The new Italian government is identical to the old one. But what may seem on the surface a replay of the same coalition may turn out to be the makings of a stronger team. The Socialist government of Bettino Craxi tottered on the brink of collapse for the past three weeks over incidents relating to the hijacking of the cruise liner ``Achille Lauro.'' Yesterday Mr. Craxi won a convincing vote of confidence in Parliament, effectively ending the crisis.
There are signs the government could emerge in a stronger position than before. The five coalition partners, the Socialists, Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, Liberals, and the Republicans, are apparently approving of the government line. Craxi has also expressed hopes for a more ``direct and constructive dialogue'' with the opposition parties.
The Republican Party, the party which initially withdrew its support of the coalition, seems satisfied. The party leader, Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini, says the government has given ground to Republican sentiments on how Italy should conduct its foreign policies toward the Middle East.
Craxi has also played to the other side of the political hemisphere, the Christian Democrats, stressing that ``the hub of our political military alliance lies in defense and security objectives of the Atlantic alliance.''
Even the opposition Communists appreciate Craxi's firm stand taken toward the United States. They initially backed Craxi's refusal to hand the Palestinian hijackers of the ship over to the US. US fighter jets had diverted the Egyptair plane carrying the hijackers to a base in Italy, resulting in a standoff with the Italian government.
The Communists applauded Craxi's allusion in a speech to Italian sovereignty over the use of NATO bases in Italy. Craxi has told the US that ``NATO bases in Italy can be used by our allies only for the ends specified by the alliance.''
Constitutionally, Italy's new government is a continuation rather than a cabinet rebirth or even reshuffle. With the agreement of the coalition parties, Craxi presented President Francesco Cossiga with the possibility of continuing his old government. Cossiga then formally turned down the resignation Craxi submitted three weeks ago, which he had then accepted ``with reserve,'' and ordered the parliamentary vote of confidence.
With that hurdle behind him, Craxi's government is back in the running as Italy's longest-running postwar government, a milestone it will pass later this month.