Berlusconi Back in the News

Michael Shin, co-author of Berlusconi’s Italy, considers the personal and professional affair(s) of the colorful Italian Prime Minister.

It has been over one year since Silvio Berlusconi’s victory in the 2008 elections. In this time Italy has been confronted with several pressing issues, some new and some old. From the devastating earthquake in L’Aquila and the trash crisis in Naples to the stagnant economy that is coupled with some of the lowest wages and lowest levels of growth in Europe, it appears that Italy continues to be the sick man of Europe in more ways than one.

Amid this turmoil and malaise, and in perhaps what is best characterized as a parallel universe, lives Mr. Berlusconi. More notable for his gaffes than governing during the past year, Berlusconi has most recently made headlines around the world for his wife’s very public demand for a divorce that in part stems from his allegedly “spicy” relationship with an aspiring eighteen year old model, Ms. Noemi Letizia.

How did Berlusconi get here (again)?

In very much the same way that he took power in the 2001 and 1994 elections. Berlusconi forged electoral pacts with the post-fascist National Alliance and regionalist Northern League, which in theory and in practice oppose each other on several grounds. Notwithstanding such differences, and due to an unexpected resurgence in support for the League across northern Italy and to the lack-luster offering put forth by the rival Democratic Party, Berlusconi emerged victorious. Italians wanted Berlusconi back despite his numerous conflicts of interest, an underwhelming track record, and criticism at home and from abroad.

It would be an overstatement to say that expectations both inside and outside of Italy for the new Berlusconi government were high after his victory. Berlusconi’s few political achievements of the last year, such as temporarily resolving the Neapolitan trash crisis and establishing a new party – the People of Freedom – with his electoral ally of the far-right, have been greatly overshadowed by his antics at the NATO summit, and most recently by questions surrounding his involvement with Ms. Letizia.

Whether or not Berlusconi’s latest personal affair (pun intended) will have broader political implications remains to be seen. Over the years Mr. Berlusconi has proven to be incredibly resilient and cannot easily be written off. That said, this is quite likely to be his last term in office. What will Italy look like after Berlusconi? Probably much the same as it does now, with the same social, economic and political problems. This will be Berlusconi’s legacy. So while the spotlight is currently focused on him, in the shadows is a post-Berlusconi Italy that may be difficult to see and to imagine, but that indeed merits further consideration.

For more infomation on John Agnew and Michael Shin’s Berlusconi’s Italy, visit:

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