MORE turmoil than usual is sweeping through Italian politics as center-left candidate Romano Prodi won his country's elections by a narrow margin, pushing a reluctant Silvio Berlusconi off the political stage, at least for the time being.
It was as if someone had fired the ringmaster of the sometime circus that Italian politics had become over the past five years under the rich, flamboyant Mr. Berlusconi, leader of the losing center-right coalition. He owns a high percentage of the Italian media. He is crude, rude, sometimes funny, and particularly adept at pulling the tail of a Germany that is the largest economy in the European Union.
Despite his flaws, Mr. Berlusconi, 69, has also been a friend of the United States, putting Italian troops in Iraq as part of the so-called coalition of the willing and supporting the Bush Administration's adventure there, in spite of the Italians' substantial opposition to the war.
It is generally considered that his government was defeated partly because of Italy's poor economy of the past few years and partly because too many people just plain hated Mr. Berlusconi.
Voters who soured on him found his flights of verbal fancy embarrassing and were very suspicious of his control of so much of the Italian media. He went out with characteristically undignified kicking and screaming, unable to imagine that he had lost. His claims of electoral fraud do not appear to have been borne out by judicial reviews of the balloting.
The question now is whether the more somber Mr. Prodi, 66, will be able to jump-start Italy's dragging economy. When he was prime minister before, Mr. Prodi did undertake some reforms.
However, he will face resistance in Italy comparable to what French prime minister Dominique de Villepin met in France when he pursued change there. In addition, Mr. Prodi's coalition includes Italy's strong unions and the Communists, who will not be keen on reforms that put jobs at risk.
All in all, a cooler period in Italy with more economically responsible leadership in the form of Mr. Prodi, a former president of the European Commission, is probably what is called for at this time.
Mr. Prodi has announced that Italy will withdraw its troops from participation in the Iraq war, but will retain its presence in Afghanistan as part of the NATO commitment there.
An economically strong Italy alongside Germany, France, and the United Kingdom in a healthy EU is to America's advantage.