Editorial: Berlusconi's return bodes ill for Italy and Europe

Share
Related Topics

The resignation of Italy's technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti and the threatened return of Silvio Berlusconi have rightly sent shockwaves across the eurozone and beyond. If Mr Monti's arrival in power a year ago with his government of non-politicians, tasked to save the Italians from themselves, was like the appearance of the deus ex machina in a Greek tragedy, the return of the billionaire media mogul, who explicitly ruled himself out of contention only weeks ago, is like something from the imagination of Bram Stoker.

This is not the same Mr Berlusconi who was drummed out of office last year. Internal divisions, his conviction for tax fraud and his ongoing trial on charges of having sex with a minor have shredded his party's support, which in the most recent poll stood at only 13 per cent. The centre-left Democratic Party is riding high, with ratings more than twice that. But as everyone knows, Mr Berlusconi is a formidable campaigner, no more so than with his back to the wall. With his immense financial, organisational and media resources, and his total lack of scruple in using them, it is far too soon to rule out a comeback.

His hand is strengthened by the fact that, while Mr Monti has made significant progress in hacking away at the vested interests that have hobbled Italy's economic performance throughout the Berlusconi years, his work is only half done. And for tens of millions of Italians, many of them historic Berlusconi supporters, so far only the downside of his austerity programme is visible.

This year, Italy is likely to record negative growth of more than 2 per cent; unemployment has risen above 11 per cent. Mr Monti has done much to restore the faith in Italy of Berlin and Brussels, but the benefits of his assault on Italy's colossal debt have been intangible to most, and the goodwill he enjoyed a year ago has shrivelled away.

Despite Mr Monti's freedom from the lobbies that hold parties of both right and left hostage, his government has struggled to reform institutions and professions which have long contributed to Italy's chronic weakness. He has overseen an unpopular, long overdue reform of pensions for which no previous government had the stomach; but the unions succeeded in rebuffing his efforts to open up the heavily protected labour market. And the snail-like bureaucracy of the legal system remains a national disgrace, with Italy's inability to deliver civil justice in good time a severe deterrent to foreign investment.

Mr Berlusconi's return took Italy entirely by surprise. But Mr Monti's time in charge, scheduled to end in March, which involved the suspension of normal parliamentary democracy, was always likely to end badly. Whichever coalition won the March election was going to find it immensely difficult to stick to Mr Monti's tough and unattractive, if necessary, course. Now with Mr Berlusconi, the great communicator, back in the fight, the dangers of a race to the populist bottom are greatly enhanced.

The outside world continues to find it as bemusing as it is depressing that a man so mired in legal controversy, so clownishly unpredictable on the international stage, so lacking in the gravitas of a national leader, should time after time win the support of Italian voters. His unique achievement has been his ability to corral northern racists, central and southern post-Fascists and millions of ordinary Italian Catholics scared of the future into a single political dispensation. He may even succeed in pulling it off once more – but this time the consequences for his country, and the rest of Europe, could really be dire.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot