The center-left’s control of government came to an end in national elections in May 2001. The conservative Freedom Alliance led by Silvio Berlusconi captured a comfortable majority of seats in the upper and lower houses of parliament. Berlusconi’s winning alliance included his own Forza Italia party, which emerged from the elections as the nation’s largest single party; the neo-Fascist National Alliance; and four smaller conservative groups. The conservative groups included the Northern League, whose major agenda was stricter controls on immigration and immigrants.
Berlusconi pledged to lower taxes, streamline the state bureaucracy, and modernize Italy’s sluggish economy. However, he made little progress on those promises, and economic stagnation steadily eroded support for his government. The coalition failed to reach agreement on most of the economic reforms, and attempts to reduce the independence of the judiciary and to reform labor laws met with strong resistance. Berlusconi succeeded in pushing through a criminal justice reform bill that his critics said was deliberately engineered so that Berlusconi could avoid facing corruption charges regarding the bribery of judges. In 2004 judges applied a statue of limitations to the charges against Berlusconi, effectively acquitting him.
During Berlusconi’s term in office, Italy’s national deficit remained close to the ceiling permitted under European Union regulations, and the country’s ratio of national debt to GDP remained among the highest in the EU. Berlusconi’s decision to send about 2,700 Italian troops to Iraq in support of the United States-led occupation, launched in 2003, proved controversial and sparked protests.
In 2005 Berlusconi’s coalition suffered losses in regional elections, and several parties defected from the coalition. The move forced the prime minister to dissolve his government and form a new ruling coalition. Despite these difficulties, Berlusconi became the first prime minister since World War II to remain in office for a full term. "Italy" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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