Berlusconi’s comeback in office: why it is still possible, why it is still dangerous.

On the night of 12th November 2011, when Berlusconi resigned as PM, a cheering crowd was celebrating until late in the streets of Rome. All over Italy, the many opponents of what they called the “Berlusconi regime” were taking the chance to rejoice over his fall. Stuck in the Netherlands for my studies, I was also trying to toast with some friends with a glass of prosecco. However, I couldn’t help noticing that the atmosphere wasn’t that joyful. We were trying to repeat to ourselves, as a mantra, that the nightmare was over. But in Amsterdam, as well as in Rome, almost every Italian knew that it wasn’t. Nine months later, when Berlusconi announced to the German magazine Bild that he would run again for office in the 2013 general election, almost no room was left for doubts. Berlusconi’s comeback in office is still possible, and it is still dangerous, for Italy and for the European Union.

Why is it still possible?

Actually, there is a set of four main reasons why the return of Mr Berlusconi in office is a concrete possibility. Firstly, from a political perspective, Berlusconi has nine lives as a cat. Although Italian society has changed from 1994, when he first entered politics, Berlusconi still attracts a large share of the Italian electorate. He’s the champion of the anti-tax sentiment in Italy (he’s the father of the famous slogan “Less taxes for everybody”), a topic that still makes a hit on the average Italian voter.

Secondly, considering his economic and media resources, Mr Berlusconi still has a huge advantage compared with other political competitors. Actually, one of the reasons why he stepped back last November was to preserve his personal wealth as much as possible from political and financial turmoil. At present, he still can count on an endless supply of money for his next election campaign. Moreover, in a country characterised by a relatively high digital divide, Berlusconi’s TV channels are still an extraordinary electoral war machine.

Thirdly, if one takes a look at the Italian political situation, it’s not difficult to understand that Berlusconi still takes profit from a weak and fragmented opposition, as well as from the absence of real competitors within the centre-right. Even though recent polls by the Italian institute Termometro Politico show that 42 percent of the electors would vote for the centre-left in the next election, against 27,4 percent for the centre-right, a centre-of-left coalition lacks a strong leader. Its major party (PD – Democratic Party) is still doubting on possible alliances, eventually exasperating its voters. On top of that, Silvio Berlusconi has monopolised the Italian centre-of-right in the last 20 years, leaving no other options than his charismatic leadership. Whoever tried to distance himself from Berlusconi (for example centrist Pierferdinando Casini or, more recently, Gianfranco Fini) has ultimately been exiled from the centre-right coalition.

Finally, the crisis of the Euro and Moody’s recent downgrade of Italy’s sovereign debt most probably represent an electoral advantage for Mr Berlusconi. Officially, he responsibly stepped back in order to let Mario Monti’s technical government solve Italy’s financial troubles. Now that the problems aren’t gone, certified by the still high spread between Italian and German bonds, Berlusconi may be able to affirm once again that he can perform better than Monti.

Why is it still dangerous?

According to The Economist, Berlusconi’s comeback is “the last thing Italy needs”. I totally agree with that. This eventuality is indeed dangerous for Italy and for the European Union because of the irresponsibility of Silvio Berlusconi. Firstly, Berlusconi is irresponsible with regard to Italy. In power for around 9 years, he has repeatedly aimed at making laws in order to pursue his own interests, with the final goal of impunity for his companies and himself. In this period of time, too little has been done by his governments in terms of reforms.

Secondly, Mr Berlusconi’s irresponsibility is particularly dangerous in times of economic crisis, in which a political leader has to hold the country together and represent it properly abroad. Silvio Berlusconi is not a father of the nation. From the beginning of his political career, he has suffered a relevant domestic opposition. Moreover, he has never been neither able nor willing to collaborate with the opposition. Taking an international perspective, the Euro zone crisis requires credible and respected country leaders. Because of his controversial political career, Berlusconi has been isolated by most of the European leaders a long time ago.

Finally, Berlusconi has recently proved to be an irresponsible person. His familiarity with shady people like businessman Gianpaolo Tarantini and wheeler-dealer Valter Lavitola, as well as with escort girls during bunga-bunga parties (some of them still underagei) has made Mr Berlusconi liable to be blackmailed. This is certainly not an appropriate position for a Prime Minister.

Defeat him, and we’ll toast for real

In light of what has been said, it appears clear that the perspective of Berlusconi’s comeback in office is a grim eventuality, both for Italy and for a troubled European Union. As things stand now, there is only one option in order to avoid it. Berlusconi has to be given a sound thrashing in the next general election. Although he still owns economic and media power, the mountain he has to climb this time is higher than ever before. Recent polls that I mentioned above are quite eloquent about that. If the opposition will be able to stand united under a credible and respected leader, Berlusconi will probably experience the bitter taste of defeat. Whereas I will be able to toast and drink my prosecco to the last drop.