Italian Right Makes Pact for Prime Ministership

Silvio Berlusconi
Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi adjusts his tie during a conference in Malta, March 30 (EPP)

Italy’s two largest right-wing parties have agreed that whichever one of them receives the most votes in the upcoming election will provide the prime minister in a future coalition government.

The separatist Northern League is currently outpolling former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s once-dominant Forza Italia. Together with the national-conservative Brothers of Italy, they would win around a third of the seats in parliament.

The ruling center-left and the populist Five Star Movement would each win another third. Read more “Italian Right Makes Pact for Prime Ministership”

Italian Voting Reforms Could Have Little Impact on Balance Between Parties

The facade of the Palazzo Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian parliament, in Rome
The facade of the Palazzo Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian parliament, in Rome (Shutterstock)

Voting reforms enacted by the Italian parliament this week could do little to make the country more governable, an analysis of Ipsos polling data by Corriere della Sera reveals. The three main political blocs would remain roughly equal in size.

The new law allocates a third of the seats in the lower chamber on a first-past-the-post basis and removes the premium for the largest party.

The expectation was that these changes would hurt the populist Five Star Movement and help the mainstream left and right.

But it turns out the effect could be negligible. Read more “Italian Voting Reforms Could Have Little Impact on Balance Between Parties”

Berlusconi’s Party Says Reform Pact with Renzi Broken

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy speaks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy in Brussels, June 23, 2011
European Council president Herman Van Rompuy speaks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy in Brussels, June 23, 2011 (European Council)

Italy’s conservatives said on Wednesday a pact with the ruling Democratic Party on electoral reforms was “broken” when Prime Minister Matteo Renzi failed to consult Silvio Berlusconi on the appointment of a new president last week.

The Italian parliament elected supreme court judge Sergio Mattarella as president, days after the Senate approved electoral reforms Renzi had negotiated with Berlusconi, a former prime minister himself.

Mattarella got unanimous support from Democratic Party lawmakers but was rejected by members of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.

Earlier, some dissident Democrats had voted down the proposed voting reforms in the Senate and asked why Forza Italia still supported the bill in spite of its low poll ratings.

Under the new law, the party that wins at least 40 percent support in national elections is guaranteed a majority in the lower chamber of parliament. If no party crosses the 40-percent threshold, a runoff would be held between the two most popular parties.

A separate reform, enacted last year, reduces the Senate to a body of regional deputies without the ability to block legislation.

An earlier version of the voting law gave a governing majority to the winning coalition. Forza Italia hasn’t polled above 15 percent support since last year. Only in coalition with the separatist Lega Nord and smaller right-wing parties would it have a shot at winning 40 percent nationwide.

Renzi said there was no hidden agenda. But by working with the prime minister, Berlusconi might have hoped to secure a central role for himself in the presidential election.

The president can nominate prime ministers, dissolve parliament and call elections. He also has the power to grant pardons, something Berlusconi, the subject of many scandals and investigations, would be especially interested in.

With the reforms already enacted in the Senate, Forza Italia may no longer be able to stop them. Renzi’s Democrats have an absolute majority in the lower house where the reforms are yet to pass.

Democratic Party leader Debora Serracchiani said if the pact is broken, “the better. The road to reform will be easier.”

Maria Elena Boschi, the minister in charge of constitutional reforms, told TG3 television there was never an agreement with Forza Italia on the appointment of the next president. “The agreement concerned only the reforms,” she insisted.

Berlusconi and Renzi agreed last year to jointly enact constitutional changes.

Their parties were forced into a coalition after the anti-establishment Five Star Movement prevented either from winning a majority in 2013.

Berlusconi later quit the coalition but the government was saved when centrist rightwingers under Angelino Alfano, the interior minister, split from Forza Italia to form Nuovo Centrodestra. It is polling at around 3 percent, barely enough to cross the electoral threshold introduced under the new voting law.

