Silvio Berlusconi’s return: Why policymakers across Europe fear it

December 11, 2012

Let it never be said that Silvio Berlusconi isn't resilient.

Italian Premier Mario Monti announced over the weekend that he's resigning early because former prime minister Berlusconi’s party, the People of Freedom, pulled its support for his policies. The same day, Berlusconi announced he is running for the premiership again. 

 Axel Schmidt/dapd
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Axel Schmidt/dapd

Though he's hinted at a comeback previously, this time Berlusconi said he had a "responsibility" to run, even though he and his party hit record-low popularity ratings of 31 percent last year as he was leaving office, and his poll numbers have nearly halved since then.

Berlusconi resigned in disgrace a year ago, was convicted of fraud and sentenced to four years in prison in October. He's also enmeshed in an ongoing trial for allegedly paying for sex with an underage prostitute.

Under Monti, many say Italy has been on the right track, with both market confidence and Italy's reputation bouncing back. But Berlusconi is accusing Monti, an economist technocrat, of imposing German-like austerity in Italy, and he wants to reverse some of Monti's tax hikes and spending cuts.

Soon after Berlusconi withdrew his party's support for Monti's government, the Milan stock exchange dropped 2.2 percent over the day. As Global Post reported:

The yields Italy has to pay on its debts soared and the euro sank in response amid fears that the reforms Monti has introduced over the past year could be unpicked after the election

‘‘It has been a year that Italians are seriously sacrificing to try to avoid Greece’s abyss, and, today, there’s the reemergence of Berlusconi, who wants to bring us back five years,’’ centrist leader Pier Ferdinando Casini said on Italian state TV.

But groans about Berlusconi's return bid weren't limited to his direct political opponents in Italy. Policymakers and commentators across Europe seem concerned that Berlusconi would undo whatever good Monti has orchestrated, or at the very least serve as a distraction in the meantime. A wide-ranging cast of characters has come forward with  reactions to Berlusconi's comeback bid. Here's the short list of the best Berlusconi-related burns over the past few days:

***

When asked by Berlusconi if he would like to join his party, Matteo Renzi, the mayor of Florence, told Berlusconi he had no interest in switching sides, the Wall Street Journal reported.

"You can buy things, not people, at least not me," Renzi said on his Twitter account, following it up with, "Close the door, it's cold outside."

***

An headline in the French newspaper Liberation read, "Le Retour de la momie," or,"The return of the mummy," over a picture of Berlusconi.

"Like a zombie from one of those Italian erotic-horror movies of the ‘70s, the unspeakable Silvio Berlusconi, has returned from the dead," the editorial read.

**

"What Italy and Europe need is stability and Mr. Berlusconi is the opposite of stability," said European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who was in Oslo for the Nobel Peace prize ceremony. "So many of Italy's problems are the results of the 10 years in which Berlusconi was prime minister."

***

"Italy needs a comeback from Berlusconi like it needs a hole in the head," said Nicholas Spiro, of the risk consultancy Spiro Sovereign Strategy.

***

"The direction that Italy has been going in for the last year and a half is a solid direction, there is no reason to worry," said France's Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici. "Berlusconi is returning to politics but I'm convinced that he will not return to power.”

***

"I thought we had got beyond all that; it is so unpleasant to return to the 'You are either for me or against me' version of politics," wrote Gian Antonio Stella, a commentator with Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, after the leader of Berlusconi's party, Angelino Alfano, accused another party of being communists. And in a nod to a political rift in 13th-century Italy, Stella added: "Italians are sick of the Guelph and Ghibelline mentality, which cuts off the oxygen from political debate."

***

Berlusconi has so far shrugged off the negativity.

"When I enter a race, it's not to do well. It's to win," he said Sunday.

Comments
Show Comments
Most Read World
Next Story
Max Fisher · December 11, 2012