coupled with measures to jumpstart the economy and reduce soaring unemployment.
But while Napolitano's goal in setting up the panel was to help find common ground among potential government coalition partners, about the only thing politicians seemed to agree about it was they were skeptical about what it could accomplish.
"Either a political government is born" quickly or, "we do what comes naturally in a democracy, return to the polls," Berlusconi ally Maurizio Gasparri said. "Let hope it's not just a delaying tactic" to put off new elections, Gasparri told Sky TG24 TV Monday in a phone interview. Berlusconi, on trial in Milan in criminal cases which he says are part of a campaign by leftist sympathizers to end his political career, could try again for a comeback if elections are called soon.
A veteran Radical party leader and former European Union commissioner, Emma Bonino, echoing a common criticism, said the panel was hardly representative of Italians — for starters, there were no women, she noted. "Can you imagine if the president picked 10 women? Everybody would have said, 'There's something wrong here,'" Bonino said wryly on Radio Radicale.
Bonino, touted by some to be a potential successor to Napolitano after his own term runs out next month, sounded pessimistic that the panel could come up with a formula that could unite Italy's squabbling parties. "I can remember many commissions of 'sages' in my long political career. And the results have never been very brilliant," she said.
Also skeptical was a 5-Star Movement senator, Paola Nugnes. "It still isn't clear to me what these 'wise men" have to do, and how they'll operate," she said on Facebook.
But a pro-Monti politician, Giuliano Cazzola, brushed off the skepticism.
"The only judgment on President Napolitano's action that counts will be given tomorrow by the markets," Cazzola said in a statement. "The rest is just chatter."
If the main parties fail to unite their forces behind a reform program in Parliament, Napolitano can ask a non-political figure to try to head a "government of purpose," created to last a few months or just long enough to adopt electoral reforms to improve the chances that Italy won't emerge paralyzed again by inconclusive results at the ballot box. Napolitano urged such reform for most of his seven years in office, but proposals to change the electoral law, as well as other political reform, such as reducing the number of lawmakers and eliminating state funding for political parties, went nowhere in Parliament.
One name mentioned as a possible premier for such a government of specific scope is Interior Minister Anna Maria Cancellieri, a highly respected non-partisan figure.