Silvio Berlusconi: A leader who has eroded Italian democracy

Share
Related Topics

The reign of il Cavaliere hangs in the balance. The Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, faces a vote of no confidence in the Italian Senate and lower house today. The vote has been prompted by the defection of Mr Berlusconi's one-time ally, Gianfranco Fini, from the governing centre-right coalition.

If the no-confidence vote is passed, it could prompt new national elections. Though Mr Berlusconi won a strong personal mandate at the last poll in 2008, his personal approval ratings have now fallen to around 30 per cent. Many sense that the media magnate's 16-year domination of Italian politics could be coming to an end.

Mr Berlusconi's great achievement has been to unite the Italian right and to impose some stability on the nation's politics. In the context of a post-war Italian pattern in which governments would collapse almost as soon as they were formed, that is not to be dismissed.

But stability has come at an unacceptable price. Mr Berlusconi is most famous around the world for his off-colour jokes on the international stage, such as his repeated references to Barack Obama's "tan", or his suggestion in 2003 that a German MEP should play a concentration camp guard in a new film.



Yet to regard Mr Berlusconi as a clown with a highly dubious sense of humour would be a mistake. His rule has been an erosion of Italian democracy. Mr Berlusconi should never have been allowed to run for office without giving up control of his Mediaset empire. To have the same individual who owns Italy's private TV channels as head of the government has been a disastrous concentration of power.

When he entered politics in 1994, Mr Berlusconi's private wealth was reassuring to many Italians because they believed he had less incentive to be financially corrupt. But that has not stopped him exploiting his power in an entirely self-interested fashion. He has attempted to change the law specifically to allow him to avoid criminal prosecution for past suspect business dealings.

And his policies have been damaging too – from the persecution of Roma, to his disgraceful pact with Muammar Gaddafi's Libya to stem the flow of immigration from North Africa, to his close relations with Russia's Vladimir Putin. And despite his political dominance, Mr Berlusconi failed to push through the structural reforms of the Italian economy that he continuously promised. Chronic challenges over health care and pensions have been ducked.

More recently, revelations of Mr Berlusconi's sex parties with prostitutes have exposed the man who preached family values as a hypocrite. Even Italians, traditionally indulgent of their leaders' colourful private lives, have begun to turn away from him in disgust.

Mr Berlusconi has tried to use the eurozone crisis as a shield, telling the Senate yesterday that new elections could destabilise the markets and spark an Italian sovereign debt crisis. But if Mr Berlusconi is so essential to market confidence in Italy, the country must be in a worse state than anyone has yet grasped.

It would be foolish to write him off, even if he loses today's vote. Mr Berlusconi remains very popular among some sections of Italian society. And he might yet persuade the President, Giorgio Napolitano, to allow him an opportunity to attempt to form a new administration without new elections.

But the bottom line is that whatever benefits Mr Berlusconi once brought to Italy, they were long ago overtaken by the damage he inflicted. It would be much better for Italy – and for Europe – if il Cavaliere were to ride off into the sunset.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
A suited man eyes up the moral calibre of a burlesque troupe  

Be they burlesque dancers or arms dealers, a bank has no business judging the morality of its clients

John Walsh
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series