The burden of Berlusconi

Photo credit: EuropeanPeoplesParty. As Italy celebrates its 150th birthday, the spectre of Berlusconi remains.

Photo credit: EuropeanPeoplesParty. As Italy celebrates its 150th birthday, the spectre of Berlusconi remains.

In the last ten years, Berlusconi has been elected three times and has ruled Italy without major interruption. In the 65 years Italy has been a republic, the citizens have endured 62 different governments. If nothing else, Berlusconi has set a precedent for stability.

In 1993, Berlusconi formed ‘Forza Italia’, a political party that led him to victory in the elections the following year. However, within seven months, Berlusconi lost the support of his close ally, due to alleged links to the Italian Mafia, and his cabinet fell apart.

In the years that followed, Berlusconi used his vast media empire to become a more prominent public figure and, in 2001, Berlusconi formed a new right wing coalition called ‘casa delle libertà’ (House of Freedoms) and ran an aggressive campaign that secured him the premiership for a second time. Berlusconi held power until 2006, when Romano Prodi carried won the election. However, Prodi’s time in office was plagued by government crises, and the right wing coalition was successful in returning Berlusconi to power in 2008.
Berlusconi’s 2008 election campaign laid out a series of objectives in its ‘sette missioni per il futuro dell’Italia’ (Seven Missions for the Future of Italy). This document offered a number of promises including boosting economic development, instituting federal reform, sustaining families, increasing security and justice, adding to public services, and setting into place a special public finance plan.

The Berlusconi government promised full employment and the availability of many long-term contract jobs. A recent ISTAT (Italian Institute for Statistics) report reveals that 28.6 per cent of young people are unemployed in Italy and the remaining 71.4 per cent are largely employed with short-term contracts.

In its promise to sustain families, the right wing coalition promised a reduction of the tax burden to under 40 per cent. However, a few weeks ago, the government approved a public budget package that will raise the tax burden to 42.7 per cent this year, 43.8 per cent in 2012 and 43.9 per cent in 2013. It is worth noting that Italy already has the third highest tax burden in the world according to the OECD, just after Sweden and Denmark.

In its effort to increase security and justice within Italy, the Berlusconi government has employed an interesting tactic. One of its promises included a guarantee to punish any person guilty of committing a crime and ensured that the punishment would be carried out lawfully and through the appropriate procedural methods, which is in accordance with the Italian Constitution statement: ‘La legge é ugaule per tutti’ (In front of the law, everybody is equal).

On the 8th of May 2008, Berlusconi was reelected to the position of Italian Prime Minister. By the 23rd of July 2008, the two chambers of Parliament approved a law (initially proposed by Berlusconi’s coalition), which made the four major political figures within government – the President, Prime Minister and Presidents of the Chambers – untouchable in the face of the law. The motion stated that these public figures would be free from criminal judgment during their tenure within their respective political posts.

As Italy celebrates its 150th year of statehood, one is left wondering what the Italian Republic actually represents. It is difficult to escape the sense that the Republic is a nominal entity, which transforms at the whim of those who can manage to wrangle power away from others and maintain it with a vice-like grip.

If the Italian state is forced to change at the impulses of its leaders to ensure their protection, what guarantees, if any, exist to ensure the safety and well being of its citizens?

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