Arrivederci Silvio: Italy must move on from the wasted Berlusconi years

There are few signs of progress from Berlusconi's time in power

Share

For the man who has lorded it over Italian politics for two decades, this has been a nightmarish week. His attempt to unite his party in a vote of no confidence against the ruling coalition, of which it is a part, ended in a fiasco when senior colleagues refused to resign, and he was forced into a humiliating climb-down. A cross-party panel of senators met yesterday and recommended that he should be expelled from the Senate after his conviction for tax fraud.

The agony does not stop there: the Senate will debate the panel’s decision within three weeks, and vote whether or not to act on it. Even after his defenestration, Berlusconi will remain in the government, unless Prime Minister Enrico Letta and President Giorgio Napolitano decide to get him kicked out of that, too. Then it remains for him to serve his sentence for fraud: either house arrest or community service.

For a man of such supreme vanity and self-confidence, it is a true Via Dolorosa. We got a glimpse of his inner turmoil in his last television broadcast two weeks ago. His trademark roguish swagger has given way to self-pity verging on despair. However, it is not Berlusconi we should be sorry for but the country he misruled. At his peak his immense popularity and questionable but shrewd alliances with post-Fascists and northern secessionists allowed him to rule with greater stability than anyone since Mussolini. As President Napolitano often points out, fragile, short-lived administrations have been the bane of Italy for decades. Between 2002 and 2006 Berlusconi presided over the most enduring government in Italy’s postwar history.

In the hands of a man with his country’s future at heart, this would have been a golden opportunity to drive through important reforms, to challenge the vested interests that hold Italy to ransom in every sphere of life, to give a drastic shake-up to the justice and education systems, to crack down on tax evasion and tackle organised crime.

But Mr Berlusconi threw away those years, wasting immense amounts of parliamentary time crafting laws to keep himself out of the clutches of prosecutors, providing amnesties for tax evaders and abusive developers which merely encouraged them to offend again, getting favoured showgirls elected to parliament and even putting them in government, hobnobbing with fellow-spirits like Colonel Gaddafi and Vladimir Putin while precipitously lowering Italy’s prestige in the European Union.

Very occasionally we get a glimpse of what he might have achieved: the tidal barrier in the Venice lagoon is 75 per cent complete. This was a project over which politicians wrangled for 40 years before Berlusconi signed it off and got the enterprise moving, an achievement that would have been impossible without a stable government.

But – supposing it is ever finished – it will be a lonely monument. His other great infrastructure project, the world’s largest single-span suspension bridge across the Messina Straits to Sicily, languishes unbuilt and widely ridiculed. “Pharaonic” is the term most often applied to it, aptly for a man who long ago built a huge mausoleum for himself and his closest cronies in the grounds of his palace outside Milan.

Commentators have often prematurely ruled Berlusconi out of contention, but the fact that two daily papers – his most consistent supporters over the years – led yesterday’s editions with approving stories about Angelino Alfano, the senior member of Berlusconi’s party who this week refused to do his master’s bidding, leaves little room for doubt that Il Cavaliere’s day is done. Now Italy needs to put this man and his fatal charm behind it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine