Berlusconi learns to love his enemies

When Silvio Berlusconi first swept into Italian politics three years ago, his mission was "to save the country from the communists". These days, though, the people he calls communists - in reality the Social- Democrat successors to the old Communist Party known as the PDS - are some of the best friends he has.

To call it a late-flowering love affair might be exaggerating, but there is definitely an attraction of mutual interests. With tensions growing within Italy's centre-left coalition government, the PDS seems to find it easier to talk to Mr Berlusconi and his party, Forza Italia, than it does to its own allies.

This week, under the influence of the PDS's canny leader Massimo D'Alema, the government cut what seemed to be an outrageous deal with Mr Berlusconi, guaranteeing him the right to continue running his monopoly on private television for the next six months, even though the Constitutional Court has deemed it to be illegal. Ostensibly the reason for the deal was to give parliament time to draw up new legislation that would modernise the whole of the broadcasting sector, including cable and satellite.

But that on its own does not explain why Mr Berlusconi was so scrupulously consulted on the matter, and a blind eye so glaringly turned to the blatant conflict of interests. The nub of the matter is that the PDS is finding it ever harder to keep the governing coalition together. The so-called "Olive Tree" stretches from the communist hard-left to the free-market right, an impossible clutch of customers to keep satisfied simultaneously when it comes to such key matters as the budget-cutting measures necessary to qualify Italy for European monetary union.

The 1997 budget, which has almost completed its passage through parliament, was sealed only by making big concessions to the left, and keeping public spending cuts to a bare minimum. If, as an IMF forecast has predicted, the government comes under pressure to slash the budget further next spring, some part of the coalition is bound to give way.To stave off this looming crisis, the PDS is courting allies further afield. Mr Berlusconi is certainly not about to join the government, but he can be useful to Mr D'Alema in other ways. First, he can agree not to filibuster parliament in its efforts to push through a backlog of important legislation.

Secondly, he can cooperate in overhauling the constitution to make Italy easier to govern. Further down the road, there might be room for further negotiation: support for further budget-cutting measures from Forza Italia, perhaps, in exchange for some kind of amnesty exonerating Mr Berlusconi from the various charges of corruption and business malpractice that he is facing. This may not be the politics of high principle, and indeed it is infuriating a minority of left-wingers including some members of the PDS. But it is a mark of the widely-acknowledged tactical brilliance of Mr D'Alema.

So far, Mr Berlusconi is playing along partly because it suits his own personal interests, and partly because he thinks he might yet be able to outwit Mr D'Alema. His allies are working hard on the hypothesis that the present government might fall next spring, and that a cross-party alliance cutting out both the far left and the far right could then take Italy into Europe and the next general election.

What is striking in all this is the erosion of the boundary between government and opposition - harking back to the old days of Christian Democrat hegemony in Italy. The notion of defeating one's enemy by inviting him in seems to be an enduring one in this country, and one that could yet save Mr Berlusconi from an ignominious exit from public life.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss