Berlusconi names choice for prime minister if he wins Italian election

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani in line for nomination after Sunday’s poll

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi with European  Parliament president Antonio Tajani in Strasbourg in July 2017. Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi with European Parliament president Antonio Tajani in Strasbourg in July 2017. Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

 

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi said on Tuesday he planned to propose Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, as prime minister if his centre-right bloc wins Italy’s election on Sunday.

However, Mr Berlusconi said that Mr Tajani, who helped him found his Forza Italia party in 1994, had not yet given him a green light to announce the decision.

“Because of the very important role he fills, he has asked me to put forward his name only when he gives me the go-ahead,” Mr Berlusconi told Rai Radio, nonetheless leaving no doubt that his one-time spokesman would get the nod.

“Everyone can understand that he would be an excellent candidate because Italy doesn’t count for anything anymore in Europe or in the world. He would count an awful lot because he is the president of the European institution which is directly elected by European citizens.”

Mr Tajani declined to comment when asked in Brussels about Mr Berlusconi’s remarks. The 64-year-old has repeatedly visited Italy in recent weeks campaigning for the centre-right alliance and has not played down speculation that Mr Berlusconi would pick him.

Mr Berlusconi (81), has been prime minister four times, but is barred from holding public office until 2019 because of a 2013 tax fraud conviction.

His centre-right/far-right alliance, which also includes the anti-migrant Northern League and nationalist Brothers of Italy, has agreed that if it wins an absolute majority on Sunday, the party that takes the most votes can pick the next premier. The name must then be approved by the head of state Sergio Mattarella.

Loyal lieutenant

Before a poll blackout came into force on February 16th, surveys suggested the centre-right would win most seats but fall short of a governing majority. Polls also showed Forza Italia maintaining a steady lead over the Northern League.

Mr Tajani, has been one of Mr Berlusconi’s most loyal lieutenants, staying by his side when the veteran leader, engulfed by sex scandals, was forced to resign as prime minister in 2011 at the height of a sovereign debt crisis.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 1994 and has spent much of his political career in Brussels, becoming president of the EU assembly in January, 2017 when Martin Schulz left the job to return to national German politics.

His pro-European credentials mean he will not be welcomed with open arms by either the Northern League or Brothers of Italy, which are both Eurosceptical. The League in particular wants Italy to quit the euro currency as soon as is politically feasible.

By choosing Mr Tajani, Mr Berlusconi would send a calming message to EU allies and financial markets that any centre-right government would not be hostile to the European Union.

Mr Tajani has also looked to reassure moderates within Italy who might be alarmed by the far-right nature of Forza Italia’s closest allies, appearing in public twice this month with Pope Francis’s right-hand man, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

If the centre-right does not win a majority, many political analysts believe Forza Italia will split away from its partners and seek to build a coalition government with the ruling centre-left Democratic Party, although Mr Berlusconi has denied this. – Reuters