|Silvio Berlusconi and his
Italy and its prime minister since the elections of May 2001
Article added on July 1, 2003 (updated on July 2, 2003)
After the elections of May 2001, changes have occurred in the composition of the parliament, political parties and electoral unions. Some parties have merged, some members of parliament have changed parties and some died or left parliament. It should be noted that some senators are appointed for life. The electoral system is complicated and the final composition of the parliament was not clear for quite some time. Therefore, in the graphics below, the numbers in % reflect the electoral results as reported by the press after the elections. However, the number of seats reflect the changes in the composition of the parliament occurred since then and show the composition of the parliament as of December 2001. Only major electoral unions and parties are represented, e.g. Il Girasole, a part of L'Ulivo in May 2001, is not listed.
Chamber of Deputies/Camera
% as of May 2001; seats as of December 2001, in total 618.
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Silvio Berlusconi - a biography
Silvio Berlusconi was born on September 29, 1936. The son of a Milanese middle class family, his father was a bank clerk, studied law at the University of Milan, and wrote a thesis on advertising contracts. Berlusconi befriended Bettino Craxi who, in 1976, became the leader of the Socialist Party and Italy's prime minister in 1983. Craxi helped Berlusconi build his media empire.
Silvio Berlusconi has five children from two marriages. Marina and Piersilvio, both from his first marriage, manage parts of his family empire. Berlusconi has another three younger children from his second wife, former actress Veronica Lario.
Berlusconi started his career as a businessman in the 1960s. In 1975, he began to create his media empire Fininvest which now controls Italy's three main private TV channels. Mediaset owns Italia 1, Retequattro and Canale 5. Berlusconi also controls Publitalia, the leading advertising company, as well as Mondadori, Italy's biggest publishing house. Il Giornale, a national newspaper, and many magazines are part of the empire. The world famous football club AC Milan also belongs to Berlusconi. Banking, insurance and telecommunication are a few of Berlusconi's other business activities.
There may be a lot of fantapolitica, an Italian specialty of unfounded rumors spread in the media. Still, it remains unclear where parts of the money for building his economic empire came from.
His economic ascension was closely tied to the political career of the Socialist leader Bettino Craxi whose career ended in the widespread corruption scandal known as Tangentopoli, which involved an important part of the political, economic and legal establishment. It led to to the action called mani pulite (clean hands), started by Milanese judges in 1992.
As a reaction - not least to protect his economic empire - Berlusconi founded his own political party, Forza Italia (Let's Go Italy), in 1993. Almost out of nowhere, he became Italy's prime minister in 1994. He was forced to resign only seven months later after the populist leader Umberto Bossi of the Northern League left his coalition government. The irony is that Berlusconi successfully presented and presents himself as a new force whereas in reality he was part of the old corrupt system.
In 1996, Berlusconi lost the general election to a center-left coalition led by Romano Prodi, who later became President of the European Commission. In the elections of May 2001, Berlusconi regained the position of prime minister. July 1, 200 was no day for European democrats to be proud of since from that day on for half a year, Silvio Berlusconi will be President of the Council of the European Union.
There is much talk about Berlusconi's legal problems. However, if all accusations ever brought forward against Berlusconi (bribing politicians, tax evasion, money-laundering, etc.) were totally unfounded - which is not impossible but unlikely - there would still be major and even more important problems left which would leave him unfit for government.
Since Silvio Berlusconi is considered Italy's richest man, every day as prime minister he is confronted with conflicts of interest. Almost whatever he does, his multiple activities as an entrepreneur are involved. This situation is incompatible with the concept of democracy. Either Berlusconi should sell his companies and remain prime minister, or resign as prime minister and keep his economic empire.
But even if he resigns as prime minister, Berlusconi would still control almost the entire private TV sector, an intolerable situation in any democracy since television is today's main source of information for citizens, especially in Italy, where newspaper readers are relatively rare compared with other European countries.
Berlusconi's record as a lawmaker so far is also extremely irritating. With the help of the parliament - his coalition controls a majority in both houses - he pushed through a series of custom-made laws in order to protect his business interests. He successfully managed to avoid problems simply by changing the legal rules.
Not less embarrassing are Berlusconi's interventions in the affairs of RAI, Italy's public television company. In fact, he successfully pressured the company to fire several journalists who were critical of him.
Is Italy heading towards dictatorship? No, but Silvio Berlusconi has considerably lowered the moral and legal standards. Being both prime minister and entrepreneur as well as his actions in those positions are incompatible with the spirit of democracy. The EU, the Italian lawmakers and the Italian voters should react, and the sooner the better.
Berlusconi's cabinet 2001