Leading article: If he wants to save Italy, Mr Berlusconi should go

 

Share
Related Topics

As the political career of the Greek Prime Minister draws to its inevitable close, pressure is growing on his Italian counterpart to step down as well. This pressure comes from home and abroad. At home, Silvio Berlusconi faces another vote of confidence in parliament tomorrow. He may well scrape through again – he has, after all, won at least 20 such confidence votes in the past – but the closeness of the vote will underline what a divisive and distrusted leader he has become.

Meanwhile, at the recent G20 summit in Cannes, he cut a forlorn, isolated figure, visibly shunned by many of his colleagues. In the eyes of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and many of the other international leaders who were present, Mr Berlusconi is not only a tawdry figure, his name sullied by association with countless sex scandals, but in some ways a more culpable political leader than George Papandreou, who only took up the reins in Athens in autumn 2009 and arguably inherited an impossible situation.

Mr Berlusconi can make no such mitigating plea. He has been running Italy for most of the past two decades. Italy's economic stagnation since the 1990s and the steady growth of what is now a frightening quantity of debt during the same period is his responsibility. It is both the size of the debt itself, now standing at €1.9trn, as well as concerns that Italy may not be able to continue to meet increasingly steep interest rates, that raise the nightmarish possibility of the third-largest economy in the eurozone defaulting.

That possibility may sound far-fetched. The problem is that it is no longer being discounted entirely, and if it does happen Greece's problems will look trifling by comparison; hence the desperate concern in Berlin and Paris that Italy should start to put its house in order. In Paris, above all, because France has been a major purchaser of Italian debt, so that an Italian default would deal a particularly catastrophic blow to the French banking system.

Mr Berlusconi seems curiously unaware of the storm clouds gathering over his head. The familiar smile remains in place and the jokey manner is unchanged. He does not look ready to throw in the towel. Bowing to foreign pressure at Cannes, he agreed to call in IMF experts to monitor his government's debt reduction plans. This was an embarrassing concession because it suggested that the Prime Minister had recognised that he could not be trusted to oversee this programme without someone else looking over his shoulder. But beyond that he seems to want to see out his term, which means staying on until 2013.

In his favour Mr Berlusconi can argue that his long term in office has given Italy an unprecedented degree of political stability, a welcome change from the revolving-door governments of the 1980s. He might also say that running complex coalition governments in a country as divided as Italy is never easy. Finally he might also say that Italy has always kept up interest payments on its debt in the past, so the recent speculation over his country's creditworthiness is unwarranted. Unlike Greece, Italy is still solvent in other words.

This is all true. Italy's economic position, unlike Greece's, is not hopeless. But Mr Berlusconi should still go for the simple reason that his continued presence at the head of the government is doing more harm than good. Almost no one in Italy or outside believes he has the skill, will or credibility to push through the kind of harsh and unpopular measures that Italy needs to take if confidence in its solvency is not to decline further. Under a new leader Italy could escape from falling into the same trap as Greece. Under Mr Berlusconi, the omens are less good.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a security software com...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketing / Sales Co-ordinator - OTE £25,000+

£10000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of staffing and r...

Recruitment Genius: Kitchen Porter

£19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court is seeking...

Recruitment Genius: Chef De Partie

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the four inns of Court i...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A memorial to the1982 war between Great Britain and Argentina in Buenos Aires  

Argentina poses no military threat to the Malvinas Islands. So why is the UK ratcheting up tension?

Alicia Castro
 

Daily catch-up: religion, politics and roads named after dictators

John Rentoul
War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?