Italy’s Berlusconi Urges Coalition to “Revive Economy”

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

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi signaled on Friday that his country could have a new government as early as next week. “Certainly we cannot expect 100 percent agreement but I am very comfortable,” he said.

In an interview with Corriere della Sera newspaper, the septuagenarian leader of Italy’s right-wing bloc said he wouldn’t even consider the possibility that the left’s Enrico Letta, who was appointed by President Giorgio Napolitano on Wednesday to lead coalition talks, might fail. “We need a government,” said Berlusconi. “We must act to revive the economy.”

Italy’s economy contracted 2.4 percent through last year when unemployment rose to over 11 percent. Largely due to tax increases and pension reforms, the government’s deficit fell to 3 percent of gross domestic product but Italy’s public debt, equivalent to nearly 130 percent of annual economic output, is still among the highest in the developed world.

But both major parties that supported outgoing prime minister Mario Monti’s government have grown wary of its fiscal reform efforts. Read more “Italy’s Berlusconi Urges Coalition to “Revive Economy””

Berlusconi Might Accept Leftist President, Popularity Mounts

Italian prime minister Silvoi Berlusconi speaks at a meeting of European People's Party leaders in Brussels, March 1, 2012
Italian prime minister Silvoi Berlusconi speaks at a meeting of European People’s Party leaders in Brussels, March 1, 2012 (EPP)

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi could accept a leftist as president, provided his left-wing counterpart Pier Luigi Bersani enters a “grand coalition” with his conservative party.

Berlusconi previously demanded that parliament elected a right-wing party member president next week in exchange for supporting a government led by Bersani’s Democratic Party. In an interview with La Repubblica that was published on Friday, however, the septuagenarian former premier, who was sentenced to one year in prison last month for abuse of office but is appealing the conviction, insisted that the political situation in his country is so “dramatic” that the main left- and right-wing parties cannot afford not to team up.

Bersani’s party won a majority of the seats in the lower chamber of parliament in February’s election but not the Senate where Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà and the separatist Lega Nord hold almost as many seats.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement could give Bersani a majority in the upper chamber but it has ruled out joining any governing alliance, despite the left-wing leader’s overtures.

Bersani, for his part, has ruled out entering a coalition with Berlusconi but is under pressure from his party’s trade union allies to form a government “at any cost” and avoid reelections. Prominent Democratic Party members, notably Florence mayor Matteo Renzi, who lost an internal leadership bid against Bersani late last year, also urge the former industry minister to initiate talks for a centrist government.

If Bersani persists in his resistance to such a grand coalition, Italians would have to head back to the polls to break the deadlock. An SWG poll released this week showed that Berlusconi’s alliance could win 33.4 percent of the votes in new elections, up from 29.1 percent in February. The left, by contrast, would hardly pick up any more seats while the Five Star Movement remains stable at nearly a quarter of the votes.

Berlusconi, then, could squeak out a victory and deny Bersani his chance of becoming prime minister. Indeed, if there were new elections, the Democratic Party would likely replace him as candidate with Renzi. A separate SWG survey recently showed that he is more popular with the electorate at large. 28 percent of Italians back him for the prime ministership while only 14 percent support Bersani.

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.

Italy’s Berlusconi, Separatists Seal Electoral Pact

Silvio Berlusconi
Italian prime minister Silvoi Berlusconi speaks at a meeting of European People’s Party leaders in Brussels, March 1, 2012 (EPP)

Italy’s conservative party leader, Silvio Berlusconi, has announced a new deal with the separatist Northern League, his coalition partner in previous right-wing governments.

The septuagenarian former media tycoon, who is leading Il Popolo della Libertà into February’s election, did not give many details in a radio interview but said he would be the “leader of moderates” in a center-right alliance.

He said he wasn’t sure if he would return as premier: “We will decide if we win.” Read more “Italy’s Berlusconi, Separatists Seal Electoral Pact”

Italy’s Left Tops Prime Ministerial Poll, Monti Second

Pier Luigi Bersani speaks at a Democratic Party event in Bologna, Italy, February 24
Pier Luigi Bersani speaks at a Democratic Party event in Bologna, Italy, February 24 (Partito Democratico Emilia Romagna/Vincenzo Menichella)

A CISE survey published in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore on Sunday found that the country’s left-wing leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, is in the lead to win the premiership.

Incumbent prime minister Mario Monti, who has announced he will contest February’s election leading a coalition of centrist parties, places second. Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is in third place. Read more “Italy’s Left Tops Prime Ministerial Poll, Monti Second”

Berlusconi Threatens Italian Eurozone Exit, Rises in Polls

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 right-wing leader Silvio Berlusconi threatened to leave the European single-currency union on Wednesday unless the European Central Bank pursues a more expansionary monetary policy which northern member states, including Germany, are adamantly opposed to. The former premier seems to hope that his newfound Euroskepticism will enable him to return to government in elections early next year.

In an interview with Italian public broadcaster Rai Uno, Berlusconi said, “Either Germany understands that the ECB must act as a real central bank and therefore print money or unfortunately we will be forced to leave the euro and return to our currency.”

Berlusconi, who was forced to resign the premiership in November of last year when Italy teetered on the brink of sovereign default, previously suggested that it would “not be the end of the world” for either Germany or Italy to leave the eurozone. In an interview with Canale 5 last week, he touted his willingness to stand up to Germany which is seen by many Italians as imposing unnecessarily drastic economic and fiscal reforms on their country. “I was one of the two, three most influential leaders in the European Council,” he said. “I continuously opposed German proposals and demands.”

