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: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: The SNP and an SMC (Salmond-Murdoch Conspiracy)

Matthew Norman
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station  

General Election 2015: Despite all the seeming cynicism, our political system works

Ian Birrell
'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
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk