Robert Harneis-TDO- (FRANCE) Despite years of ‘bunga’ sex scandals and corruption allegations, former Italian Prime Minister and Forza Italia party leader Silvio Berlusconi was set for a remarkable political comeback on Monday, as his Centre-Right coalition swept to victory in elections in Sicily.
The center-Right’s candidate for governor of Sicily, backed by a coalition consisting of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, the anti-immigration Northern League and a third Right-wing party, Brothers of Italy, won 39% of the vote on the island.
In second place was the anti-establishment Five Star Movement with 35%, followed by the Democratic Party of former premier Matteo Renzi, with a humiliating 19% of the vote.
The regional elections are seen as an important barometer of Italians’ voting intentions, as the country heads to a national election which is expected to be held in the Spring. This in turn has major implications for the European Union of which Berlusconi has become a sever critic. He is aware of the exasperation in the country after years of low growth, high unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, combined with growing job insecurity. ‘There’s an old saying about politics in Italy – whoever wins in Sicily and Lombardy will win in the rest of the country,’ commented Paolo Romani, an MP from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
In August this year Berlusconi upset the Italian bond markets when he challenged the continued use of the Euro by Italy and fixed exchange rates between members. ‘All the major countries, the United States, Britain, the Russian Federation, China and Japan have fought the financial crisis by printing money. It is what we should be doing as well,’ he told the newspaper Libero, pointing to the complete absence of inflation. He said ‘the idea of two currencies, one national for internal transactions and a common currency for international transactions, relates to a similar practice that we followed in the 1980s and 1990s with the Lira and the Ecu’.
He said that this second currency could serve as the variable ‘to restart consumption and demand, which are the fundamental levers for sustainable and lasting growth for the country’. He also claimed that the idea was compatible with the European treaties.
He concluded, clearly referring to himself, ‘obviously, we could only obtain this result, with the ability to negotiate that only a credible leader with considerable international experience and sound relations with our European partners can have.’
It is particularly ominous for the EU that these views come not from the extreme right or from some party outside the political mainstream but from a man who ruled Italy at the head of a main stream coalition for a total of nine years. Italy has already forced the European Union to bend the rules on bank rescues.
Berlusconi was triumphant at the result, attributing the success of the center-Right coalition to the appearances he made in Sicily prior to voting. But it is clear that immigration concerns played a part in the result in an island, which has seen hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees rescued in the Mediterranean and brought to Sicily
The former Prime Minister was forced to resign in 2011 and replaced by the un-elected former adviser to Goldman Sachs Mario Monte, over his management of Italy’s debt crisis. He was also destabilized by revelations of risqué parties involving starlets at his homes in Milan and Sardinia. He was written off politically.
But he has shown remarkable endurance and, despite open heart surgery last year and all the scandals that marked his last term in office, the 81-year-old tycoon has once again catapulted himself back to the forefront of politics.
Giovanni Orsina, a political analyst and the author of a book on Berlusconi, said: ‘Berlusconi is back in the game, despite being 81 years old. The center-Right have shown that if they can find good candidates, they are competitive.’
It is unlikely, however, that Berlusconi will be Prime Minister again. He is banned from office due to a 2013 tax fraud conviction, although he has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the ruling. A verdict in the case is unlikely to come before the election, which could be held as early as March. Even so, the ban will not stop him having a major influence over the man or woman who does become Prime Minister.
The result in Sicily has brought nearer the day when the Euro will have to be radically reconstructed and in exactly the opposite way to that sought by French President Emmanuel Macron, who seeks a united Eurozone government.