In more than 40 years of public life, former centre-right prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has never been accused of hiding his light under a bushel. On Italian Radio 24 on Friday morning, the 77-year-old media tycoon served up another reminder of his lack of false modesty when he likened himself to Pope Francis.
Asked what he thought of the pope, Mr Berlusconi said: “Yes, I really like him, he acts as pope in exactly the way I would act [as pope]”.
“Does this mean that Francis is a good pope because he is like you?”, asked journalist Giovanni Minoli. “No, no, I am good because I resemble the pope”, responded Mr Berlusconi.
Although he has been expelled from the senate and banned from public office for six years in the wake of receiving a four-year conviction for tax fraud last year, Mr Berlusconi is currently conducting a vigorous European election campaign on behalf of his Forza Italia party. Friday morning's interview was just one of many TV and radio appearances by the media tycoon over the last two weeks as he attempts to recoup lost electoral ground.
In the last six years, his coalition’s vote has shrunk from 46 per cent in 2008 to 25per cent in 2013 with current opinion polls forecasting that Forza Italia will return less than 20 per cent at these European elections. Asked if he would resign if Forza Italia claimed less than 20 per cent, he said that he would remain on with his party no matter what the result was at the end of this month.
It is indicative, however, that Mr Berlusconi has concentrated much of his election "firepower" not on the current coalition government prime minister, Matteo Renzi of the leftist Democratic Party (PD), but rather on Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Star Movement (M5S) protest movement. Many commentators argue that the M5S will not only overtake Forza Italia but t could well claim a protest vote of plus 30 per cent to finish second to the PDs.
In his interview, Mr Berlusconi again called Mr Grillo "a danger for Italy because he is an aspiring dictator". Last week, he compared the M5S leader to Adolf Hitler.
For much of this week, Mr Berlusconi has also been greatly concerned by revelations made by former US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, suggesting [he claims] that he was forced out of office in November 2011 at the height of the euro zone crisis as a result of a "plot". In a book released this week, Mr Geithner relates how unnamed EU "officials" had approached the US government with a project to force Mr Berlusconi to resign.
Responding to calls from Forza Italia for a parliamentary commission of inquiry, the Renzi government t said that it would be taking no action whatsoever since “this whole affair seems to us to be much more a literary issue than an historical one”.
Ironically, whilst Mr Berlusconi’s pre-recorded interview was being broadcast, he was spending his second morning of community service at the Sacra Famiglia di Cesano Boscone old people’s home, outside Milan. Mr Berlusconi is serving out his one-year sentence by doing four hours per week of community service at the home, where many of the residents have Alzheimer’s disease.