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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd put the creative industries at the top of the agenda

Christopher Frayling
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power