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Berlusconi's government

Added on August 4, 2010 at 18:30 Roman time
The vote of no confidence against Giacomo Caliendo ended, as predicted, with a victory for Berlusconi's government (no: 299; yes: 229; abstentions: 75). The undersecretary in the ministry of Justice was not removed. As agreed yesterday, (most of) the members of Fini's FLi (33), Casini's UDC (39), Rutelli's API (8) and Lombardo's MPA (5) abstained from voting although, together with the center-left opposition, they could have inflicted Berlusconi's government a defeat. However, the end of the ruling coalition with its minority government has only been postponed until after the summer holidays. Early elections remain likely. Will the center and the left be able to build a credible alternative to Berlusconi? Otherwise, Italy's richest man with his many conflicts of interests will emerge from the polls as the old-new prime minister.

Before the vote, Berlusconi said that the Italian citizens had opted for a system with two political groups (bipolarismo) and were not ready to go back to the methods of the first republic. We are the moderates and there is no space next to us”, the Prime Minister added.


Article added on August 4, 2010 at 10:40 Roman time
Today, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's government may survive a vote of no-confidence against a junior minister in the Lower House (Camera dei deputati), but only two years after its electoral win, the days of the ruling coalition seem numbered.

O
n August 3, 2010 Pier Ferdinando Casini's UDC, Francesco Rutelli's API and [added on August 5, 2010: Raffaele Lambordo's] MPA party found common ground with Fini's breakaway faction to abstain in the no-confidence motion against Giacomo Caliendo, a state secretary in the Ministry of Justice accused of belonging to a secret organization (P3), allegedly created to fix judicial and political appointments. Incidentally, in the 1980s, Berlusconi himself was a member of the secret P2 masonic lodge.

This could be the beginning of the emergence of a centrist bloc or even a centrist party. With some 85 parliamentarians, the four new allies at the political center are still very far from the 316 votes needed to control the Lower House with its 630 members.

On August 3, another embarrassing
statement by a call girl against the Prime Minister was made public by the Roman newspaper La Repubblica. The escort Maria Teresa De Nicolo told investigators (already some time ago) that, in September 2008, she and two other prostitutes had a foursome with Silvio Berlusconi after a party at his Palazzo Grazioli in Rome and that she was paid 1000 Euro for the night. The “revelation” was made public yesterday to further weaken the already weak Prime Minister.

Maria Teresa De Nicolo was questioned in context with an investigation in a drugs and sex ring involving Giampaolo Tarantini. The
“businessman” from Bari is said to have sent prostitutes to Berlusconi in several occasions, for instance in November 2008. Already some time ago, one case was revealed by another escort, Patrizia D'Addario. The story is embarrassing for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who claims that he is no saint but has never paid for sex.

A few days ago, Prime Minister Berlusconi kicked his long time ally Gianfranco Fini out of the party they had co-founded in March 2009, People of Liberty (PDL). Sixteen years of collaboration came to an end. In 1994, Berlusconi had needed the post-Fascist Fini and his party to form his first government, whereas Fini had needed Berlusconi to enter the political mainstream. Earlier in 1994, the same Fini had called Mussolini “the greatest statesman of the 20th century”. Since then, Fini has moved to the center, revising his judgment about Mussolini and becoming a reasonable and respected political figure in Italy. He served as Berlusconi's Foreign Minister from 2004 to 2006.

Currently, Gianfranco Fini is the speaker of the Lower House. In this position, he had the power to schedule the vote of no-confidence for August 4. The demand came from the opposition. Fini himself is half-way into the opposition. Berlusconi did not formally kick him out of the Popolo della Libertà (PDL), which would not have been easy anyway. Instead, Berlusconi said that Fini's political positions were “totally incompatible with the spirit of the fundaments” of the PDL. The party's leadership supported the Prime Minister's position with 33 against 3 votes.


 

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Gianfranco Fini reacted by leaving the PDL and by creating his own political group, Futuro e Libertà (FLi). 33 members of the Lower House and 10 members of the Senate followed him, enough for the FLi to form political factions in both houses of parliament. As a result, Prime Minister Berlusconi lost his absolute majority in the Lower House (316 votes needed, 8 are now missing). In the Senate, the government still controls a majority.

After the breakup, Berlusconi wanted to force Fini to step down as speaker of the Lower House, but that is neither up to the Prime Minister nor the cabinet nor the PDL to decide, but the prerogative of the State President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano.

Fini does not want to be seen as a traitor within the political Right. Therefore, he said that, although he had left the ruling coalition, he would support the government as long as Berlusconi would stick to his electoral program of 2008, advocating economic and political reforms. Fini's argument for abstention in today's vote of no confidence was that, unlike other governmental figures who have already been forced to step down because of scandals (e.g. Cosentino), Caliendo was a good man. In reality, a successful vote of no confidence would have come too early and would not necessarily force Berlusconi to step down anyway. The abstention sends a warning signal to the ruling coalition and may attract additional parliamentarians (to Fini's group) eager to leave Berlusconi's sinking ship.

The present situation leaves Berlusconi at the mercy of Fini and his new group. The Prime Minister reacted by stating: “The path is narrow and at the first incident, we go to election”. As mentioned above, the Prime Minister cannot dissolve parliament, it's up to President Napolitano to call early elections.

The Government Berlusconi has to implement a 25 billion Euro austerity package, advance structural reforms and (in September) roll over 52 billion Euros of debt while Italy's gross debt as a percentage of GDP in 2010 is around 118%. Berlusconi cannot survive for long with a minority government. If he is ousted, he will lose his immunity and may have to face corruption, tax fraud and other charges.

Gianfranco Fini (*1952) is sixteen years younger than Silvio Berlusconi (*1936). He saw himself as the natural heir to Berlusconi. For the ambitious speaker of the Lower House, the split with his longtime ally comes too early. He could have waited for Berlusconi to retire or to die in order to take over the PDL. At present, he does not have the political strength to be the leader of a new coalition government. The opposition, the political left (mainly Pier Luigi Bersani's Democratic Party) and the centrist parties, are too weak and not united (yet). They will need time to find common ground.

 Sheet music by Giuseppe Verdi - Sheet music by Gioacchino Rossini.


 









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