Monday, July 26, 2010

As I recall, by 1995 the received wisdom in anti-mafia circles (eg Pino Arlacchi, Leoluca Orlando, the Milan Pool) was that the high profile killings of Falcone and Borsellino and the unmasking of Andreotti as the Sicilian Mafia's reference point in Rome following Salvo Lima's assassination (and the decline of his tendenza in the shortly to implode Christian Democrat Party) was a strategic turning point. The Mafia had overreached itself and the resultant backlash meant that it would be obliged to renounce the periodic murder of public officials and its power to impose the pizzo would progressively diminish. Events like the arrest of Toto Riina after decades or latitanza suggested that this analysis might, after all, be true.
Alas, it would seem that such optimism was misplaced. Indeed, to be fair Arlacchi cautioned against premature optimism the last time I saw him. And reports after Berlusconi first came to power that Forza Italia aimed to assume the vacant role of political reference point in Rome for the Mafia's interests, reports that pointed out that Mafia money built Milano Due and Berlusconi's gardener (Mangano) was a mafioso, all suggested that Il Gattopardo would again be proved right, that everything would change in order that everything should remain the same.
The latest wire tap law would appear to show that schizophrenia about the mafia is alive and well in Italy and currently living in the Palazzo Chigi.
David (Colvin)
On Fini: Comparing Fini to Berlinguer is a bit of a heresy. But that's just my opinion.

On Casini: he clearly stated he doesn't want to be part of the maggioranza. Do you think he might change his mind? Isn't the PdL and the Lega enough to govern?

On the "end" of the Berlusconi era: Is it really that over? I don't know if the government might actually fall (I remember in the years 2001-2006 we went close to it many times, but unfortunately it never really happened), but what shocks me the most is that what is happening now in the Parliament is definitely worse than the whole Mani Pulite scandal. I am referring not only to the illegality issues and the Borsellino case you mention, but also the scandal on the apartments. Yet, people are not responding to it. Sure, I was too young to either participate or remember people throwing coins to Craxi and yelling at him "would you like these as well???", but from what I have heard, read, and imagined, it seemed like those years were of actual revolution. Now, everyone is upset, but no one is doing much about it. A revolution is " a fundamental change in political organization; especially: the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed". Since the people are not protesting that much, and demanding new election, but rather there is a small little tiny chance that the government might change to a transitional one with Tremonti (e anche su di lui ce ne sarebbero da dire parecchie) and Draghi, well as an Italian I just cannot believe that THIS is a period of political change. Either way, FINGERS CROSSED!!!
Alessandro Batazzi
Granata, in addition to being a Fini group MP, is deputy chief of the Parliament Anti-Mafia Commission. In this capacity Granata also protested that official police protection for the super-grass, Gaspare Spatuzza, who has given evidence in three ongoing trials (Palermo, Caltanissetta, Florence) has just been eliminated, endangering the life of this crucial witness.
Judy Harris
“Maybe this time…”
Even in these dog days of July there is febrile concern about the stability of the government and by implication the political architecture of the last 16 years. If Berlusconi goes as prime minister, the argument goes, Berlusconi-ism will collapse too and maybe this time, Italy will have sound government. There is talk of a “transitional government” even by right wing papers like Il Tempo which last week carried a front page article comparing the virtues of economics minister Giulio Tremonti and Bank of Italy president, Mario Draghi as possible successors.
Berlusconi’s most faithful mastiff, the editor of Il Giornale, one of the family papers, Vittorio Feltri also reckons that the government has a short best-by date on it though he is looking at a reshuffle in which Berlusconi re-establishes complete control over the party by getting rid of Fini and his people and maybe bringing in Pierferdinando Casini’s post-Christian Democrat UDC.
