. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EU Hopes Italy Premier Brings Stability

BRUSSELS -- The last time Italy held the European Union presidency, in 1990, it was famously described as being like the Marx brothers driving a bus.

This time around the problem has been less the nature of the drivers than the fact that political turmoil in Rome had left the identity of the chauffeur undecided.

With that in mind, EU diplomats said Friday they hoped the choice of Antonio Maccanico to be prime minister would bring some stability to the Italian EU presidency, which lasts until June 30.

But they cautioned that it was not yet decided whether there would be elections in Italy, an event some feared could yet disrupt Europe's agenda in the first part of the year.

"If this appointment means that there will be no further changes in Italian leadership or elections for the remainder of their presidency, then I think most people will welcome that element of continuity," one Brussels-based EU diplomat said.

Maccanico was named Thursday to try to form the 55th Italian government since World War II. If he fails, it is likely elections will have to be called during the presidency.

The 71-year-old veteran diplomat signaled his pro-European intentions almost immediately, saying he wanted to get the lira back into Europe's exchange rate mechanism, a precursor to joining a single currency.

He also carries Brussels credentials, having been president in 1975 of a committee for the direct election of the European Parliament.

But Maccanico's policies were less important to EU officials than the fact that Italy had a new chance of stability.

"What they seem to have gone for is a broad-based government that will last well beyond the Italian presidency," another EU diplomat said.

Brussels has become used to political turmoil disrupting EU presidencies. During the last three six-month periods, Germany, then France, held elections, effectively stopping business for weeks, while an unfulfilled threat of elections hung over the Spanish presidency that ended on Dec. 31.

Diplomats noted that Italy's problems, though undesirable, have come at the best possible time for the Union as January and February are the least busy months.

"They have not had a very fast beginning, a very ambitious beginning, but we all know that work starts [slowly]," a diplomat said.