Berlusconi Ban: Italy must wash its hands of ‘bunga bunga’

This weekend gone saw a Milan court ban former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from holding public office for 2 years. If enforced by parliament, could it mean the end of a golden era… or a New Dawn for the Republic?

Silvio Berlusconi has had a long career in Italy’s political limelight. Prime Minister four times since 1994, he has dominated the political landscape. However at the not so tender age of 77 and a potential ban of two years, this could well be the end of the media mogul’s career. One must ask, could this potential ban be the final nail in a career marred so heavily by scandal and corruption, and thus begin a new era for Italy and its centre right? Or will the absence of his position as a popular figurehead split the already fragmented right, and thus mean a generation of left wing dominance?

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It is fairly difficult to contend that his record in office has been anything other than abysmal. His attempt to reform the constitution in 2006 was resoundingly rejected by the electorate in a referendum. One famous example of his political failings was his promises upon his 2001 victory, labelled the Contratto gli Italiani (Contract with the Italians). He vowed he would put himself up for re-election if he did not honour at least four out of the following five promises: create a tax system of just two rates (33% and 23% for over and under 100,000 pa respectively), halve unemployment, introduce a huge public industry programme, raise the minimum pension and lastly supress crime by introducing large scale police patrols in Italy’s major cities. He succeeded in honouring just one of these five promises, in slightly raising the minimum pension, and of course refused to put himself up for re-election.

Economically his record is also similar. Many will be familiar with the news of how Italy narrowly avoided receiving a substantial bailout from the ECB. Even with the boom for the Euro before the crash, he was largely discredited for the economy’s poor performance, falling drastically behind the other leading Eurozone economies. The Italian economy has consistently under-performed since his first premiership in the 90’s.

Regarding foreign policy, a field easier to judge as it is largely free of domestic pressures; a similar judgement can also be levelled against him. He became one of the closest Western allies of Libya and the foremost supporter of bringing Muammar Gadhafi back into the international fold; soon after Italy became of the key NATO allies that took part in the revolution against him. He has always advocated further EU enlargement (close friends to Turkish PM and even advocated Israeli accession) and integration, a policy that has perhaps not been economically beneficial to the economy, with the country being unable to meet the rigorous requirements for the Eurozone’s Stability and Growth Pact that ultimately led to the crisis in 2010.

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You might contend that, a large part of his failings is Italy’s numerous party system and the reliance on coalitions that often collapse fairly quickly. Yet it is hard to excuse such a poor record. Furthermore, the owner of AC Milan has been consistently marred by scandal, with tax fraud, sex with an underage prostitute, so called ‘bunga bunga’ parties and even the bribing of a judge.

However, he is a rather popular figure throughout Italy, perhaps aided by his Mediaset empire that represents a large proportion of the Italian media. He has also made several attempts to unify the centre right under one banner. He is a rather likeable character, charismatic, down to earth, and one very familiar with the electorate. It is certainly arguable that without such a unifying figurehead on the scene, the already fragmented right could lead to a potential era of left wing dominance.

On the contrary, Berlusconi’s slow demise has been incredibly beneficial to his political understudy, Angelino Alfano, now deputy prime minister in the Letta coalition. His emergence could spell a ‘New Dawn’ for Italy and the People of Freedom party.  Italy is desperate for its own ‘unite the right’ movement, and a leader who can successfully implement decent policies such as Berlusconi’s two tier tax system, and the constitutional form that Italy desperately requires. As much of a popular character as he is, it is necessary that this ban is passed. In order to move on, they must look to the future: Italy must wash its hands of Berlusconi and his ‘bunga bunga’ era, and at last embrace a clean slate and a fresh start.

 

Sean Coley

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