The Fini opposition has become more vocal as the suggestion grows that parts of the government had a hand in the murder of the anti-mafia judge Paolo Borsellino in 1992. One of the supergrasses maintains that the foundation of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia was the result of negotiations with Provenzano and Riina’s mafia. Last week in Palermo, the Finiano deputy, Fabio Granata said that “there are parts of the government who are obstructing investigations on the Via D’Amelio attack” (where Borsellino and his escorts were killed). Rather than being asked to expand, Granata risks being disciplined by his own party and maybe expelled. Fini himself has repeatedly address the problem of “legality” and is being compared to the Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer who raised the issue of “the moral question” in the ‘70s.
The Popolo della Libertà is beginning to look like Blair’s early New Labour where everyone was supposed to be “on message”. With Blair before ’97 it was a question of winning the election but today despite his huge majority in parliament, Berlusconi brooks no internal opposition and considers any criticism a form of lèse majesté.
Certainly the structure is creaking very audibly. The two bills which have to pass before the recess are creating serious fissures in the country. The austerity measure is before Parliament this week and the intercept bill might get through the Chamber before deputies go to the seaside. I looked at them a fortnight ago and will have another go when the huffing and puffing is over (if one article of the intercept bill passes, then I might have to stop this blog – but more on that later, if it passes). Denis Verdini, the PdL coordinator and others accused of being part of the secret lobby dubbed “P3” might have to step down following the stream of resignations over the last few months. The opposition Il Fatto talks openly of “the last days of Berlusconi”.
But Fini’s supporters are not enough to bring the government down; Berlusconi is reported to have said that “Fini can fight a guerriglia war but not a pitched battle” and he is right. The bills will most likely be passed with votes of confidence which the courtier-parliamentarians cannot betray. And even if Verdini’s head rolls, the boss (or “sultan” as he is now frequently called) is still firmly in control of the party, parliament and a good part of the media so his time has probably not yet come.
Italy, though, seems to have physiological cycles and we are definitely coming to the end of one, if only because of Berlusconi’s age.
Over the 20th century, Italy has gone through something approaching a cultural and political revolution every generation or every 20 or so years. There have always been internal reasons for the revolutions but the external stimuli have usually been a major international event which triggered the internal change. Each time, the revolutionaries felt they were refounding Italy and presumed that “maybe this time” the country would realise its true potential, morally, politically and economically. All countries change, especially under the pressure of war or massive economic change; Italy’s changes have almost never been reforms, they have been revolutions with millenarist and utopian plans. Like Sally Bowles in “Cabaret”, they sing “Maybe this time” and like Sally Bowles, it always turns out to be the wrong man.
The first world war destroyed most of Italy’s economy and much of its social cohesion; even though Italy came out of the war on the winning side and with increased territory, the result was presented as “the mutilated victory”. There was serious social strife for four years until Mussolini took over with the promise of renewing the country and giving Italy its rightful position in the world.
Twenty three years later, Italy was politically, militarily and economically bankrupt and once again seriously divided. The anti-fascist resistance provided the necessary underpinning to support the new Italy. The new Italy was a republic and a democracy and would realise all the dreams of those who had fought fascism and nazism.
In 1968-69, the pressures were hardly as violent as in 1918 or 1945 and the devastation was obviously minimal compared to the world wars, but the hopes of the “sessantottini” were hardly less than in the previous changes. The trigger was France’s ’68 and the US anti-war movement but the underlying reasons were a profound dissatisfaction by large sections of mostly young, mostly left-wing Italians in the clientelistic, spoils sharing Christian Democrat and Socialist governments. They also wanted to share in the social freedoms that the rest of western Europe were developing.
The most recent revolution in 1991-94 cost even less blood (in Italy at least); this one was triggered externally by the fall of the Berlin wall which removed the institutional prejudice against the Communist Party. For the first time in 40 years, Italian government could alternate between left and right. The USSR and the PCI no longer existed so a non-communist left could form and even take power. Internally, Italy’s major debt had to be faced if Italy was to join the single European currency. That debt had been greatly increased by the massive corruption which marked the previous decade. The tangentopoli and mani pulite prosecutions were the opportunity for Italians to rebel and this time, they felt that they could have another start, a clean beginning. Instead, the result was Berlusconi who has dominated the past decade and a half both in power and opposition and certainly not under the aegis of legality.
