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Foreign Affairs

End of the Line for Berlusconi

Sorry for my absence; a combination of travel, seminars, misfortune (which I shall go into at another time), and shoddy internet access has kept writing at arms length from me. After a weekend visit to Ohio for the Ashbrook Dinner, I'm now settled for a while and ready to jump into things again!

In a sign that his citizens have finally had enough of his antics, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has lost several key votes in recent weeks. Berlusconi, still hosting "bunga bunga" parties despite the scandals surrounding him, saw his government defeated in local elections in Milan (northern Italy) and Naples (southern Italy) a few weeks ago, initially signifying widespread discontent. Now, several major referendums he backed were defeated by popular vote today-- including one granting government ministers exemption from being put on trial. They also rejected nuclear energy in Italy and opposed the privatization of water resources. In two weeks, the Italian Parliament will face a confidence vote-- and Berlusconi's party will likely be defeated. New elections will probably be held in the fall. Who will replace Berlusconi is difficult to place at this time; his conservative coalition is splitting between Umberto Bossi of the Northern League, who is demanding tax cuts, and the Berlusconi-approved Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti, who insists the nation cannot afford tax cuts at this time. Opposition Leader Pier Busani, with the support of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, is in a decent position to take charge.

The fall of Silvio Berlusconi has been an interesting one. The antics of the 74-year-old billionaire have long been accepted by the voting public, giving him the longest premiership in Italian history since Mussolini. Through sex scandals, accusations of corruption, bribery disasters, and the type of public embarrassments that would doom American politicians overnight, Berlusconi has gone on ruling with a wide grin on his face and a joke on the tip of his tongue. With his latest sex scandal, though, he has embarrassed his entire country and turned its politics into a joke. Buying into the false dreams of the Euro, Italy's stagnant economy has seen its public debt reach 120% of its GDP.

Though I find it hard to think that the joke and grin of Berlusconi will fade with his power. This is not a lean and hungry man, and seems to relish in his scandal-laden persona as it is. A new government will, though, have several important implications-- particularly in regards to the future of European integration and addressing the crises in North Africa. His potential successors merit a closer look for these issues.
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