Berlusconi’s Party Splits After Failure to Bring Down Government

Silvio Berlusconi
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European People’s Party summit, May 15, 2006 (EPP)

Disagreement within former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party looks certain to divide the Italian right into a new conservative party and a more liberal group, both derived from the media tycoon’s Il Popolo della Libertà.

Berlusconi long maintained a solid grip over his party but faced overt opposition when he proposed to quit the government of Enrico Letta last month. Many conservatives were unwilling to link his judicial struggles — Berlusconi was convicted for tax fraud in his media empire — with the stability of the ruling coalition. His deputy, Angelino Alfano, and four other conservative ministers initially resigned from Letta’s cabinet but later turned against their leader with the support of more than twenty senators, forcing Berlusconi into a humiliating retreat.

The episode was the first interruption in Berlusconi’s twenty year-long domination of Italy’s right-wing politics and paved the way for a definitive split between the “government doves” and “loyalist hawks.” Read more “Berlusconi’s Party Splits After Failure to Bring Down Government”

Berlusconi’s Party Collapsing After Government Survives

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European People's Party summit, May 15, 2006
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European People’s Party summit, May 15, 2006 (EPP)

Italian prime minister Enrico Letta survived a confidence vote in parliament on Wednesday when the conservative leader, Silvio Berlusconi, shrank back from earlier threats to bring down his government.

Berlusconi, a former prime minister himself who was earlier convicted of tax fraud, pulled his ministers from Letta’s cabinet last week, ostensibly in protest to planned tax increases. However, Letta’s social democrats on Wednesday accused the septuagenarian media tycoon of forcing a government crisis to salvage his own political career.

Having been twice convicted, Berlusconi is not allowed under present law to remain a member of the Senate. The body, in which Letta’s party does not have an absolute majority, is due to eject him.

Dozens of Berlusconi’s own members were prepared to back the government despite their leader’s push for new elections — which, polls show, would have changed little in the political balance of power. Even Angelino Alfano, the conservative party secretary who was once seen as Berlusconi’s heir, broke with his patron and called on lawmakers to support the government from which he himself had resigned as interior minister on Saturday.

The rebellion in his own ranks forced Berlusconi into a humiliating retreat that could leave the Italian right leaderless when he is robbed of his Senate seat later this month.

The billionaire businessman has dominated conservative politics since he was first elected prime minister in 1994. Previous coups and internal splits did little to undermine his position, or his popularity. Twenty-five conservative senators, led by former Lombardy regional president Roberto Formigoni, nevertheless announced on Wednesday that they intended to form their own group. Fabrizio Cicchitto, a former socialist, led a similar revolt in the Chamber of Deputies where, La Repubblica reported, 26 members were prepared to split from Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà. Former health minister Beatrice Lorenzin was reportedly among them.

Letta, who took office in April after an election two months earlier gave neither the left nor the right a mandate to govern with its traditional allies, vowed to press on with budget reforms that are meant to keep Italy’s deficit under the European 3 percent treaty limit. He also pledged to change his nation’s electoral laws which give the two houses of parliament equal powers and make it difficult for any party to win a functioning majority.

Berlusconi Revamps Old Party as Senate Moves to Eject Him

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 26, 2011
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 26, 2011 (European Council)

In a dense night for Italian politics, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi used a video address Wednesday night to announce the revival of his twenty year-old party Forza Italia after the Senate had voted to deprive him of his seat hours earlier.

A majority of senators rejected Berlusconi’s defensive motion which argued that he should remain a member despite a tax fraud conviction earlier this year. Under a 2012 anti-corruption law, which was then supported by his own party, any politician sentenced to more than two years imprisonment should lose his seat.

The vote came after Berlusconi’s appeal to a parallel verdict for corruption was rejected by the courts. The former premier and business tycoon was ordered to pay almost €500 million in damages for the illicit acquisition of a publishing company in 1991. This closed another escape hatch for the disgraced politician as President Giorgio Napolitano is not allowed to grant amnesty to anyone who has been convicted twice — as Berlusconi’s devotees had requested.

