Italian 81st Prime Minister & POLITICS

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JIWON:
Dear SIR! Are you going to blame me in the worst-case scenario? This is my only concern.

1. Berlusconi criticised for ‘pretty girl’ rape comment (Jan 27, 2009): Is this comment after my praise of La Scala’s female members? (Please check JIWON: Additional Message to Italy on Jan 23.) Oh well… It’s anyway fun to watch them. I appreciate their dress code. Whatever they wear, they look very relaxed. Then, I wonder again. This is in fact the very basic of poetic interpretation. Then why I can’t hear this music from those members? It’s OK that no one knows how to make it. But then, why NO ONE, including La Voce del Loggione, is talking about this? Where did this technical term, ‘the best opera orchestra in the world’, originally come from? Franco Zeffirelli? Or Forza Italia? Or FIALS UNION?

2. Veltroni (PD), Berlusconi wants to create institutional incident (Englaro issue on Feb 7, 2009): What the hell… Cardinal Bertone? I never want to launch Italian version of Knesset-blog! PERIOD. I am still tearing all my hair out after creating these Jewish religious sections, Kippah-I & Kippah-II!! Please check Welcome to Jerusalem, however. How many sections need to be added more until the Palestinian State is born? Sigh… It’s just my pleasure to watch all these Italian politicians, who want to become the main beneficiary of Silvio’s political reform; starting from 11th President Giorgio Napolitano (DS < PD)… or from Opposition Leader Walter Veltroni (PD)… BTW, who is the president of Partito Democratico? (Somehow, I wonder where is ex PM Romano Prodi (PD), who quickly sent me a mysterious e-mail after checking this collection, Barenboim and La Scala.) Hum…

3. The list will be added… Oops, tired! Two episodes in less than a month. Should I make another collection?

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FEDERALISM: BERLUSCONI, TAX BURDEN WILL DIMINISH Jan 22, 2009
(AGI) – Rome, Jan. 22 – Silvio Berlusconi is pleased with the first vote in Senate on tax federalism. For the premier in fact, tax federalism ”gives local administrations the responsibility for expenses and each service will have to cost the same in the north, south and centre”. The tax burden, he continues ”should not increase, in fact it will fall”. For Berlusconi, ”citizens will now know who are responsible for inefficiency and they will be able to punish the incompetent”.

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Berlusconi’s Italy: miracle or illusion? August 13th, 2008 / By: Stephen Brown
(…) One former Prodi minister, Paolo Gentiloni, advised Berlusconi supporters to read the Newsweek article right to the bottom, where they would find references to “the deep social and economic malaise in the country”, he said. The Newsweek article, which does indeed end on a warning note about Italy’s low salaries, high taxes and public debt and the need for more growth, came out a day after Italy reported a contraction in the economy for the second quarter of the year, fuelling speculation that it is about to enter its third recession this decade.

Miracle In 100 Days: How Berlusconi brought order to chaotic Italy, and what comes next. Published Aug 9, 2008 / By Jacopo Barigazzi | NEWSWEEK
Aug. 18-25, 2008 issue

In his first 100 days in office, Silvio Berlusconi may have done the impossible: to a degree unprecedented in modern Italian history, he asserted control over this seemingly ungovernable nation. The opposition parties are mired in squabbling, and Berlusconi, now prime minister for the third time since 1994, has an approval rating of 55 percent—higher than Britain’s Gordon Brown, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy or Spain’s José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

That anyone in Italy has managed to be so successful is surprising. More than most Western European countries, Italy has long been bedeviled by corruption and a system that gives disproportionate political weight to small parties. Berlusconi’s predecessor, Romano Prodi, was stymied by his center-left party’s tiny Senate majority and the government’s fractious nine-party coalition. But Berlusconi, the 72-year-old media mogul, cannily exploited a 2005 electoral law that wiped out these small parties to win a surprise landslide victory from which the opposition is still trying to recover.

His center-right party now has 174 seats in the Senate (versus the left’s 132) and while he enjoys something of a honeymoon period with the electorate, he has also wasted little time in consolidating his authority. One of his first acts: pushing through a bill that gives the top four national officeholders, including the prime minister himself, immunity from prosecution while in office. The bill passed overwhelmingly last month, and put an end to outstanding criminal proceedings against Berlusconi (which he and supporters say were politically driven).

That this new law was a possible conflict of interest did not go by unnoticed, but Italians are feeling too poor to pay it much attention. After 10 years of near-zero economic growth—Bank of America predicts 0.5 percent growth this year—they are demanding security, financial and otherwise. And Berlusconi is delivering, with an iron-fist-in-velvet-glove competence. Emblematic has been his ability to clean up Naples, buried for months under trash in part because the surrounding communities simply did not trust the government to manage the landfills. Ever the showman, Berlusconi held cabinet meetings in Naples—fulfilling a campaign promise to do so until the trash was cleared—and appointed a “garbage czar” to fix the problem. In July, Parliament approved Berlusconi’s plan to open new landfills and incinerators, and permit soldiers to protect temporary landfills from angry residents. Days later Berlusconi said 50,000 tons of trash had been removed.

With a similar resolve he tackled the perception that violent crime is on the rise (despite data showing otherwise), and that foreigners are to blame for it. In July, the government declared a state of emergency to fight illegal immigration and proposed a law mandating fingerprinting for all Roma living in camps in Italy. Berlusconi softened the plan in the face of opposition from human-rights groups and the European Union. But in early August, he deployed thousands of troops throughout Italy in a bid to crack down on immigration and petty crime.

Such tough tactics could give Berlusconi the cover to tackle some of Italy’s deeper issues. Italians now pay some of the highest taxes in Western Europe, at 43 percent, and have some of the lowest salaries—leading to widespread tax evasion. Public debt remains at more than 100 percent of GDP; servicing it costs Italy 5 percent to 6 percent of GDP annually, says Bank of America’s Gilles Moec. Berlusconi has pledged to reduce spending (in contrast to his first term), but doing so will make it harder to fulfill a pledge to cut taxes or to stimulate growth. Yet Berlusconi must figure out a way. Italians like him now, but what they really want is economic stability. Cleaning up trash and harassing immigrants won’t be enough.

© 2008
http://news.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2008/09/04/2008090401904.html
‘이탈리아병(病)’ 수술 나선 베를루스코니
총리직 3選•55% 달하는 높은 지지율 바탕
세제•사법•비대해진 公조직 개혁 밀어붙여
파리=김홍수 특파원 hongsu@chosun.com 기자의 다른 기사보기
지난 4월 총선에서 승리해 이탈리아 역사상 최초로 총리직을 세번째 수행하고 있는 실비오 베를루스코니(Berlusconi•71•사진)가 55%에 달하는 높은 지지율을 토대로, 자유주의적 개혁정책을 밀어붙이고 있다.

그의 인기가 높은 것은 ‘미디어 재벌 정치인’ 이미지에도 불구하고, ▲군대를 동원해 나폴리의 쓰레기 파동을 해결하고 ▲외국인 불법 이민자 범죄를 소탕하겠다고 로마 등 대도시에 군대까지 투입하는 등 ‘말이 아닌 행동’으로 문제를 해결해 가는 능력을 보여주고 있기 때문. 이를 놓고, 미 시사주간지 뉴스위크는 최근 정국혼란과 사회불안을 극복해가는 베를루스코니의 리더십과 성과를 “기적(miracle)”이라고 평가한 바 있다.
프랑스 일간지 르 몽드도 3일 “베를루스코니가 무기력한 좌파의 반대를 물리치고 높은 인기를 바탕으로 이탈리아의 고질병을 고치기 위해 과감한 개혁을 추진하고 있다”고 보도했다.

이탈리아의 고질병이란 ▲부유한 북부와 가난한 남부지역 간의 경제 격차 문제 ▲비대한 공조직의 비효율성 ▲10년째 제로(0)% 성장세를 보이고 있는 경제 침체 등이다.
그는 이탈리아의 고질병을 치유하기 위해 ▲세제개혁 ▲공조직 및 교육 개혁 ▲사법개혁 등 크게 3가지 과제를 설정하고, 구체적인 개혁 프로그램을 가동하고 있다.

우선 세제 개혁은 이탈리아 정부가 ‘모든 개혁 정책의 어머니’라고 부를 정도로 가장 중시하는 분야. 43% 수준으로 유럽에서 가장 높은 개인소득세율을 대폭 낮추고 개인 관련 세금 종류를 대폭 줄이는 데 초점을 두고 있다. 또 부유한 북부에서 거둔 세금의 일부를 가난한 남부에 배분해 지역간 균형 발전을 도모하는 계획도 추진한다.
그는 또 방만하고 나태한 공무원, 공기업의 조직문화를 혁신하기 위한 개혁조치도 단행할 계획이다. 이탈리아 공무원들은 결근율이 민간기업 근로자의 4배에 달하고, 2005년 기준으로 1인당 평균 18일씩 ‘몸이 아프다’는 이유로 결근을 할 정도로 직무태만 현상이 심각하다.
공조직 개혁을 책임진 레나토 브루네타(Brunetta) 공공행정 장관은 최근 영국 시사주간지 이코노미스트 인터뷰에서 “공무원 개혁만 성공해도 경제성장률을 0.5% 포인트 더 높일 수 있다”면서 “출근율에 비례해 공무원들의 성과 보너스를 차별 지급하는 제도를 도입할 예정”이라고 밝혔다. 새 정부의 ‘엄포’만으로도 효과가 나타나, 지난 7월 이탈리아 공무원들의 결근율은 올 초에 비해 37% 포인트나 급락했다.
베를루스코니 정부는 또 8만명에 달하는 교사를 해고하고, 나머지 교사들을 교육현장에 전면 재배치해 공교육의 효율성을 제고하는 계획도 추진한다. 또 검찰의 권력남용과 범죄조직과의 유착을 막으려고, 검사에 대한 업무성과 평가제도를 도입하는 등의 사법개혁도 진행하고 있다.

반대파들은 베를루스코니의 개혁을 “파시즘으로의 회귀” “재벌 기업인인 자신을 위한 개혁”이라고 비난한다. 그러나 그는 “이탈리아 소비자들은 ‘유행에 뒤처진 상품(사회주의 정책)’을 구입할 정도로 어리석지 않다”면서 개혁을 고집한다.
입력 : 2008.09.04 23:56

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Italy embraces Silvio, again and again Apr 17th 2008 | ROME
From The Economist print edition
Il Cavaliere gets a third term as prime minister. But he is unlikely to change his ways, or bring Italy out of economic decline
AP

SILVIO BERLUSCONI is the great Jack-in-the-box of European politics. In a general election on April 13th and 14th, Italian voters released the catch and his ever-grinning figure has sprung out once more. Given to buffoonery, surrounded for years by questions about his probity and the conflict of interests between his media empire and his political office, Mr Berlusconi has nevertheless been chosen to become prime minister for the third time.

If he sees out his new mandate—and his resounding majorities in both houses of parliament should ensure that he does—Mr Berlusconi will have governed the country for 11 out of 19 years. Indeed, Mr Berlusconi has already done much to remake Italy in his own image. It is more glittery, perhaps, but also less respectful of the rule of law, stubbornly unreformed economically and more distant from European correctness in its public discourse, for instance on issues of sex and race. How many aspiring prime ministers could get away with describing older female supporters as their “menopause section”?

More than other politicians, the television and publishing mogul likes to communicate through the media. It made for an eerily remote election night. When the results were announced, there was no victory speech by Mr Berlusconi to jubilant supporters. Instead he took a call at home from his defeated opponent, then telephoned a television programme to say he was deeply touched by the trust voters had placed in him.

In a country used to weak coalitions (the outgoing centre-left government led by Romano Prodi lasted less than two years) voters have given Mr Berlusconi’s People of Freedom movement and its allies an unusually solid majority. In the ballot for the Chamber of Deputies—the best indication of the overall mood—it won about 9% more votes than the centre-left alliance led by Walter Veltroni. This was as big a victory as anything predicted by the last opinion polls before the ballot.

With the help of a bonus given to the winning party, the pro-Berlusconi camp has a 98-seat majority in the 630-member lower chamber, with all but a few thousand votes counted. The centre-right Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (UDC), which refused to join Mr Berlusconi’s new movement, won 36 seats.

In the upper house, the Senate, where the premiums are handed out on a regional basis, Mr Berlusconi might have faced problems. But the swing in his favour was strong enough to deliver 174 of the 315 elected seats (seven more are filled by life senators). Mr Veltroni and an allied party won 132. The UDC’s leader, Pier Ferdinando Casini, who had dreamt of holding the balance, will dream on. His party was left with just three seats.

What accounts for Mr Berlusconi’s thumping victory? In part the fact that Mr Veltroni, a former mayor of Rome, was unconvincing in his claim to represent a new kind of politics.

Though 19 years younger than the prime minister-elect, who is now 71, Mr Veltroni was already a seasoned politician when Mr Berlusconi entered political life in 1994. He began his career as a young communist and, for many Italians, remains tainted by his Marxist past. Though he openly modelled himself on America’s Barack Obama, his oratory never reached the same inspiring heights.

Nevertheless, says Massimo Franco, a Corriere della Sera columnist, Mr Veltroni “was more victim than culprit”. He did not have time to erase from voters’ minds their often painful memories of Mr Prodi’s tenure. Wracked by internal dissent, the outgoing government limped from crisis to crisis, the last and most toxically symbolic of which was last December’s refuse-collection crisis in Naples and the region of Campania. Unsurprisingly, the People of Freedom scored particularly well there, and Mr Berlusconi has promised to deal with the rubbish issue as his first priority.

Mr Prodi’s principal success had been to get the budget deficit back under 3% of GDP, as required by European Union rules. But it came at a cost. The outgoing finance minister, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, put up tax rates while cracking down on tax evasion—a combination that made the government hugely unpopular, and damaged Mr Veltroni’s campaign.

The outcome of the election offers Italy the prospect of political stability for the next five years, and perhaps beyond. Paradoxically, an electoral system based on proportional representation, which led to Mr Prodi’s unwieldy nine-party coalition, has produced something resembling a two-party legislature familiar in America or Britain. The next parliament will comprise, in essence, two opposing blocks.

Several of the tiny parties and personalities that were able to hold to ransom successive governments, and block their attempts at reform, have been swept out of the legislature. The radical left, represented by an alliance of greens and communists, was crushed. Its leader, Fausto Bertinotti, promptly resigned.

Mr Berlusconi has a more cohesive coalition than in the past. Gianfranco Fini and his “post-fascists” had already signed up for the People of Freedom. The departure of the UDC rids Mr Berlusconi of his most awkward bedfellow. Of his party’s two external allies, the Northern League and a smaller group demanding greater autonomy for Sicily, the most unpredictable is the former.

Led by the eccentric and raucous Umberto Bossi, the xenophobic Northern League did outstandingly well. The party almost doubled its share of the vote. It will have the third-biggest presence in parliament and holds the balance of power in the Senate. Soon after the polls closed, Mr Berlusconi echoed some of their agenda, proposing a bizarre scheme to close Italy’s frontiers and open camps for the identification of jobless foreigners.

Italians awoke on April 15th to find themselves in a country once again dominated by conservatives. But of what sort? The progress of the Northern League, a natural recipient of protest votes, suggests that large numbers of voters were seeking refuge from the terrors of globalisation. Mr Bossi’s party is both anti-immigrant and protectionist.

But in the campaign Mr Berlusconi gave out contradictory signals. Some of his rhetoric was liberal on economic issues. He promised spending cuts, lower taxes and public asset sales. But he also spoke as a nationalist. In particular, he dismissed plans to sell Alitalia, Italy’s stricken national airline, to Air France-KLM and talked up a home-grown alternative that has yet to materialise.

Much hangs on Mr Berlusconi’s economic direction. The extent of Italy’s malaise was made clear only a week before the ballot, when the IMF cut its growth forecast for the country to 0.3% for both 2008 and 2009. That would make Italy’s the slowest-growing economy in Europe and among the G8 rich countries.

In the euro zone, Italy is the country most likely to tip into recession in the next 12 months. In the mid-1990s its GDP per head, at purchasing-power parity, was 20% above the average for the 27 countries in today’s European Union. It was richer than Britain and France, and second to Germany among big EU states. Twelve years on, it has fallen below the EU 27 average for the first time.

In 2006 it was overtaken by Spain; next year it may fall behind Greece (see chart). Francesco Grillo, at the London School of Economics, suggests that, if current trends remain unchanged, Romania will overtake Italy in 2020. That may be fanciful, but it confirms that slow growth has become Italy’s worst failing. It has persisted under governments of left and right alike. None has been bold enough to push through liberalising structural reforms to raise growth and productivity.

Italy remains one of the most regulated economies in western Europe. It is also stuck with higher inflation and lower productivity growth than other euro-zone countries and has, as a result, steadily lost competitiveness. The impact of slow growth feeds on itself. Had Italy grown by the EU average over the past decade, its public debt would have fallen from over 100% of GDP to around 80%; and it would not have had to raise the tax burden to 43.5% of GDP to meet the goals set by the EU’s stability pact.

