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MNI (London)
--Market News Interview With Forza Italia Legislator Catia Polidori
--Forza Italia Deputy Says Party Only Protector of Free Market
--Berlusconi Party And Allies Aiming for Centre-Right Win In March Vote
By Silvia Marchetti
     ROME (MNI) - Forza Italia, the political party of former Italy premier
Silvio Berlusconi, is the only party able to ensure market-friendly policies and
it will protect small businesses were it to come to power after the March
elections, a leading party official told Market News.
     In an exclusive interview, Catia Polidori, a Forza Italia legislator and
the deputy trade minister in Berlusconi's last government, said the cornerstones
of the party's agenda are "less taxes and regulations for companies, but also
financial support to a restricted category of low earners".
     "Private property is under attack from various parties today, mainly the
anti-establishment 5 Star Movement, and Forza Italia is the saviour of economic
liberalism in Italy," said Polidori, a businesswoman herself and the former head
of Italy's small and medium enterprises lobby. 
     Berlusconi's party currently stands at around 15% in the polls, but some
suggest it could win up to 20%. 
     From its early days, Forza Italia's fate has been tied to the rise and
downfall of its founder, one of the main protagonists of Italy's so-called
Second Republic. 
--BERLUSCONI REDUX
     But after years in opposition, Forza Italia has recovered somewhat and has
re-built a new centre-right alliance with the populist Lega party, Fratelli
d'Italia and a minor rightist grouping. 
     Recent polls suggest the centre-right alliance is picking up support and
has a good chance of electoral success in  March. Whether or not Berlusconi is
appointed next prime minister depends largely on the timing of the European
Union Court of Justice verdict over his ongoing tax fraud appeal. 
     But the power of Forza Italy to lure swing voters lies in the still high
personal approval rating of its leader. 
     "Nothing has changed across the decades: Forza Italia continues to fight
for lower taxes on private property, less bureaucracy hampering investments and
for a set of clearer business regulations," said Polidori. 
     Polidori argued that the main challenge ahead for Italy was to protect its
small and medium enterprises that make up around 98% of the country's industrial
network and account for a large chunk of exports.
     "Few governments in the past have focused resources on these smaller
companies, preferring to help only the big, consolidated giants that are already
strong," she said.
--LIVING WAGE
     Another crucial priority for Forza Italia is guaranteeing a minimum
'dignity wage' to support lower earning workers, as social policies in favour of
the "weak" must go hand in hand with pro-growth reforms, argued Polidori. 
     "Helping businesses by reducing red-tape and lowering taxation, while
supporting social welfare are two sides of the same coin," she said. 
     According to Giorgio Orsina, director at the School of Government of
Rome-based LUISS University, the strength of Forza Italia lies in its
"continuity".
     "The party has never abandoned its traditional ideals which voters identify
with, it has never undergone major changes in policy that could undermine its
support," argued Orsina.
     What makes Forza Italia an "anomaly" on Italy's political stage is the
strong, longstanding link and identification with its founder and leader, Silvio
Berlusconi.
     "Berlusconi, both in bad and in good, has been around for over a quarter of
a century. And he's still fighting, despite being over 80. No other Italian
party has been this loyal to its values and leader, and this has always been
Forza Italia's winning asset", said Orsina. 
--MNI London Bureau; tel: +44 203-586-2225; email: les.commons@marketnews.com
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MNI London Bureau | +44 203-865-3812 | les.commons@marketnews.com