Today we are moving probably slowly, towards some sort of endgame but it is far from clear what the trigger will be or what sort of utopian dream will come out of the collapse.

The second half of this blog come from a paper I gave at the Political Science Association in Edinburgh in March; anyone who wants to see more, should go to "Dogs that bark in the night" Section 4. I would also like to thank Umut Korkut, Jim Newell, Maurizio Carbone and the other colleagues who made very useful comments then.
Comments are welcome; please let me know if they may be posted on the blog and whether they should be with or without attribution; do let me know if you do not want to receive the blog and let me know of others who do want to receive it.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thank you for pointing out the irony of the Berlusconi government's boasting of its successes in arresting the foot soldiers of the Mafia even as so many of his party leaders and even members of the government are either under indictment or, like Senator Dell'Utri, convicted of Mafia association, a crime introduced into Italian legislation under pressure from the U.S. Incidentally, whereas Chamber of Deputies president Gianfranco Fini agreed to attend today's commemoration of the slain magistrate Paolo Borsellino in Palermo, Berlusconi's Justice Minister Angelino Alfano declined.
Judy Harris

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It seems like yesterday (in fact seventeen years ago) that we were passionately discussing the irruption on to the Italian political scene of Silvio 'Par Condicio' Mediaset and his lovelies. Not in my wildest dreams would I have predicted that a decade and a half later he would still be around, media empire intact, his mani demonstrably sporchi yet still making the political weather. He has seen most if not all his many enemies off. What a bravura performance. The man is indestructible; even a carefully aimed model of the Milan Duomo served to boost his popularity rather than shatter his image. While his virility seems not to have flagged, quite the contrary. I imagine that he commands good odds on succeeding Napolitano as President of the Republic.
All of which makes me feel deeply disillusioned about the Italian political scene and any lingering or residual pretensions to understand it. Against this background, your blog arrives like manna to a starving man. I look forward to many more - and to seeing you in Rome one of these days.
David Colvin

Monday, July 19, 2010

Schizophrenia about mafia
At the same time as the prime minister says that he is defeating mafia and is actually arresting hundreds and confiscating millions of eurosworth of property, one of his senators calls a mafioso a hero and a minister is indicted for links with the camorra. Evidence emerges that government and mafia were negotiating even as the mafia committed its most spectacular murder, of Giovanni Falcone in 1992. Is all this schizophrenia?
In his third term as prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi has turned his focus on one of Italy’s most intractable problems – organised crime. In his speeches from 2000 to 2006, he used the word mafia only fourteen times, eight of which were metaphorical; it was not an issue high on his agenda. Since his re-election, he and his ministers have come hammered away on what they reckon are the government’s success in fighting mafia. In March, Berlusconi went as far as to declare confidently that “In three years, we will defeat mafia, camorra and ndrangheta”. Some claim. He repeated the promise last week retreating slightly from “will defeat” to “it is a priority” but never shy of superlatives, he said that “no other government has done better than us”.
The Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni has been less improbable in his statements but he has said that the techniques used against the camorra are a “model of excellence” and can be used against the other groups. He claimed government credit for arresting 300 members of the ndrangheta in Calabria and Lombardy last week and the following day for launching a government agency to manage goods confiscated from organised crime.
There is no doubt that organised crime is one of Italy’s biggest issues, one which affects citizens’ security, the growth of the economy and even the state’s own role in controlling territory. In four regions, the mafia in Sicily, the ‘ndrangheta in Calabria, the camorra in Campania and the Sacred United Crown in Apulia, organised crime conditions public order, politics and the economy. They have powerful influence in other regions, particularly around Rome in Latium and around Milan in Lombardy. Although there are major differences in the structures and methods of the four groups, they all have a number of features in common.