Faster growth would have lured in more foreign direct investment: Italy now gets half as much as Spain as a share of GDP. And it would have attracted more investment in Italy’s lousy infrastructure, which has become a serious drag on business. The economy is over-reliant on small and medium-sized enterprises in such traditional industries as textiles, shoes, white goods and furniture. These industries are the most exposed to lower-cost competition from China and the rest of Asia.

Services are under-developed. Even in tourism, where Italy has a natural advantage, it has fallen from first- to fifth-most popular destination over the past 30 years. Education is a mess. Italy does worse than anywhere else in western Europe in the OECD’s PISA tests. Universities seem to be run for the benefit of academics. Italy has no universities in the world’s top 100. In 1970 30% of university teachers were over 45; today that figure is 70%.

And then there is the legal system. Luigi Spaventa, a former financial regulator who chairs the Sator financial group in Rome, argues that long delays in civil-justice proceedings deter investment.

There are some reasons for hope, though. Italy’s employment performance is good: joblessness is at a 30-year low. Exports have been booming, despite the strong euro, as companies move up the value-added chain. The country’s biggest private company, Fiat, has been turned around. Italy’s banks have improved under the spur of competition, and they have mostly avoided the sub-prime debt that is dragging down rivals in Europe.

If the new government were to unleash Italian entrepreneurs, they would surely respond. Will it? At times Mr Berlusconi has appeared to grasp the seriousness of Italy’s condition. But what remains in doubt is whether he is truly committed to liberal reform, or even understands that it is incompatible with economic nationalism.

His past record in office is not encouraging. Nothing was done to shake up Italy’s myriad protected businesses, from taxi drivers and notaries to pharmacies and small shopkeepers. Schools and universities went mostly unreformed; the public administration was barely touched. Privatisation has been pursued more vigorously by centre-left governments.

There are other reasons to worry about economic management under Mr Berlusconi. One is public finance. During his previous stint in office, Giulio Tremonti, whom Mr Berlusconi intends to re-appoint as finance minister, showed remarkable complacency. A surplus (before interest payments) was turned into a deficit. If the downturn in Europe is deeper and longer than expected, the budget deficit could quickly get out of hand again.

The second worry is Mr Tremonti’s belief that globalisation has made Italy’s problems worse. He has just published an anti-globalisation tract, “Fear and Hope”. He dismisses accusations of protectionism as infantile. But experience suggests that neither he nor Mr Berlusconi is a true believer in free markets.

On April 16th Mr Berlusconi said Europe needed to regain influence in the world, but he dislikes the economic strictures that the EU seeks to impose, whether on euro-zone interest rates, fiscal policy or competition.

Alitalia looks as if it will be a test case of Mr Berlusconi’s intentions. The European Commission will try to stop the government keeping the national carrier airborne with fresh subsidies. It may be the first of many confrontations between Rome and Brussels.

Italy: The north-south divide 22 Apr 2008 / By ISN Security Watch, Eric J Lyman in Rome
As Berlusconi is set to become prime minister yet again, the radically controversial Northern League party is stronger than ever and will not be ignored, Eric J Lyman writes for ISN Security Watch.

In the days after Italy’s right-of-center voters emerged victorious from the latest round of national voting it became clear that the next battle for control of Italy will not be between the country’s left and right, but rather its north and south.

After a solid victory in Italy’s 13-14 April elections, billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi is set to become Italy’s prime minister for the fourth time. But Umberto Bossi, the controversial and iconoclastic founder of the Northern League, was the real electoral surprise.

Bossi founded the Northern League more than two decades ago, when it appeared that Italy might not qualify for the single European currency, a possibility he said was only due to the economic drag from Italy’s poorer southern regions.

His solution? Split the country in two: The southern part would keep the name Italy, with the northern part becoming Padania. Padania would then re-apply to adopt the euro on its own.

Italy eventually – but barely – qualified to make the switch to the euro in the 1990s without splitting into separate countries, and the Northern League went into a long slide toward irrelevance.

But the Northern League stood tall in the latest election, doubling its share of the vote to nearly 9 percent of the total despite polling well only in the north, as many voters disillusioned with the center-left but wary of Berlusconi flocked to the party.

While the xenophobic organization has abandoned the belief that the country should be split, its stances still include an unlikely scheme to close Italy’s frontiers to most immigrants and most foreign products. The party is now the third largest in Italy and the second-leading member of the government.