A second vote is expected to be called in the Senate within ten days but the outcome is unlikely to be different. The final act should come next month when a plenary session of the body is to confirm the decision to rob Berlusconi of his seat.

Breaking a month-long silence, Berlusconi invaded Italians’ homes on Wednesday with a prerecorded video message that was simultaneously broadcast across all major television networks when the outcome of the Senate vote was disclosed.

The announcement did not include substantial revelations and Berlusconi’s rhetoric was familiar. The former prime minister bashed a judiciary which he claimed was responsible for a “monstrous and political verdict” and allegedly orchestrating “the judiciary way to socialism.” Distancing himself from his ruling coalition with Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s Democratic Party, Berlusconi reiterated his election mantra, “less state power, less public spending, less taxes” — also distancing himself from his party’s support for austerity measures. He vowed to remain at voters’ side even outside parliament. “It is not the parliamentary seat that makes a leader,” he said, anticipating a possible resignation from the Senate before it can eject him.

Mirroring the mechanics that first propelled him to power in 1994, Berlusconi also announced the restart of Forza Italia, a party that was dissolved to make way for Il Popolo della Libertà between 2007 and 2009. This move had already been unveiled in June. Since then, Forza Italia logos have been appearing at Il Popolo della Libertà events.

Revamping Forza Italia is far from a substantial change. Il Popolo della Libertà had already been similar to the original since former foreign minister Gianfranco Fini’s conservative Alleanza Nazionale left the party in 2010. It is nevertheless a clear step to new elections.

Berlusconi did not, however, directly threaten the stability of the coalition. While inaugurating the new Forza Italia headquarters, he reassured the majority that a crisis would be destabilizing. “We will stay in the government until it reaches its obligations,” he promised.

Even if both ruling parties are assuring voters that the government is stable, it appears they are, in fact, both preparing for another confrontation. Letta’s social democrats are approaching their party congress while Berlusconi is preparing for a revamped campaign. Once more, autumn could be the dark season of Italian politics.

Berlusconi Emerges Stronger from Italian Left’s Turmoil

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy speaks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy in Brussels, June 23, 2011
European Council president Herman Van Rompuy speaks with Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi of Italy in Brussels, June 23, 2011 (European Council)

Italy’s four-time prime minister Silvio Berlusconi did not return to government on Monday when his deputies supported Enrico Letta’s administration in a confidence vote.

Yet the septuagenarian right-wing leader, who was forced to resign almost a year and a half ago when his country seemed to teeter on the brink of sovereign default, has emerged a clear winner from eight weeks of political turmoil. Read more “Berlusconi Emerges Stronger from Italian Left’s Turmoil”

Italy’s Mainstream Parties Seek Way Out of Deadlock

Pier Luigi Bersani
Italian Democratic Party secretary Pier Luigi Bersani gives a speech in Turin, Piedmont, August 28, 2010 (Francesca Minonne)

Italy’s largest left- and right-wing parties on Tuesday started to look for ways out of a political stalemate a day after elections in the Southern European country failed to give either a majority in both chambers of parliament.

Pier Luigi Bersani’s Democratic Party and its left-wing allies emerged from Sunday’s and Monday’s election with a majority in the lower chamber but former premier Silvio Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà won most seats in the Senate thanks in part to its electoral pact with the federalist Lega Nord which performed well in the large industrial states Lombardy and Veneto. Read more “Italy’s Mainstream Parties Seek Way Out of Deadlock”

Deadlock Looms After Italians Return Divided Parliament

The facade of the Palazzo Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian parliament, in Rome
The facade of the Palazzo Montecitorio, the seat of the Italian parliament, in Rome (Shutterstock)

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing coalition has emerged from Italy’s two-day election with a plurality of the seats in the Senate while the left-wing Democratic Party and its allies took control of the lower chamber.

