Tag Archives: berlusconi

Ciao Berlusconi!

It was through a narrow and discrete door that Italy’s longest serving PM, Silvio Berlusconi, left the presidential palace late Saturday night to the chants of “hallelujah!” from protestors that had gathered to celebrate his resignation. After a high profile career that has controversially shaped Italy’s political landscape, the self styled “Il cavaliere” (the Knight) may have hung up his armour – yet his legacy leaves behind a nation that is edging closer to the precipice, amidst crippling debts and a society that has lost faith in its political class.

Heralded as an “outsider”, the self-made media tycoon was considered by many Italians in the early 1990s as a credible alternative to what may saw as a corrupt, clientelist and uninspiring political system. Casting himself as a moderniser and reformer who would bring about an “economic miracle” – Berlusconi’s legacy could not have been any further from the truth.

Reaction to the news of Berlusconi’s resignation.

Economic regression

Statistically, Italian debt currently stands at €1.9 trillion, at 120% of its annual GDP (the third most indebted nation in the “developed” world); with lending rates dangerously touching the 7% mark, a level at which lending is seen as unsustainable, and where a bail-out – in the image of Greece, Ireland and Portugal – may eventually become a reality. In the decade leading to 2010, only Haiti and Zimbabwe were ranked as having lower growth, with Italian GDP per head actually regressing. As well as this, Italy’s ageing population is a cause for concern in the context of growth forecasts, more than a quarter of young people are unemployed – a figure that rises to 40% in the south. Moreover, low productivity rates and high wages took haven taken their toll on competitiveness and job creation: whereas productivity rose by a fifth in the US and a tenth in Britain in the last ten years, Italy saw its production rate fall by 5%. It comes as no surprise that Italy is ranked 80th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and currently stands in 48th place in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Barbados.

Earlier this month, amidst market volatility, Berlusconi’s government performance over the Eurozone crisis came under close scrutiny from the IMF and European counterparts at the G20 summit in Cannes. Whilst many economists believed that Italy’s position was “markedly worse” than Spain, the IMF and European Union promptly dispatched observers and audit officers to Rome – a humiliating step for Europe’s third largest economy. In response, and to the stupefaction of many Italians, Berlusconi stated that life in Italy was that of a “wealthy country, it’s hard to find seats on planes, and our restaurants are full of people”.

Despite Berlusconi’s initial efforts to shrug off such procedure as a mere audit at a time of difficulty, IMF boss, Christine Lagarde, summarised the gravity of the situation as “identified both by the Italian authorities and by its partners, as a lack of credibility of the measures that are announced.” Or in other words, the lack of credibility in both Mr Berlusconi and his capability to deliver necessary measures.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy answering questions on Berlusconi.

With 51 votes of confidence in his government since 2008 and four ongoing trials – Berlusconi’s credibility, or lack of it, was not confined to the economy. For Andrea Mammone, the media-mogul’s “mediaitsation” of politics eventually became a “one-man-show centered on the increasingly-absurd figure of Berlusconi”. The high profile “bunga-bunga” sex scandals, along with police investigations into allegations of fraud, to the increasingly hard-line proposals to stop wiretapping, changes in juvenile prostitution laws, – projected the image of a “banana republic” in which a modern democracy could be run as a personal business entity. The promotion of showgirls and actresses into parliament, government and even as party candidates in regional elections, cultivated the macho and openly sexist portrayal of Berlusconi, whom in April 2011 joked “When asked if they would like to have sex with me, 30% of women said, ‘Yes’, while the other 70% replied, ‘What, again?’.”

It’s unsurprising to say that over the years, Berlusconi lost credibility both at home and abroad. Yet in the end it wasn’t his relationship with juvenile prostitutes, his eccentrics, allegations of corruption, nor his prolific contempt for the judiciary and the judges that were after him. In the end, the man who promised that he would deliver a “new economic miracle” – was finally brought down to earth by his failure to make the Italian economy grow.

Sanders Arampamoorthy.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles

As a nation cuts back, it’s a Bunga Bunga life for Italian MPs!

In hope of avoiding a fate akin to Greece, in the past few days both the Italian Chamber of Deputies (Lower House) and the Senate have given parliamentary approval to a hard-hitting austerity budget.

Included in this budget are plans for extensive spending cuts of around €48bn (£42 bn) over the next three years. These would focus on reducing Italy’s public debt, which happens to be one of the largest in the Eurozone.

In fact, despite evidently poor governance from Silvio Berlusconi’s Freedom Party, the cuts are certain to hit the least fortunate the hardest. Proposals include increases in health-care fees, cuts to family tax benefits and top-level pensions and the obvious public sector salary freeze.

The infamous Silvio Berlusconi.

Having only been approved on Friday, Sunday saw the rapid implementation of two key proposals from the austerity budget. Both health-care provisions, these changes are expected to cost families around €500 a year.

While, the necessity for drastic action on the Italian debt is clear, the IMF last week called for the ‘decisive implementation’ of spending cuts, it seems that the most vulnerable are bearing the brunt of these tough cuts. And, being the topsy-turvy world of Italian politics, not even an austerity budget can escape unnecessary controversy.

This has come in the shape of stealthy amendments made by Berlusconi and his Freedom Party to water down the proposed cuts to politician’s pay. Clearly not satisfied with the ludicrous expenses Italian politicians already receive (these can be up to €117,000 a year) Italian MPs are ensuring that their lavish lifestyles remain as unaffected as possible, despite very real concerns for many of the most vulnerable members of their population.

Here, it should be pointed out that Italian MPs can claim their expenses without needing to show receipts for housing, office staff, telephones and travel. And we thought our MPs were bad… As Union Leader, Raffaele Bonanni said, “The government and opposition have again teamed up to protect privileges which are unequalled in Europe.

You do wonder how much more the average Italian can take? But after all this is Italy, a nation where political scandal is part of the furniture. And supporters no doubt find Berlusconi, his lifestyle and his undeniable charisma to be captivating and dare I say aspirational, after all he has been elected about 45 times!

But surely these latest revelations are too much for the Italian public to handle, the Italian government and Berlusconi in particular have proven adept at escaping scandal, but in these uncertain times it can only be a matter of time before the public fight back. Otherwise, as a nation tightens their belt, a government will continue to live above reality.

Kenneth Way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Articles