The Northern League seems eager to flex its newfound muscle. The new government has yet to officially take power, but Berlusconi already announced that his government would favor spending tax revenue where it was collected – a key issue for the Northern League, which believes too much northern tax money flows south to prop up the poorer economies.

A deal that would have seen control of beleaguered national airline Alitalia switch from the Italian government to Air France-KLM is in severe jeopardy in part because the buyers remain unconvinced that the Italian carrier’s main hub should be in Milan, in the north, rather than in Rome, in the south.

Bossi also announced his desire to see one of the three national networks operated by state broadcaster RAI relocated to Milan from the nation’s capital, and to build a giant film studio outside Milan in order to compete with Rome’s storied Cinecitta studios.

On Monday, Bossi said that Berlusconi’s yet-to-be-named cabinet would include Roberto Calderoli who has in the past outraged Muslims by wearing a tee-shirt stamped with controversial Danish cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammed and promoting a “pig day” protest in Milan last year in which he threatened to walk a pig over the ground where a new mosque was set to be built.

Roberto Maroni, whom Bossi said would become interior minister, champions the idea of creating vigilante citizens’ groups to help protect against crime and to seek out illegal immigrants for deportation. The 66-year-old Bossi, who is in poor health, said he would assume control of the Reform Ministry, where he will look to set up a series of barriers to make it more difficult for foreign products to make it into Italy to compete against domestic products.

Other parts of the Northern League platform include using the military to control the country’s borders, setting up tax barriers to foreign agriculture, instituting an outright ban on foods produced as the result of genetic engineering and moving government agencies from Rome to northern cities Milan and Turin.

“Reforms, security, the defense of agriculture, crime, high prices, these are among the reasons people voted for us,” Bossi told reporters in a televised press conference after the election.

It remains to be seen how many of these and similar policies will become law. But it is clear that Berlusconi can scarcely afford to ignore the controversial Northern League.

He did so once before – in 1994, during his first government, when the Northern League was at its zenith – and Bossi and the party withdrew their support, forcing the Berlusconi-led government to abandon power after a tumultuous seven-month stint.

Now the Northern League is more powerful than it has been at any time since then. And Italy – weighed down by an economy that is among the slowest growing, most regulated and most heavily taxed in the European Union – will over the coming months decide whether the antidote to its woes exists somewhere within the country’s long-standing north-south divide.

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News Analysis: Berlusconi ‘miracle’ turns into mirage By James Kanter and Elisabetta PovoledoPublished: WEDNESDAY, MAY 18, 2005

PARIS: Silvio Berlusconi’s unfulfilled promises may trouble Italians – but in Europe they add to the prime minister’s reputation as one of the most unloved continental leaders in recent memory.

Elected on a growth platform, Berlusconi promised the kind of liberalizing initiatives that Margaret Thatcher gave Britain in the 1980s.

Four years into his second term as Italy’s prime minister, the public sector remains badly bloated and the crisis in the country’s pensions system has, if anything, deepened.

Last week, Italy fell into recession for the second time in two years, even as Germany, another struggling economy, showed better-than-expected growth.

Berlusconi “promised a new economic miracle but the situation actually got worse,” said Francesco Daveri, an economics professor at the University of Parma.
of a turnaround seem remote. Italy’s productivity has been slipping since 2000 and for experts like Daveri, Berlusconi’s lackluster economic record adds up to likely defeat at the next election.

“People don’t want to be fooled by promises,” Daveri said.

Nonetheless, Berlusconi has stuck by some pledges, for example by raising the retirement age to 60 from 57 in the face of opposition from unions.

He approved tax incentives for small companies to merge with each other and better financing for research and development to help Italian competitiveness.

Berlusconi is also credited with keeping the country’s joblessness under control. About 8 percent of Italians are unemployed – more than the 5 percent in Britain but far fewer than rates above 10 percent in Germany and France.

Even so, changes have been less remarkable and less effective than promised. Italy’s economy last year grew at 1.2 percent, well under the euro zone average of 2 percent, and the country’s manufacturing base is not evolving fast enough toward high-technology manufacturing to compete with Asia’s powerhouses.

Italy has begun to look like the sick man of Europe just as Berlusconi faces one of the toughest moments of his decade-long political career.

The popularity of Forza Italia, the political party founded by Berlusconi, is sinking, and during regional elections in April, Forza Italia took just 18 percent of the votes, compared with nearly 30 percent in national elections in 2001.

Partners from other parties in the Berlusconi government forced him to resign, but he survived after cobbling together a new coalition. Berlusconi has so far ignored a vow to step down if he failed to improve the country’s overall well-being.

Instead, he is standing by his record and blaming, in part, European Union regulators and central bankers for his country’s poor performance.

“The anti-Europe rhetoric is likely to increase,” warned Ettore Greco of the Rome-based International Affairs Institute. “But to my mind it is short-sighted. I don’t think the electorate will buy this attempt to blame the Union for the difficulties we have at home.”

Berlusconi has long had an uneasy relationship with both Italy and Europe.

With a near-monopoly on Italian television and his reputation for tinkering with the country’s laws, he has drawn criticism from opposition political leaders who say he uses his power to discredit enemies and elude prosecutors.

Among the policy chiefs and legislators who manage the day-to-day affairs of the EU, Berlusconi’s blunt put-downs, his unilateralist foreign policy and his legal entanglements mean that he has never won favor in Europe.

Berlusconi’s pugnacious conservatism also strikes many as out of place in modern-day Europe.

“Berlusconi is a loose cannon who’s seen here as ultra-free-market and uncritically pro-Bush,” said Paul Adamson, the Brussels-based publisher of a political magazine, ESharp! “His style and views don’t make an easy fit with traditional European policy making and horse trading.”

Berlusconi seems even more of a maverick when contrasted with the soft-spoken Romano Prodi, the former prime minister, who is expected to oppose him in elections next year.

Although the new EU commission president is José Manuel Barroso, the center-right former prime minister of Portugal, whom Berlusconi helped appoint, Berlusconi continues to unnerve Brussels. He has aroused particular anxiety among officials who preside over the euro, first blaming the single currency for reducing Italians’ buying power, and later blaming the euro’s strength for sluggish exports. And Berlusconi has pledged to slash taxes. But for Italy’s hard-pressed industrialists, that may be too little, too late.

Tax cuts also worry EU officials, who fear Italy is spending far beyond its means and jeopardizing the stability of the euro, and the EU has warned Italy to sharply improve its balance sheet.

Tensions between Berlusconi and Brussels are likely to rise in June, when the European Commission is expected to declare Italy in breach of its treaty obligations on deficit spending.

Another flash point has been Italy’s slow progress in opening the economy to competition. EU commissioners wrote a series of stern letters this year to dissuade Italy from blocking takeovers by foreign buyers of banks and electricity companies.

State aid is a further area of contention. The EU is investigating suspected subsidies for the military contractor Finmeccanica and must decide whether to allow a bailout for Italy’s flagship airline, Alitalia.

While Berlusconi’s cold-war-era rhetoric and cavalier economics have put him at odds with Europe, what troubles many of his critics the most is his dominance of Italy’s media and long-running battles with prosecutors in Milan.

Berlusconi, a billionaire, is the world’s 25th richest man, according to Forbes magazine, and he exercises varying degrees of control over six of Italy’s seven main television channels, including the country’s main commercial broadcaster, Mediaset, and the state broadcaster RAI.

Berlusconi recently trimmed his holding company’s stake in Mediaset to 34 percent from 51 percent. But, insisted Prodi, “He’s still the owner. He keeps control.”

Hans Martens, the chief executive of the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based research center, said that many Europeans regarded Italy under Berlusconi as “morally out-of-tune” and they harbor a perception that he abuses his status as a media magnate.

“There’s anger and embarrassment that this should be happening in modern-day Europe,” said Martens.

Prosecutors last month asked a judge to try new allegations that companies controlled by Berlusconi unfairly benefited from the sale of television rights.

But history suggests another lengthy court battle followed by an inconclusive verdict.

His opponents’ best hopes for change may turn out to be continued stagnation of Italy’s economy, followed by a decisive backlash at the ballot box.

Commentators say growing disaffection is linked to unfulfilled promises Berlusconi made before the 2001 elections when, with much fanfare, he signed a five-point “contract with the Italians” to lower taxes, changes pensions, increase jobs, begin infrastructure projects, and get tough on crime.

In Brussels, few officials are likely to cheer a Berlusconi candidacy for a third term, even if his free-market views and liberalizing instincts are more in tune with the European Commission’s goal of increasing growth.

Berlusconi’s “administration is widely regarded in Brussels as the most Euro-skeptic Italian government since the war,” said Peter Guilford, a director of a Brussels-based public affairs firm, GPlus Europe, and a former spokesman for the European Commission.

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