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DECEMBER 19, 2006

While Luca sniffs at politics again

Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo has been a man who has often been mentioned as a possible national politician in Italy. The 59-year-old boss of FIAT has had a stellar career, beginning as Ferrari team manager in 1973 and going on to become the youngest senior manager at FIAT with the Itedi publishing company, the drinks firm Cinzano, the Azzura, America's Cup programme and Turin's Juventus soccer team. He was the general manager of the organising committee for the 1990 World Cup, before being appointed chairman and managing director of Ferrari SpA in November 1991. His brief was to rebuild the car company and its ailing F1 team. This he has done with much success and he has been chairman of Fiat and head of the Italian business lobby Confindustria for the last two and a half years. Fiat is recovering from its financial crisis and moving forward again and Montezemolo has been having a stronger voice in politics, criticising not only the now-departed Berlusconi government but also the very structure of politics in the country.

"We have a country that is too slow in taking decisions and has too many competing power centres," he told the Financial Times recently. "A parliamentary system with 23 parties cannot function efficiently. Without a strong bipartisan reform of the state, including electoral reform, our country is destined not to grow. Ten years from now, we will be paying for the non-choices of today."

Back in 2001 when Berlusconi took power there was talk of a ministerial role for Montezemolo. He turned down the opportunity. Berlusconi was ousted in elections earlier this year and the 70-year-old recently collapsed while giving a speech to his Forza Italia party. Yesterday, he had heart surgery in the United States and his political future remains up in the air, leaving the centre-right parties in Italy looking for a new champion. The current Prime Minister Romano Prodi is 67 and at the head of a rather shaky centre-left alliance. Prodi is doing a good job and has forced through a hard-hitting budget aimed at reducing Italy's debt problems but his alliance is still fragile and the centre-right opposition needs to decide whether to go on attacking with Berlusconi at its head or to find a new champion elsewhere.