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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing