There is a fascinating report in the influential Italian daily ‘La Repubblica’ this morning that former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who many thought was finished when he was forced from office last November, has not given up; far from it. It seems that he is pressing hard for a come-back tour via an early general election this November - rather than wait until Spring 2013 - largely to get the vote out of the way before any verdicts are returned in the ‘bunga bunga’ trial.
Berlusconi, it must be remembered, was forced from office by the EU led ‘technocratic coup’ that brought Mario Monti to power, but he is still in charge of a party that commands a majority in the Italian party. Support can be withdrawn from Monti’s cabinet of technocrats at any time. What Berlusconi seems to be trying to engineer is a deal with the opposition that would give them the reforms to the electoral system they have been demanding (and which, to be honest, Italy desperately needs), in return for a chance to stand again before the prosecutors can convict him on charges of paying an underage girl (Ruby the Heartbreaker) for sex.
Inconceivable as it may seem in this country for someone to be a serious candidate in a national election while facing charges of such seriousness, this is Italy and this is Berlusconi. It is unlikely he would actually win such an election, but his party, the PDL, is still polling at a pretty healthy 25-30% support, and might well play a role in the country’s next government. Add in a dose of Berlusconi’s anti-Euro rhetoric, and a November election could be very interesting.
A Eurobarometer survey published this morning suggests that Italy is becoming more Eurosceptic by the day. Opposition to the Euro now stands at 33%, up four points, while 62% of Italians now say they no longer trust the EU itself, up a massive 13%. Unusually for a major Eurozone economy, there are now UK-style Eurosceptic parties in the political mainstream: the ‘5 Star’ party, created by comic and satirist Beppo Grillo has been winning around 20% of the vote in local elections on a explicitly anti-Euro platform, as has the right-of centre ‘Northern League’ in Italy’s northern industrial heartland.
None of which means either that Berlusconi is going to be Prime Minister again before the end of the year, nor that Italy is about to walk away from the Euro. But it does suggest there may be a limit to the extent that the rest of the Eurozone can push Italians around. Yes they have huge national debts, and yes they may come to need help from the Eurozone and the ECB to keep their borrowing costs down, but Italy would be able to survive outside the Euro much better than any of the other ClubMed countries. And they know it.
July and August have been a long and uneventful Roman Holiday, but autumn in the Italian peninsular may be very interesting indeed.