New Italian environment minister takes over

Softening of "anti-Kyoto" climate position seen possible as Berlusconi government takes shape

Italy's new environment minister is Altero Matteoli, a member of the far-right National Alliance party, it emerged yesterday. The choice of new Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has not come as a surprise, Mr Matteoli having held the same post in 1994 in Mr Berlusconi's first, short-lived government.

All eyes are focused on Mr Matteoli's approach to climate policy after both he and Mr Berlusconi associated themselves with American scepticism of the Kyoto protocol during the election campaign. New opposition leader Francesco Rutelli has called for an early parliamentary debate on the issue. "There's already an expectation of trouble," a political analyst told ENDS Daily.

On the other hand, indications emerged at Thursday's EU environment ministerial in Luxembourg that the Berlusconi government may be reconsidering its position. A big intra-EU row had been expected after Mr Berlusconi issued a bellicose statement on Wednesday, but in the event caretaker minister Gianni Mattioli took a "very diplomatic position," at the meeting according to sources.

Originally from the Tuscany region, Mr Matteoli is 61 years old and became an MP in 1983 for the National Alliance's predecessor party, the ex-Fascist MSI.

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