Silvio still willing to deliver the Italians from German plots


Remember that EU summit news conference in October 2011, the one where German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Nicolas Sarkozy exchanged sneaky smiles at the very mention of the name of the then Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi? Most of us concluded that their sardonic sniggers represented a loud vote of no confidence in Berlusconi’s ability to handle Italy’s ailing economy.

Within a month, such was the Italian financial crisis that Berlusconi was forced to resign, to be replaced by technocrat Mario Monti. Or that is what we all thought.

As he travels from television studio to television studio in a whirlwind general election campaign of quite remarkable energy for a 76-year-old, Berlusconi has been setting the record straight.

“Those sniggers came about because of my resistance to Germany imposing its will and its own interests,” he said this week. “I wasn’t there to win the sympathy of Merkel and Sarkozy, I was there to defend the interests of Italy…” he told state broadcaster RAI on Wednesday, in the course of two-hour programme that was more soliloquy than interview.

“It is wrong to say that I was isolated [in Brussels]. I was the one who understood most about financial and economic matters, all the others [leaders] were either professional politicians or ex-trade unionists. I was highly regarded by everyone . . .”

As he burns up the airwaves, the irascible Berlusconi has been doing what he does best, namely selling product Berlusconi. He remains, he says, the leader who in eight years in office “kept the national accounts in order”.

The suggestion that he resigned in November 2011 because the situation was fast getting out of control is wrong. No, he was the victim of a German-inspired plot which involved selling off German-controlled, Italian government bonds in order to create a “financial fever” that brought him down.

Will Italians now turn to him, “someone who has achieved all the targets he set himself as an entrepreneur, someone who has always kept the national finances in order” or do they want to trust all those professional “blatherers” (his word for his political opponents)?

To Berlusconi himself at least the answer is obvious, and that is why he has proposed himself as economics minister with his party secretary, Angelino Alfano, as prime minister.

Safe hands

It is a question of safe hands for a key ministry. Despite what his critics say, the former prime minister added, he is a politician who has kept all his electoral promises. No doubt, he will keep them this time, too, especially those to abolish property tax, reduce income tax and initiate a scheme whereby for five years newly hired workers would not be taxed at all.

When one experienced presenter earlier this week dared to ask him about his multi-faceted judicial problems, about his divorce settlement and about his recent prosecution for tax evasion, he told the presenter, Lily Gruber, that her style of interviewing did her a disservice.

You are making accusations against me, not asking me questions, he said, clearly little pleased.

As for that €36 million divorce settlement, well the judges were all women, “feminists and on the left”, he said, so what would one expect?

All this might seem like election-losing stuff and it is true, Silvio Berlusconi seems guaranteed to lose the election, but polls already credit him with a 25 per cent centre-right vote, enough to prove quite a spoiler in the next parliament.