This weekend Italians go to the polls to elect a new government (nothing new there you may think given the country has had more than 60 governments, albeit not all as a result of elections since the creation of modern republic from the ruins of Mussolini’s fascist dictatorship and the abolition of the monarchy at the end of World War II.)
Controversial is not really doing Mr Berlusconi – who is favourite to return to power this weekend – justice. A former cruise liner crooner who rose to be the country’s richest man, a TV mogul, owner of one of Europe’s top football teams and two times prime minister, Mr Berlusconi has also been persistently accused of corruption – though never convicted – and some of whose closest advisers have been found guilty of bribery as well as collusion with the mafia. Silvio Berlusconi, who’s also known as Il Cavaliere, stands out as a leading politician who also controls a large chunk of his country’s media. A situation which many other European countries would probably not accept and has led to suggestions that if Italy were not a member of the EU already, it may well have trouble being accepted as a member today.
Understanding the appeal of such a politician in modern Europe is what we will attempt on the programme.
But Italy has a wider importance to the rest of Europe too. It’s one of the largest countries in the EU and an economy which is in decline. It adopted the Euro at its inception, but its public finances are in such a state some Italians would like to abandon the currency, which could have a serious impact on the prestige of the new money. Italy also faces a dilemma – in some ways similar to that faced by France – of deciding whether to introduce liberal economic reforms at the risk of jeopardising a quality of life many in the rest of world envy.
In this election, both the main candidates, Mr Berlusconi and his centre-left challenger, Walter Veltroni, are promising reform. But there is doubt whether they can deliver on those promises and also whether the electorate is really going to decide on these issues when most observers agree this election will really be about one thing – whether or not to return Mr Berlusconi to office.
* Edited by Our Words in Resistance. Full version found at the given link
* Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight