ITALY: New Man on the Job

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After 13 days of interregnum, Italy had a new Premier. Christian Democrat Antonio Segni, 64, a lean-featured, soft-voiced professor who looks like a country gentleman of 50 years ago, took over last week where his predecessor Mario Scelba left off, and managed to put together again Italy's four-party, middle-of-the-road coalition.

The first Sardinian ever to become Premier of Italy, scholarly Antonio Segni made his reputation as Minister of Agriculture under the late Alcide de Gasperi. In his zeal for land reform, he once expropriated a quarter of his own estate and compensated his wife, to whom some of the land originally belonged, with a bottle of perfume. Straightforward, witty and courteous, Segni is more at home in the classroom or the law court than in the back rooms of Italian politics. He is not a robust man, yet, in the drawn-out bargaining and bickering process that constitutes Cabinetmaking in Italy, he surprised his countrymen by his persistence, toughness and adroitness.

Truce Between Factions. Not for him was the "opening to the left" offered by Fellow Traveler Pietro Nenni and his 75 left-wing Socialists. Instead, Antonio Segni concentrated on closing the fissure that threatened to split his Christian Democrats wide open. Right-wing Christian Democrats under ex-Premier Giuseppe Pella had been instrumental in bringing Scelba down. Segni placated them with an offer of two ministries: Finance and Administrative Reform.

Finance went to Pella's able lieutenant, Giulio Andreotti, who is, however, an outspoken opponent of Italy's badly needed tax-reform bill. Segni balanced Andreotti by appointing as Minister of Agriculture 35-year-old Emilio Colombo, a firm believer in land reform and one of the party's rising young stars. He had something for the left wing, too: the Ministry of Transport, given to Armando Angelini, an ally of Italian President Giovanni Gronchi.

"Segni's government." explained one top Christian Democrat, "is a government of truce between the factions of the Christian Democratic Party."

In all, ten of Scelba's ministers kept their old jobs, including Foreign Minister Gaetano Martino, a Liberal, Budget Minister Ezio Vanoni, a Christian Democrat, and Vice Premier Giuseppe Saragat, leader of the non-Communist Socialists.

Summer Survival. Since summertime in Italy, when Parliament is in recess, is no time for overthrowing governments. Segni's coalition should survive for a while, even though it rests on a delicate balancing of opposites and a narrow 16-vote majority in the lower house.

One of Segni's first acts was to greet the wandering minstrel of neutralism. Jawaharlal Nehru, and to put him straight on one point. "We in Italy," said Segni coolly, "are all for the Atlantic pact."