Italy, which just over a year ago seemed to teeter on the brink of sovereign default, now enters a period of political instability, if not paralysis, as neither the right nor the left looks able to form a government.

A telephone survey published immediately after polls closed on Monday suggested that the left would win majorities in both houses of parliament, but projections in European and Italian media published later in the day had it tied with Berlusconi’s coalition in the upper chamber. Read more “Deadlock Looms After Italians Return Divided Parliament”

Berlusconi Makes Italians Offer They Can’t Refuse

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 26, 2011
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, October 26, 2011 (European Council)

Italy’s right-wing leader Silvio Berlusconi on Sunday promised sweeping tax reductions if his party is elected to government later this month. Notably, he advocated the elimination of a hated property tax implemented by incumbent prime minister Mario Monti, something he said “will restore public trust in the state.”

In a passionate address to supporters in the northern city of Milan, the septuagenarian former premier said that he would scrap the tax and refund payments already made. He also promised that a conservative government would eliminate a regional business tax and cancel plans to raise the value-added tax and impose a wealth tax on rich Italians. The decline in revenue should be offset by deeper cuts in government spending, including the public financing of political parties.

With three weeks to go before parliamentary elections are due to take place in Italy, Berlusconi has managed to boost support for the right-wing Il Popolo della Libertà in the polls. His coalition with the separatist Lega Nord trails the left-wing parties led by Pier Luigi Bersani by just 5 percentage points in one recent survey. The left enjoyed a 15 point lead as recently as early January.

“We are one step away from victory,” Berlusconi was quoted as saying on the website of his party. “The left is afraid. They are losing sight of victory which they thought was in the bag.”

Berlusconi rallies against the austerity measures that have been imposed by former European commissioner Mario Monti who took over as prime minister in November 2011 when Italy appeared to teeter on the brink of bankruptcy. Monti led a technocratic administration that raised taxes, reduced pension payments and made some efforts to liberalize Italy’s labor market and service industries.

Both Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà and Bersani’s Democratic Party supported Monti’s government through last year. The former pulled its support in December, citing a collapse in home sales as a result of the new property tax, continued economic stagnation and tepid labor market reforms that were watered down under pressure from the country’s trade unions and the left.

“The situation today is much worse than it was a year ago when I left the government out of a sense of responsibility and a love for my country,” said Berlusconi in early December when his party’s decision to withdraw its support from Monti’s government triggered new elections.

Since, the former premier has touted his willingness to stand up to Germany which many Italians blame for the austerity policies that Monti has enacted. “I was one of the two, three most influential leaders in the European Council,” said Berlusconi in a television interview last month. “I continuously opposed German proposals and demands.”

He also urged the European Central Bank, chaired by the Italian Mario Draghi, to print more money so countries in the south of Europe can finance their deficits in the absence of private-sector funding. The Germans would be extremely apprehensive of such an activist monetary policy for fear of driving up inflation.

If the ultimate consequence of a disagreement over monetary policy is either Germany or Italy leaving the eurozone, Berlusconi said last summer that would “not be the end of the world.”

Opinion polls still give Bersani’s left-wing coalition with the smaller Sinistra Ecologia Libertà the best chance of securing a plurality of the seats in parliament but he would likely need the support of centrist parties that favor Monti’s reelection to secure a majority in the upper chamber. Sinistra Ecologia Libertà did not back Monti’s economic and fiscal reform efforts last year, however, and party leader Nichi Vendola has dismissed the possibility of joining a coalition that includes the incumbent premier as “fantasy politics.”

Monti, for his part, has all but ruled out a coalition with the right as long as it is led by Berlusconi. He told Italian radio last week that he had “no intention of making any agreement with parties that aren’t strongly reformist” but also said that he could “easily imagine a collaboration” with Il Popolo della Libertà if Berlusconi resigned.

If the right does win the election, Berlusconi has said that he will not return as prime minister. Rather Angelino Alfano, who is currently the party’s secretary, is groomed as his successor while Berlusconi could become the economy minister.