Berlusconi accuses Berlin of bond swindle


What is sure to be a short, sharp and lively Italian election campaign has got off to a firecracker start.

Former prime minister and centre-right leader Silvio Berlusconi suggested yesterday that his government had been brought down 13 months ago because of a German-inspired bond spread “swindle”.

Speaking on Canale 5, one of his own TV channels, Mr Berlusconi said: “The spread is a total invention with which they tried to bring down the majority government of the country ... before nobody had ever heard of the spread. People have talked about it only in the last year ... stop going on about this swindle, what do we care about the interest rate levels on our bonds in relation to German bonds?”

Mr Berlusconi also claimed that the sharp rise in the Italo-German bond spread last autumn, which preceded his resignation, had been German-inspired. He claimed that Berlin ordered “all German banks to sell off Italian bonds, to the value of €8-9 billion”.

Mr Berlusconi was also critical of his successor, Mario Monti. Mr Monti is the man widely accredited with having stabilised the Italian economy in the last year. But Mr Berlusconi said that Mr Monti’s agenda had been dictated by Germany. “Unfortunately, the Monti government has engendered a crisis situation much worse than when we were in government. In our last months, GDP was growing but with this government it is getting smaller. All the economic indicators are worse than when we were in government.”

Mr Monti, who announced his forthcoming resignation last Saturday after Mr Berlusconi’s PDL party withdrew its support from his non-elected administration, was quick to reply. “In Italy and indeed in any election period, there is a tendency for people to go looking for votes on the basis of over-simplifications ... he [Berlusconi] should treat people like mature adults, not fools.”

Mr Monti said that it had been impossible to save Italy from financial collapse and “a Greek destiny”, while at the same time inspiring rapid growth. He also said he did not believe in “dark powers” who control market prices.

The outgoing PM may be tempted to throw in his lot with a centrist electoral list. But centre-left leader Pierluigi Bersani appeared on Monday to warn him against such a course of action, advising him to “stay out of the contest”.