Leading article: Berlusconi: Europe's least credible legal reformer

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The Independent Online

The Italian prime minister has told reporters that he plans to complete his amendment of Italy's judicial system, and to change the country's constitution, before his term of office expires in 2013. The move comes as he is embroiled in no fewer than four trials which come to court in the next few weeks. A less credible judicial reformer is hard to imagine.

The most damaging trial will be one in which he is accused of paying for under-aged sex with a Moroccan nightclub dancer called Ruby, one of dozens of models and showgirls who performed stripteases and pole dances at his villa. He is also charged with abusing his office by asking police to release the dancer from custody after she was separately arrested for stealing jewellery. But there are three other cases, all related to his business empire. These latter cases had all been suspended under a law passed in 2010 granting Mr Berlusconi immunity from prosecution, but which Italy's Constitutional Court partly swept away in January allowing the cases to start up again.

Mr Berlusconi's response has been to claim he is the victim of a long-running campaign by left-wing judges, who must be "reformed". He is also pushing through parliament measures to restore his immunity. The law went through the lower chamber on Wednesday and goes next before the upper house where Mr Berlusconi has a majority. When passed it will alter the statute of limitations, severely restricting the legal action which can be taken against him. One serious case against the Italian prime minister would end immediately.

The actions of Mr Berlusconi would be laughable if he were the president of some tinpot Ruritarian banana republic. But he is not that. Italy is one of Europe's largest economies and its leader ought to be respected as an international statesman. Instead he is a morally bankrupt figure who, in the past, has been convicted and saved from jail only by appeals so protracted that the cases expired under Italian law. His idea that, after 2013, he could become the "father figure" for future centre-right coalitions is preposterous. That Mr Berlusconi cuts such a risible figure is a tragedy for Italy and for Europe.