Italy. Italy was at the beginning of the year in the midst of an electoral movement, following the resignation of Mario Monti’s crisis government in December 2012 after losing the support of Silvio Berlusconi’s Party of the People of Freedom (PDL).
Monti’s expert government had then ruled Italy for over a year, after the economics professor and former EU commissioner had been called in by the country’s president to replace Silvio Berlusconi as prime minister. Berlusconi was forced to step aside since the financial market’s confidence in Italy had bottomed out and the outside world demanded disastrously high interest rates on credit to the country – Italy.
Monti and his crisis government succeeded in strengthening the financial market’s confidence in Italy, and it was assumed that the government would remain at least until the parliamentary elections expected in April. But after Berlusconi surprisingly pulled away the mat, fresh elections were forced, which in turn threw Italy into a deep political crisis.
The results of the February 24 and 25 elections clearly showed the Italians’ lack of confidence in the two blocs that had alternately ruled the country over the past 20 years: the Social Democrats (Democratic Party – PD) and Berlusconi’s right-wing party (Freedom People – PDL). The third party in magnitude became the comedian Beppe Grillo’s relatively newly formed upstart Five Star Movement (M5S – Movimento 5 Stelle), which among other things wants to clean houses with the privileges of parliamentarians. The movement also rejects traditional party politics and communicates with voters on social media.
Beppe Grillo’s entry into the political scene had the immediate effect that the election had no winner. The two major parties each received nearly 30% of the vote, while Grillo’s newcomer sensationally combed home a full 25%. According to a 2005 election law established by Berlusconi and his government to strengthen their own power, the winner of the election automatically gets 55% of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. This meant that the Democratic Party with a hair loss of a few percentage points when got a clear majority in the second chamber, but that no party gained a majority in the Senate. Since both chambers of Parliament have the same power to legislate, a functioning government must have support in both, and the deadlock was therefore a fact.
The then Democratic Party leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, sent in vain to Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. The result of the failed attempts was that the government issue was unresolved in mid-April, when Parliament was faced with its task of electing a new head of state.
Highly respected 87-year-old Giorgio Napolitano had spent seven years in the nation’s highest office and was seen as a guarantor of chaos, despite the head of state’s formally limited political power.
It would turn out that Giorgio Napolitano once again had to save the country’s reputation after the politicians’ shortcomings. The President of Italy is elected by Parliament’s two chambers in pleno and a certain number of representatives of the country’s regions. Despite the closed vote, there was no doubt that many in the Democratic Party had voted for two of their own party leadership candidates – including former Prime Minister Romano Prodi.
The Democratic Party’s double-overturned leader, Pier Luigi Bersani, declared without hesitation that he intended to resign with immediate effect as soon as a new head of state was appointed. However, there were no more swift and embarrassing votes in Parliament.
The attempt to elect a new head of state ended with the two political camps’ party leaders, Pier Luigi Bersani and Silvio Berlusconi, together going to the presidential palace in Rome and pleading with 87-year-old Giorgio Napolitano to stay in office. The president accepted on one condition: that the two party leaders made sure to break the deadlock that prevented the formation of a new government.
As a result, a unifying government was formed between the people of Berlusconi’s Freedom and the Democratic Party, led by Enrico Letta, a 46-year-old from the latter’s Catholic center. Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior also became Berlusconi’s closest associate, Angelino Alfano, who, like Letta, has a Catholic background and was in the right-wing party’s midfield.
The co-government between the two former opponents, of course, strengthened Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Movement in the belief that all politicians are of the same scrap and grain, serving only their own purposes. Undoubtedly, the movement shares its political contempt with a large number of Italians, but that feeling may not be enough to give Beppe Grillo’s movement renewed success. After the February election, when the movement’s 163 newly-elected novices took their seats in parliament, the mass media coverage of the unconventional anti-politicians was great, but interest diminished in line with the news’s pleasures, and there were signs that some of the movement’s parliamentarians had tired of its despotic leader Beppe Grillo. With the coalition between the two largest parties, the Five Star Movement’s waveguide role also went for nothing.
