Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The Montiless Italy

Adelina Marini, December 14, 2012

A piece of news is on its way to shake Europe even more than the Greek crisis - Berlusconi's return. Last week Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti announced that he would resign after Silvio Berlusconi's party (People for Freedom, PdL) stated it was withdrawing its support for him. The 76-year-old billionaire has been warming up the public for months, by posting on Facebook statuses full of suggestion about his future plans and that he would not be able to support for much longer the austerity policy of the installed by Brussels technocrat Monti. A technocrat or not, but Monti has succeeded in importing a long forgotten sense of normalcy in Italy. On December 8th, before his own football club AC Milan, Berlusconi announced he was returning in politics "out of feeling of responsibility".

And on December 13th he was in Brussels for the heads of state and government summit of the European People's Party, attended by Mario Monti too. Such summits take place traditionally hours before every European Council. The return of the young-girls-loving and a very close friend to Vladimir Putin media magnate did not cause very enthusiastic reactions in Brussels. At the EPP summit, the Eurogroup chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, asked by journalists what he thought about Berlusconi's presence said quoted by Italian daily La Stampa, "Why don't you ask him what he thinks about being here?". The memories of Berlusconi's frivolous behaviour on the European scene seemed still fresh for the leader of the liberals in the European Parliament, former Belgian Prime Minster Guy Verhofstadt, who directly called from the tribune in Strasbourg this week on the EPP to expel Berlusconi if it wanted Italy to be rescued.

As a matter of fact, there are people who seem to enjoy the return of the tireless Italian politician - Hungary's Premier Victor Orban, who, also at the EPP summit, was quoted saying "Forza, Italy". It is not clear how Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boyko Borissov accepted the news, whose muscles in the past Berlusconi used to measure by hands at EU summits. Borissov is also a follower of Berlusconi's policy of gaining command of everything that can be gained command of in a country, but unlike Berlusconi and Orban, Borissov can boast sound public finances.

And although Monti's withdrawal to be causing panic, Jonas Parello-Plesner, an analyst with the European Council on Foreign Relations, says for Judy Dempsey from Carnegie Europe that in the end of the day Monti had made a reasonable thing with his decision to resign to open way for elections and to restore confidence in the Italian and European democracy. Monti, as any other European leader, could be a bearer of the right decisions for the crisis but if he does not have the people's support he does not have long-term legitimacy. "We can’t insert an EU commissioner in every European country instead of elected politicians, however enticing it might be to some technocrats", the analyst said and concluded: "European democracies, including the Italian one, aren’t governed by markets and bond spreads, but by people. Otherwise, we might save the euro’s value but corrode the real pillar of European values which is our political system".

But the problem is different, as a Bill Emmot, a journalist with The Economist, writes in an article published in La Stampa. As his article is very thorough and warns that Italy is not the only one, as we in Bulgaria know very well, we recommend that you read it:

Italy is in a coma

If someone had told me, a dozen years ago, that by now I would be writing and thinking, and even making a film, not about Japan, China or my other old topics but instead about Italy, I might have wondered whether they were smoking illegal substances. But as I think about it now, and as I think too about how crucial will be Italy’s imminent general election, the way I have spent my past several years isn’t surprising at all. The reason is not just those two infamous words, Silvio and Berlusconi. It is because Italy is central to many of the things that have long worried me about the future of the West.

I first became passionate about Italy because, yes, of Silvio Berlusconi. We at The Economist declared him “unfit to lead Italy” on our cover in April 2001 for reasons of principle, not anything to do with the sort of sex scandals for which he later became notorious in Britain and America. The principles involved were about the right relationship in a democracy between private, capitalist power and government—they should be kept as separate as possible, just as a football referee must be independent from the teams—and about the importance of the rule of law.

We weren’t “for the Left”, and certainly weren’t communists, as Berlusconi said, even if I do look like Lenin, and we weren’t “against the Right” either. We were against the capture of the powers of government in a Western democracy by a single, huge private interest, and against the erosion by that interest of the rule of law. As Umberto Eco says in my film, we in other countries also have tycoons and concentrated media and powerful lobbies, so this was and still is a danger for Britain, America and many others too. [about the situation in Bulgaria you can read here]

That cover began my Italian journey, a journey enlivened by two libel cases from Berlusconi (both of which The Economist won), but then intensified by the knowledge I gradually absorbed about the nature of Italy’s problems, in all their forms—economic, political or moral. In the course of the journey I wrote one book for Italian readers—“Forza, Italia: Come ripartire dopo Berlusconi”—which I then expanded and revised for English readers as “Good Italy, Bad Italy”, while also making the film “Girlfriend in a Coma”. This process was fascinating and often fun, but also had two effects on me: it made me more pessimistic, and it made me even more worried about the sicknesses of the West.

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