Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Berlusconi’s Birthday not quite the OK Corral

For the last week or so, there has been growing tension over today’s debate on Berlusconi’s “Five Point Plan”. Will he, won’t he make it into a vote of confidence? (it is a vote of confidence). What sort of majority will he have? (No one doubts that he will win the vote). Will this really mean peace in the governing coalition and the possibility of facing some of Italy’s real problems?
The answer to the last question, unfortunately, has to be no. The vote is just another skirmish in the ongoing battle between Fini and Berlusconi, every bit as fascinating in personal and political terms as the Blair-Brown saga and much more drawn out and much more damaging for the country. Their partnership began in 1993 and is only now drawing slowly towards the endgame but there are still quite a few acts to follow.
After much speculation, Berlusconi has decided to make the motion into a vote of confidence forcing the Finiani to support him or take the responsibility of bringing the government down in the middle of a dire economic situation. The precise motion that Parliament will vote on in a few hours time has not been published nor discussed by the government coalition, nor even, according to a cabinet minister and Berlusconi spokesman, Sandro Bondi, last night, has it been discussed in the cabinet. We can be sure that the five points (economy, the south, federalism, justice, security) will be covered in very general terms which will allow the Finiani to vote it along with the other deputies who are the result of Berlusconi’s autumn shopping spree and have made his offers to them public (€10,000 a month to one, a junior ministry to another).
Fini shows a curious ambivalence; he talks tough but then pulls his punches. He and his supporters, particularly Italo Bocchino who has in practice become his spokesman, show an increasing contempt for Berlusconi politically and ethically and at the same time are prepared to support his government.
Over the weekend he apparently threw down the gauntlet in a Messaggero interview challenging Berlusconi with a serious accusation and fighting words: “what is happening now puts the whole democratic system at risk; this is a dark moment for democracy… we have a gunfight at the OK Corral, a fight to the last drop of blood”.
Earlier in the month he spoke for an hour and half at Mirabello near Ferrara attacking Berlusconi and the government in no uncertain terms. He accused the prime minister of using Stalinist techniques and told him to stop using Parliament like a supermarket full of his employees saying that it was not “an appendage of Palazzo Chigi” (the prime minister’s office).
The fighting words, though, have been balanced by an apparent willingness to compromise. He and his supporters have repeated that they are willing to vote a motion on their electoral manifesto and that they would even accept a constitutional amendment which would give the prime minister immunity from prosecution.
There is one Fini who is an intransigent man of stern moral fibre and adamantine principle and there is another prepared to compromise to save his position.
Fini’s ambivalence is understandable. He is vulnerable on various levels. He knows that he is not ready to fight an election with his own party especially if he is seen to have brought the government down. He also knows that when the election campaign starts, the going will get very rough for him. Already he has been put through the wringer for the last two months by the Berlusconi family newspapers (Il Giornale and the weekly Panorama) and supporting paper (Libero). It has been a similar campaign to the one waged against Dino Boffo, the editor of the bishops’ newspaper L’Avvenire, last year. Boffo had been mildly critical of Berlusconi’s lifestyle and was pilloried by Il Giornale for an harrassment charge (true) with an official document saying he was a known homosexual (false and Giornale’s editor subsequently apologised) but by then Boffo had by then resigned.
This time Libero and Giornale claim that a flat in Monte Carlo left to Alleanza Nazionale has in some way been misappropriated by Fini’s brother in law. It is a complicated story and if it comes back into focus with either criminal charges or proven sleaze, I will try and link the chain which goes from Rome to Monte Carlo with diversions to St. Lucia, Santo Domingo and cheap furniture on the ourskirts of Rome. So far, nothing criminal has been alleged let alone proved – there is certainly more than a whiff of sleaze and some incompetence. But so far nothing has been proved. Still, it forced Fini to make a statement in which once again he attacked Berlusconi but promised to resign as Speaker if it was shown that his brother in law was indeed the owner of the Monte Carlo flat
The three divisions between the two men remain; Fini argues that the Northern League is demanding too much power and is moving towards some sort of division of the contry. He supports the constitution and “legality” which he says Berlusconi is dismantling with his attempts to avoid going to trial and finally there is the personal antipathy, not enough to destroy a political alliance but no help when there are real political differences
He has supported Berlusconi for 16 years which makes a divorce on matters of principle very difficult since Fini supported the previous immunity laws.
Today is Berlusconi’s birthday, he will be able to celebrate it with a rousing majority from the Chamber but the real problems are still to come. In December the Constitutional Court will decide on the law which allows Berlusconi to avoid his trials. More importantly for the whole country are the economic problems which are not being faced. The minister for economic development has still not been filled after almost five months; unions and employers agree that unemployment and growth are priorities but nothing is being done. Today’s vote is only the beginning.

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