At the same time as the Unification Government was stumbling on without Silvio Berlusconi’s direct involvement, he himself, during the summer, stood in the eye of his judicial business. At the end of June, the verdict initially fell in the so-called Ruby case, where Berlusconi was sentenced to seven years in prison for having paid a minor prostitute and for abuse of power. According to Italian law, sexual intercourse is prohibited with prostitutes who have not reached the age of 18, as was the case with then 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug, called Ruby, when she was hanging out with Silvio Berlusconi. But that the punishment became so severe was due to the second charge, abuse of power. Berlusconi, as prime minister, must have called the detention center in Milan, where Karima El Mahroug was suspected of theft, and exerted so much pressure that she was released.
Berlusconi’s trials had been a constant threat to the fragile unity government, but the Ruby verdict, despite the spectacular elements, remained no major issue in the political debate. Since the case had only reached the first instance, years of appeals could remain before the trial reaches the Supreme Court and a final decision.
However, the verdict that fell on August 1 in the Supreme Court in Milan came to have a strong political explosive force. Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced there to four years in prison for extensive organized tax violations within his own company group Mediaset. It was the first time, after decades of trial, that a judgment against Berlusconi had reached the Supreme Court and gained legal force. In accordance with a general amnesty, which was added to relieve the pressure in the prisons, the sentence was automatically converted to one year. However, Berlusconi will not be put behind the lock and boom but may serve his sentence under house arrest or by performing community service. Berlusconi is likely to choose the latter when, sometime in 2014, he is expected to serve his sentence. Many organizations immediately queued up to welcome the ill-judged criminal as co-workers.
The political explosive in the verdict lay in a law that the Italian parliament introduced as late as 2012 and which says that a person sentenced to prison for at least two years should lose his place in parliament. The same happened in late November, when the Italian Senate voted to exclude Senator Silvio Berlusconi. Prior to the dramatic vote, Berlusconi had been pressuring his party friends in the Assembly government throughout the fall to get them to influence the outcome of the Senate’s decision. Above all, Berlusconi was lying to his closest man in the PDL party, Angelino Alfano, as well as Deputy Prime Minister. However, it would appear that Berlusconi’s inability to separate his own destiny from the state no longer worked.
When Silvio Berlusconi gathered in mid-November for a meeting to change party names from PDL (People of Freedom) to the original, Forza Italia, and give his party a supposed new start, 56 parliamentarians from the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies failed to form their own party, in haste. called the New Right Center. The pigeons were separated from the hawks. Foremost among the jumpers was Berlusconi’s former right-hand man, Angelino Alfano. He was joined by all of Berlusconi’s five ministers in the government, which meant that Berlusconi’s new party Forza Italia from that moment on became an opposition party.
In addition to the political forks, during the autumn the government’s budget work went on. The 2014 draft budget was subject to a warning from the European Commission, including referred to Italy’s high government debt, which remained above 120% of GDP. Italian commentators had pointed out that the budget was characterized by great caution, much depending on the conditions of the co-government, where the views on taxes and spending differ.
The unity government under center-left politician Enrico Letta was sure to judge by the right when the ministers in the right-middle flank could no longer be squeezed by their former leader. Berlusconi, in turn, led a Forza Italia that did not have the numeracy to topple the government even if it seemed unlikely that the party would ally itself with the biggest opposition party, Beppe Grillo’s anti-political Five Star Movement.
Prime Minister Enrico Letta has declared that his goal is to remain in 2015. When the next general elections are held in Italy, it is already clear that it will not be Letta who becomes the Democratic Party’s prime ministerial candidate but the party’s new star, Matteo Renzi, who was elected in December to party leaders.
Renzi, who is now mayor of Florence, is 38 years his youth in Italian political contexts. Considering that he is a modern pragmatic leftist who has thrown away the ideological baggage, he has been called Italy’s response to Tony Blair and is believed to be able to broaden voter support for the Democrats.
Italy’s political map is once again about to be redrawn.