Long before MBA students were being taught to “think glocal”, the gangsters were doing it. They acted locally and thought globally and have now honed that business model very effectively. The local element is the protection racket which allows each group to control territory socially and economically; it also means that they have to develop mutually beneficial links with local politics. Extortion generates some cash but is not the biggest source of income. At the same time they have developed national and international links providing legal and illegal goods and services. Recent estimates reckon that the four together have a turnover of €90-100 bn. or 6-7.5% gdp. Bank of Italy governor, Mario Draghi has argued that organised crime not only stifles economic development but has accentuated the effects of the crisis in the south.
So there is every reason to fight organised crime strenuously and the ndrangheta arrests and camorra confiscations are certainly positive steps, but despite these undoubted successes, there is an irony in Berlusconi’s boasts.
This week will see a bitter parliamentary battle over a government bill limiting the use of telephone taps. The bill is strongly opposed by both police and magistrates as a serious impediment to investigations. One of the Calabrians arrested last week complained that their biggest fear was the phone tap and the last mafia chief arrested, Bernardo Provenzano famously only used pizzini, notes on paper to avoid electronic surveillance. The bill is hardly a message of toughness on organised crime especially when resources to the law enforcement agencies are being cut in the austerity budget which is also before parliament.
Even more contradictory is the stream of evidence that far from being government’s antagonist, mafia, camorra and ndrangheta are government’s allies or at least very close to numbers of politicians at all levels.
The minister of justice, Angelino Alfano and the president of the Senate Renato Schifani started as lawyers in Palermo; it is worth remembering that Italian advocates are not surgically neutral QCs who happily jump from defence to prosecution. Years ago, Schifani was in partnership with two men who later went on to be convicted for mafia crimes. He sued the journalist who broke this news and lost. Alfano too has been accused of social and possibly electoral connections with mafiosi.Neither Alfano nor Schifani though have been convicted or even indicted but political responsibility is not criminal responsibility.
Much more serious is the case of Marcello Dell’Utri, friend of Berlusconi’s for almost 50 years, business associate for 40 and political partner for 20. He has just been convicted on appeal to 7 years in gaol for external association with mafia. This was a reduction from the 9 years handed down by the court of first instance. Importantly, the Court of Appeal said that the links with mafia had stopped in 1992. Dell’Utri celebrated the reduction and his apparent cessation of links. He called Vittorio Mangano a “hero” because he had not turned state’s evidence. Mangano was the mafioso with whom Dell’Utri and Berlusconi had had most constant contact.
Quite apart from the criminal liability proven in court, there is once again, almost no consciousness of the political responsibility of maintaining a close working relationship with a convicted mafia killer. Berlusconi employed Mangano for two year as part of his household staff.
For the future, the undersecretary for the economy who resigned last week, Nicola Cosentino face trial for his links with the camorra. When he was appointed, his indictments were known.
For the past, there is mounting evidence that the mafia was closely involved in the foundation of Berlusconi’s party Forza Italia in 1992-94 (hence Dell’Utri’s celebration that the court had excluded any mafia association after 1992). Some mafiosi who have turned state’s evidence have already named Berlusconi and Forza Italia arguing that the bomb campain carried out by mafia at the time only stopped because a political arrangement had been reached.
The reconstruction of facts seems to work. The mafia’s old reference, Giulio Andreotti, was removed by killing his man in Palermo (Salvatore Lima March ’92) and Giovanni Falcone the day before Andreotti was due to be elected President (May ’92). Then Falcone’s close friend and colleague was killed (the anniversary is today 19 July). The mafia then moved out of Sicily and used terrorist tactics “on the continent”; bombs in Milan, Florence and Rome (May-July ’93). They put a bomb at a Rome football match in December but the detonator failed and they only called off a repeat because a deal had been struck with Forza Italia. The most significant source is Massimo Ciancimino, the son of Palermo’s most notorious mafia mayor, Vito. He obviously has his own agenda and is releasing his information with the care of a research chemist with a pipette. He has stated that Provenzano produced a list of twelve domands to a future collaborator; these included the abolition of a special tough anti-mafia law and a new Sicilian party. Some conditions were indeed accepted by both left and right wing government.
Whether Ciancimino’s evidence is accepted remains to be seen but the original sin of Berlusconi’s possible links with mafia is well documented. In the late ‘70s, early ‘80s, his holding companies received investments for billions of lire (one calculation by Marco Travaglio reckons it is the equivalent of €300m today). On a single day in April 1977, lire 8 bn. in cash (approx €30m today), according to a Bank of Italy inspector seconded to the Palermo court. Berlusconi has never explained the provenance of that and other investments. Given Dell’Utri’s mafia association ascertained by the Appeal Court and Berlusconi’s close relationship with Mangano, the suspicion must be that it was recycled mafia money. But we will almost certainly never know for sure.
There is a stark contrast between Berlusconi’s absurd claim that he would defeat mafia in three years and the dour existential hope expressed by Giovanni Falcone shortly before he was killed by Cosa Nostra “mafia is a human expression and like all human activities it has a beginning and will have an end”. Berlusconi’s claims would be comic if it were not for the dark side of his own and his close associates’ links with mafia. This is not schizophrenia – it is a desperate and tardy attempt to bury a past which will not go away.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Grumbling Hive
Three hundred years Bernard de Mandeville looked at English society and argued that its corruption was in fact beneficial; greed and self-interest generated public benefits according to Mandeville and the sub-title to his satire, The Grumbling Hive was Knaves turned honest.
At the moment, the hive that is Italy grumbles loudly despite the exceptional heat and the prospects of the imminent August break. There are even some indications of a knave or two being forced to turn honest. But there the comparison ends; far from producing public benefits, the corruption is more akin to a very present and very practical problem. It is like the Gulf oil spill – neverending, inchoate and polluting in ways which even hardened observers find difficult to manage and understand. And despite the continuous protestations by the authorities that everything is under control, the ugly mess spews out relentlessly.
Meanwhile, of course, life goes on. On Tuesday a group of University of Minnesota students asked me the two key questions that foreigners and Italians alike have been asking from more than 16 years: why is Berlusconi in power? And how long is he going to last? I will try and answer both, but first the week.
In April 2009, the L’Aquila earthquake provided Berlusconi with a perfect opportunity to show his real organisational qualities. The survivors were given shelter, food and clothing in a way which Italian emergency authorities had seldom done before. Apart from the immediate response, Berlusconi made great promises about rebuilding L’Aquila; he revelled in the media coverage and crowd adulation. He added the futuristic fireman’s helmet to his already wide repertory of headgear. With every visit, the Aquilani and the rest of the world were told that it was Berlusconi who was responsible for the reconstruction. A year and a half later, that concentration on one man as L’Aquila’s saviour has come back to haunt him. A highly critical documentary Draquila by Berlusconi’s best impersonator, Sabina Guzzanti is doing the rounds showing how incompetence, corruption and lack of direction are still the rule. The head of the Civil Protection authority, Guido Bertolaso, is under investigation for giving contracts to his friends and the Aquilani themselves are on the warpath. The tax exemptions which in other earthquakes went on for years until the economic fabric had been rebuilt, were stopped on 1st. July as part of the austerity package and the centre of L’Aquila is still a ghost town and likely to remain so. Last week saw 5,000 Aquilani demonstrating in Rome led by the mayor; because of Berlusconi’s personal involvement they went to his residence in Palazzo Grazioli as well as the Prime Minister’s office in Palazzo Chigi but were stopped by large numbers of police in riot gear. The images of earthquake victims bloodied by police preventing a demonstration in front of the PM’s home was not the sort of media coverage that Berlusconi expected from the earthquake.
The fight between Berlusconi and Chamber of Deputies President Gianfranco Fini twists and turns with Fini ably exploiting his agenda-setting position in the Chamber. An economics undersecretary and regional coordinator of Berlusconi and Fini’s party, the Popolo della Libertà, (PdL), Nicola Cosentino has been accused of links with the most violent camorra gang (the Casalesi) and of setting up a secret pressure group similar to the secret masonic lodge Propaganda 2 (or P2 – the new one has immediately been dubbed “P3”. The new group is alleged to include judges as well as politicians. Fini has not said anything about the merits of the Cosentino case but he challenged Berlusconi by allowing the opposition to table a no confidence motion on Cosentino for next week. His own deputies were threatening to vote with the opposition against Cosentino which would have made the PdL division very, very visible and numerical as well. Fini and Berlusconi were eyeball to eyeball and it was Berlusconi who blinked. Yesterday, Cosentino resigned as undersecretary.
The P3 story is still unclear but Berlusconi considers it dangerous enough to have called it a story about “four retired loosers” (quattro pensionati sfigati) and to return to his old anathema “Jacobins and justicists” meaning prosecutors and journalists who apply the law overzealously. The language is that of the early ‘90s and we seem poised for a re-run of the corruption trials which brought down the DC and PSI.
But much is very different. The government has a huge majority even if Fini’s people are wavering and for the moment at least there is little serious opposition either in Parliament or among the people.
The austerity budget will go through the Senate today with a vote of confidence (to stop the debate and prevent further amendments) and is due in the Chamber on 26th or 27th. The main opposition comes from the regional governments but they are divided both by party and north/south. The northern regions both left and right are unhappy to have to cut services when they think they have been thrifty but they will not bring the government down. Nor will Fini’s supporters.
The other major bone of contention is the intercept bill, now also criticised by the UN in Geneva’s human rights expert Frank La Rue. At the same time as the Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni was boasting of the government’s success in arresting Calabrian mafiosi, using phone taps, his own government is trying to limit intercepts. The senior antimafia investigator, Piero Grasso, pointed out sarcastically that “the mafiosi’s privacy has been violated”; I will look at Italy’s schizophrenia over organised crime next week.
Berlusconi has said he wants the bill through Parliament before the summer recess but with mounting opposition to it and Fini’s delaying tactics, this is unlikely. So this is another challenge put off.
So what did I tell the Minnesotans on the first question and them and others on the second?
Berlusconi was elected and stays in power first of all because he has succeeded in selling a dream and has been able to renew that dream constantly over the last 16 years. In the early days he played on an exaggerated fear of “communism” whatever that meant then and to a lesser extent he still does. His image endears him to large numbers of Italians who not only forgive him his crude jokes, his verbal and physical groping of young women and his plastic surgery but they admire him for it. And many admire him for his success even if it might be based on recycled mafia money (more on that next week too). And finally, and obviously, in a country where most people get their news from television news (not even the investigations and talk shows), Berlusconi’s control of five of the seven news programmes, as well as three newspapers, one news weekly and the country’s biggest publisher is crucial in presenting his message and reducing negative coverage.
For the second question, is he on his way out? Indeed there are cracks in his edifice; he has lost two ministers and an undersecretary in the last two months and the national party coordinator is wobbling. These are the “knaves turned honest”. Fini showed his power by forcing the Cosentino resignation but he is still a long way from making a bid for power. The Northern League are unhappy as Berlusconi makes overtures to the centrist UDC and cuts the regions’ spending power but again, they are not going to bring th house down. So the austerity package will pass but as always happens its effects will be muted in the (non) implementation. The intercept bill will probably not come to a vote before the recess but if does, there will be enough amendments for Fini’s people to accept the fudge.
All of which leaves B in power. Either god almighty or his physician have a better idea of when he will leave it – and I do not have contact with either. But the hive will continue to grumble.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Showdowns and curtains up (again)
After long silence, I am blogging once again; I hope for all the summer and beyond. There is much to talk about in Italian politics and the difficulty is to know where to start. The medium and longterm questions and analyses can wait until August when (perhaps) there will be less day-to-day drama. So the curtain of my new season goes up on what promises to be a very eventful week.
Berlusconi is back from his South American tour to face a mountain of immediate difficulties. It is going to be a tough week for him and his allies.
Some commentators talk of a possible government crisis but others like Gianfranco Pasquino argue that “Berlusconi wobbles but does not collapse”. Comparisons with the Roman empire abound but likening Berlusconi to Nero or Caligula is too easy; the crises are much more banal but at the same time much more serious. Like many contemporary prime ministers, Berlusconi is facing internal opposition which if not defeated or safely corraled, could bring the government down.
