It may be autumn but the colours of Italian politics are strong and dramatic. The seasonal appointment to pass the budget has drawn into relief all the divisions in the government coalition and has even threatened to bring it down. Of all the difficulties that Silvio Berlusconi has had with his partners, his promise to cut taxes has been the biggest. He would like to make substantial cuts in income tax but neither the centrist Unione dei Democratici Cristiani nor Alleanza Nazionale, led by deputy prime minister Gianfranco Fini, accept the spending cuts that would be necessary.
Apart from disagreement in the centre-right alliance over what to cut, one section of the budget has already brought over 100,000 demonstrators onto the streets of Rome. The minister for education, Letizia Moratti, wants to cut school spending and reduce the autonomy of single institutions. The demonstration in mid-November showed that teachers and non-teaching staff are very unhappy at the prospect.
The magistrates strike at the end of November did not bring the same number out onto the streets but was evidence of the seriousness of the on-going split between the executive and the judiciary. The magistrates feel that their constitutional authority will be undermined by a reform bill that moves power towards the executive, and there is the possibility that, even if the bill makes it through parliament, President Ciampi may refuse to sign it, as he did with the media reform bill.
Abroad, there is the risk of the violence in Iraq taking in the Italian troops and there was a disturbing hint of the future when Iraq's interim prime minister, Iyad Allawi, said he hoped the military would stay after the elections planned for January.
On the European scene there should be some calm after the storms created by Berlusconis first choice, Rocco Buttiglione, now that Franco Frattini has been confirmed as Italian commissioner, unless Fini as the new foreign minister shows an independence his predecessor did not have.
Compared to these problems, Berlusconi will be glad to have his old political rival Romano Prodi back in Italy. He at least is a declared opponent.