Unlike incumbent prime minister Mario Monti, according to the Italian right. Berlusconi and other conservative party members have accused the former European commissioner, who took over as premier last November, of toeing the German line of fiscal policy. Monti’s cabinet enacted tough budget and pension reforms to mend the country’s shortfall and stabilize its debt, currently at 126 percent of gross domestic product. He also advocated labor market reforms but had to tone them down under pressure from the left as well as the nation’s powerful trade unions.

Monti relied on the support of Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà and the left-wing Democratic Party in parliament. The former withdrew its support from the government earlier this month, prompting Monti to resign. Elections were expected to be called in February of next year.

The right now wants to postpone the election until the end of February or early March. Even if preeleection polls put it behind the Democratic Party as well as the Euroskeptic Five State Movement led by comic Beppe Grillo, its popularity is on the rebound. Berlusconi’s anti-German rhetoric seems to resonate with a share of the Italian electorate. His party may be calculating that pushing back the elections will give it ample time to persuade enough voters to give it a plurality of the seats in the next parliament.

Democratic Party leader Pier Luigi Bersani still has the best chance of capturing the prime ministership. But it’s possible that Berlusconi’s party, its former coalition partner, the separatist Lega Nord, and the Five Star Movement win a majority between them which would put the three Euroskeptic parties in a position to form a government — even if Grillo is otherwise more left wing and not inclined to prop up another cabinet headed by Berlusconi.

Berlusconi Blames Monti for Recession, Toeing German Line

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Mario Monti speak in Berlin, August 29
German chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian prime minister Mario Monti speak in Berlin, August 29 (Bundesregierung)

Italy’s former prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has accused his successor, Mario Monti, of dragging Italy into recession by toeing the German line on austerity.

Monti resigned this week after Berlusconi’s conservatives withdrew their support from this government, triggering elections that could take place as early as February.

Berlusconi is expected to become the prime ministerial candidate for Il Popolo della Libertà, the party he launched in 2007. Read more “Berlusconi Blames Monti for Recession, Toeing German Line”

Berlusconi Returns, Party Withdraws Support from Monti

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 24, 2011
Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi arrives for a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 24, 2011 (European Council)

Silvio Berlusconi will seek to reclaim Italy’s prime ministership while his conservative party has withdrawn its support for Mario Monti’s technocratic government.

After meeting with party leaders on Friday, Berlusconi claimed in a statement that, “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.”

“I cannot let my country fall into a recessive spiral without end. It’s not possible to go on like this,” he said after explaining that he had been “besieged by requests” to stand for election again.

An SWG opinion poll found 73 percent of Italians disapproving of the former prime minister’s decision to run again. Berlusconi was forced to resign in November of last year when the country teetered on the brink of sovereign default.

Angelino Alfano, secretary general of Berlusconi’s Il Popolo della Libertà, withdrew his support from the incumbent interim government on the same day which therefore no longer has a majority in parliament. But Alfano vowed not to bring Monti down. “Yesterday we did not give a vote of no confidence because we consider the experience of the Monti government has come to an end. But we don’t want to send the institutions and the country into chaos,” he said.

Alfano cited a collapse in home sales, economic contraction and raised taxes as reasons for his party to withdraw its support but offered the fiercest criticism of Monti’s government when he accused it of bowing to the left-wing Democratic Party, which in turn he claimed had bowed to the trade unions on tepid labor market reforms.

The left’s leader Pier Luigi Bersani, who was formally nominated for the prime ministership this weekend, accused the conservatives of “irresponsibility” and wondered, “You think you have some responsibility in the crisis?” Democratic Party argues that parliament ought to be dissolved if Monti cannot be sure of the backing of the right.

Berlusconi Plans to Save Italy, Could Save Monti

Silvio Berlusconi
Italian prime minister Silvoi Berlusconi speaks at a meeting of European People’s Party leaders in Brussels, March 1 (EPP)

When Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced to resign in November of last year, nearly all of Europe and certainly part of Italy sighed in relief. The media tycoon’s third and last tenure as premier had been marked by scandal and fiscal disorder. Former European commissioner Mario Monti was heralded as Italy’s savior. Now Berlusconi is planning a comeback.

As Italians are increasingly frustrated with Monti’s austerity efforts — which include pension and public-sector pay cuts as well as tax increases and an unpopular labor market liberalization — the septuagenarian but ever flamboyant Berlusconi promises them an easy way out: either Germany leaves the single currency area or Italy will. It will “not be the end of the world,” he says.

The man who would be king is not kidding. A master of populist politics, Berlusconi taps into mounting Italian apprehension about Germany’s intransigence to not let the European Central Bank finance Southern European deficit spending more freely. The central bankers in Frankfurt last year purchased hundreds of billions of euros worth of Italian and Spanish government debt which temporarily reduced market interests on their bonds. Berlusconi likes to try that experiment again. If the Germans won’t budge, Italy should simply leave the euro which would return to it control of monetary policy. Read more “Berlusconi Plans to Save Italy, Could Save Monti”

Berlusconi to Resign? Be Careful What You Wish For

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

Speculation abounds that Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi may be forced to resign as his parliamentary majority has apparently dissipated and Italy is on the verge of becoming the fourth nation that is consumed by Europe’s spiraling sovereign debt crisis. The political paralysis of Berlusconi’s coalition may well be carried over into the next administration however.

If Berlusconi were to step down, a caretaker government could be appointed to implement necessary austerity measures before parliamentary elections take place. Regular elections are next due in 2013 but the besieged prime minister seems unlikely to last for another two years. A budget vote on Tuesday could seal his fate. If his coalition falls apart as expected, next week’s confidence vote could terminate Berlusconi’s premiership. Read more “Berlusconi to Resign? Be Careful What You Wish For”