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Bersani, market-friendly socialist

Former minister a product of 'Emilian School'

26 October, 13:51

(ANSA) - Rome, October 26 - New Democratic Party (PD) leader Pierluigi Bersani ran a campaign insisting that socialism must still play a part in the PD.

''I would find it hard to stay in a party where socialism was a taboo,'' said the 58-year-old son of a petrol station operator and mechanic, who worked his way up through the old Italian Communist Party (PCI) in its central Italian heartland.

One of many in the PCI who moved easily to more pro-market policies, Bersani is remembered as a minister who tried to get investors rather than taxpayers to take most of the burden of the sale of bankrupt airline Alitalia.

He is also recalled for a slew of liberalisation campaigns in sectors including power and retail.

Bersani, partly because of his closeness to former premier and ex-PCI heavyweight Massimo D'Alema, was initially seen as a divisive candidate who might lead former Christian Democrats to split from the party.

But Catholic heavyweights moved quickly to endorse him.

Interestingly, Bersani is a philosophy graduate who wrote his thesis on the history of Christianity, focusing on powerful reformist pope St Gregory the Great.

Before rising to national prominence as a hard-headed industry and transport minister, Bersani learned his trade in the PCI heartland of Emilia Romagna, a region considered a model of how leftists could run cities like Bologna efficiently and help businesses.

After the PCI was disbanded in 1991 and became a smaller and more moderate party, Bersani moved to establish himself among its leading advocates of social democracy, buoyed by the credibility of the so-called Emilian School embodied by two-time premier Romano Prodi, the only politician to have defeated centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi.

In 1993 he became president of the region, which has long combined the bustling entrepreneurial energy of firms like Ferrari and Ducati with fairminded social policies.

Shortly afterwards, he married pharmacist Daniela Ferrari (no relation to the motor racing dynasty), a woman from his small home town of Bettola.

The couple have two daughters.

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