La Berlusconiada

Silvio Berlusconi. Photo: Roberto Gimmi. flickrIn the longest interview since the collapse of his government, Silvio Berlusconi admitted defeat, but indirectly. “It is my fault because I was unable to persuade 51 percent of Italians to give me their vote. It is the fault of Italians for dividing their vote, spreading it among many little parties.” 

The interview for “The Atlantic” does not bring anything new. The former prime minister did not admit to faulty economic policies at the time of his cabinet. What’s more, he maintains his view that the Italians were living well (the restaurants are full) and the country was rich – same argument he brought in November 2011 at the G20 summit. But if he did everything right, what went wrong?

The chain of failures visibly started when Berlusconi lost the local elections in May last year. The previous center-right mayors representing most major cities in Italy had to give way to center-left candidates. The symbol of the electoral defeat of Berlusconi and his People of Freedom Party became Milan, his hometown and a longtime bastion of the Italian Prime Minister and his power.

Another blow came less than a month later, in mid-June. In a nationwide referendum, voters opposed the laws adopted by the government on the privatization of public services (e.g. water and transport), the amount of tariffs for water supply, return to the production of nuclear energy and most important, enabling immunity for the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers before the court. The immunity law was the brainchild of former Minister of Justice and favorite of Berlusconi, Angelino Alfano, to justify his derogations from standing in trial for the years he was still in charge.

But the real free-fall started in July. After Black Friday, July 8th, when after a speculative attack the Milan Stock Exchange closed at less than -3.2%, it was Monday (July 11th) that brought another drop, this time of almost 4%. It became clear that foreign investors were beginning to doubt the sustainability of the Italian economy. The situation did not improve when the prime minister lost a trial in front of the Court of Appeal on the Mondadori publishing house on July 9th. According to the judgment, Fininvest group had to pay 560 million euros in compensation to the company in the hands of the entrepreneur Carlo de Benedetti. The conflict between the two businessmen goes back into the early 90’s when the illegal takeover of the publishing house was done by Berlusconi.

From this point on, Berlusconi’s problems reached transnational dimensions. The Prime Minister was attacked by the opposition week after week and he also lost credibility in the eyes of foreign investors. Nobody believed he was able to effectively govern the country anymore, if he ever did. The foreign press more often compared Italy to Spain and Greece, pointing to the approaching record levels of its public debt. This in turn translated into higher borrowing costs for Italy on the international financial markets.  In September, the parliament adopted an austerity package which was to bring 60 billion euros in savings between 2012-2014. Berlusconi’s government decided to cut government spending, by pushing through a VAT increase from 20 to 21 %, introducing an additional tax for top earners and also extending the retirement age. The agenda the Monti government has executed so far.

In mid-October, the government of Silvio Berlusconi received the minimum number of votes in a vote of confidence from the Italian parliament. In the three year lifetime of the current parliamentary coalition, Berlusconi had to prove for the 53rd time that he was able to continue to rule the country. But whereas in previous ballots Berlusconi could be sure of his victory, now the future of his office was seriously in doubt. This and his failure to convince the European and global powers that he was still in control over Italy’s economy at the G20 summit in early November 2011 led to his dismissal and the appointment of Mario Monti as an interim PM until 2013’s elections.

The probably most important declaration is that Silvio Berlusconi has confirmed that he will not even compete for the parliamentary elections which are scheduled to be held in 2013. He stressed however that he intends to remain active in politics, meaning in the PDL, or the People of Freedom, the party he created. He also reiterated that his successor within the PDL will be Angelino Alfano.

Italian Prime Minister, Mr. Mario Monti, and the President of the European Council Mr Herman Van Rompuy. Photo: President of the European CouncilAs far as Il Cavaliere’s political activity nowadays is concerned, apart from another year left as a parliamentarian, he advises Monti on international affairs issues and is kept up to date by the latter.

The changing of the guard at Palazzo Chigi in Rome last November caused a political turnover. The first months of the new Italian Prime Minister’s government have shown that it is also a change in culture and customs. The convivial style of Silvio Berlusconi gave easily way to the balanced tone of Mario Monti. Il Proffessore, as he’s addressed or Super Mario Monti, as the newspapers hastily called him, seems to have everything its predecessor lacked: economics knowledge, research experience, humbleness, peace of mind and a good relationship with his wife. 

PAULA ROSU