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Silvio Berlusconi, the Candidate of Calm

February 14, 2018 in Economics

By Alberto Mingardi

Alberto Mingardi

When Silvio Berlusconi exited the public arena to universal
relief in 2011, few would have predicted the scandal-ridden
politician’s return would be met with the same emotion.

Berlusconi’s background as a media mogul, not to mention his
adventurous private life, aroused lasting suspicions. And his
political style — defined by a certain directness in
appealing to voters and a total disregard for the liturgy of
politics — anticipated contemporary “populism.”

But the world is now welcoming back a new Berlusconi. No longer
able to hold public office – a law bars people who have been
sentenced to more than two years in jail — his name will
nevertheless be on the ballot, written in large block letters in
the logo of “Forza Italia,” when voters go to the polls next month.
If Italians back his center-right coalition, they will effectively
be choosing him as its puppet-master.

It’s easy enough to see why Italians may be drawn to Berlusconi
out of nostalgia (though his tenure was by no means impeccable).
What’s perhaps more surprising is that European partners and
international observers seem to have developed a new sympathy for
the scandal-ridden former prime minister, whom they see as a safe
card in next month’s election.

While he occasionally embraced some uncompromising, conservative
positions (most recently on immigration, after a Nigerian man was
accused of killing a young woman in Macerata), Berlusconi has for
the most smoothed out his coalition partners’ rough edges. Under
his influence, for example, the far-right Northern League has
stopped calling for Italy to leave the eurozone. And his attacks on
the populist 5Star Movement — which he has called “a job
center for the unemployable” — showed his willingness to
confront that other homo novus of politics, Beppe
Grillo.

What plays in Berlusconi’s favor is that, more than anything,
what everyone wants from Italy is stability.

Foreign investors own 40 percent of Italian public debt —
which stands at about €2.2 trillion — and have nothing to
gain from further turmoil. The rest of the country’s debt is
domestically owned, meaning domestic investors too, are interested
in stability. Italy is a country of savers, with a high home
ownership rate (70 percent) and a rapidly aging population.

In this context, Berlusconi — who has claimed that Italy
should comply with the fiscal compact and cut taxes, but without
raising the deficit — is starting to look like the “reliable”
choice. His conflicts of interest, for once, strengthen this
impression.

It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Berlusconi’s rhetoric may have
been over the top, but the policies he put in place never were.
This perhaps cost Italy the radical reforms it badly …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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