The loudest opposition comes from Gianfranco Fini, president of the Chamber of Deputies, leader of Forza Italia’s former ally Alleanza Nazionale and co-founder of the now single party, the Popolo della Libertà (PdL) and for almost 17 years, potential successor. Fini has always been his own man and has aimed at building a respectable and European Italian right and over the last year or so has made his disagreements with Berlusconi increasingly manifest. In April there was close to a public shouting match at a PdL executive meeting and there have been dozens of indirect clashes. Fini and his supporters argue that the PdL is stronger by having internal debates on topics like immigrant integration or federalism and devolution while Berlusconi wants the PdL to speak with a single voice and to avoid the eternal Italian problem of factions. On top of the genuine political differences, there are striking personal and character differences which add spice and colour to the story.
This week’s bone of contention is a bill to regulate telephone intercepts. The bill reduces police and magistrates’ powers to start and continue bugs; it also reduces media possibility to publish court proceedings and increases penalties for journalists and publishers who do publish. The opposition calls it “the gagging bill” and it has been criticised implicitly by US authorities from the ambassador to the organised crime investigators and explicitly by the OSCE. The government maintains that it safeguards the privacy of people under investigation. Berlusconi has evoked spectres of the Stasi saying that 7 million Italians “could be bugged” while his strongest and normally well-informed critic, the investigative journalist Marco Travaglio, says that “less than 20,000 are legally bugged”.
The bill covers a lot of ground from magistrates’ powers to freedom of the press and it could well be found to be unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court or President Napolitano might decide not to sign it. For his part Fini has merely said that the bill needs more thought and should be put off until September, after the summer recess. It is a not very subtle way of trying to kill the bill without a major clash which is why Berlusconi has insisted that the bill be debated and passed before the recess, possibly with a vote of confidence, the Italian version of the Westminster guillotine.
Berlusconi’s challenge is that Fini and his people stand up, vote and lose and that they then leave the PdL. In Berlusconi’s ideal scenario, Fini would then become an ex-pretender, his bolt well and truly shot.
Another major problem for the government though probably not going to come to a critical head this week, is the budget. The special austerity measure was unveiled almost two months ago when parts of it were even given an unoffical nod from the President. But apart from predictable criticism from the public service unions whose members will bear the brunt of the cuts, there has been concerted opposition from the regional governments including the centre-right ones whose support Berlusconi can ill-afford to lose. They too do not want to have to cut services and most dangerous for Berlusconi, the Northern League does not want to bring home the grand prize of federalism only to find that they have no money to implement it and have to raise regional taxes to maintain the same level of services. And while Berlusconi can just afford to lose Fini and maybe 25 deputies, he cannot lose the League deputies.
Then there are problems which are either minor or can be put off. There is a suggestion that a proposed constitutional amendment should give protection to ministers for alleged offences committed before they became ministers. The Alfano amendment already gives the prime minister immunity from prosecution while in office and the addition is drawing much flack. But that can wait.
What did not wait was the resignation of the latest cabinet minister, Berlusconi’s former employee, Aldo Brancher who blatantly used his new appointment to avoid turning up to his trial on the grounds that he was too busy with his new ministery. And this when his precise responsibility had not been defined. He went.
At the other end, Berlusconi has not replaced Scaloja, the minister who resigned in May because he discovered that “someone had paid for my house” (€900,000 btw). Berlusconi took over as interim minister for the ministry for Economic Development which regulates media licences and competition. For a man who has never known the meaning of “conflict of interests”, that too can wait.
For all the heralded high drama, the week is likely to end in the usual compromise as Fini has no desire to go out in a blaze of glory which is what a challenge would mean and Berlusconi himself has gone back on many of the most stringent cuts announced by his economics minister, Giulio Tremonti. Tremonti resigned once before and he might do so again; but better to lose a minister than the government.
So Berlusconi is weaker but he is still far from on the ropes.
Posted 5 July 2010

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