Silvio Berlusconi


According to the old saying, if you knew how a sausage was made, you’d never eat one. It is no easier on the stomach to watch the political intrigues that lie behind the formation of Italian governments.

A new government is on its way in Rome because Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party, has decided to pull the plug on Enrico Letta’s premiership. It is difficult to see who other than the youthful, super-ambitious Renzi will replace Letta.

For Italy’s eurozone partners, this is a fateful moment. If Renzi, as prime minister, fails to deliver the reforms that European policy makers know are essential to keeping Italy in the eurozone, the likelihood that some other Italian politician will do so are exceedingly small.

But Renzi’s very public political assassination of Letta, his party comrade, was a kind of theatrical “stab in the front” that may one day return to haunt him. For if these are the methods he deems suitable to clear his path to national office, it is reasonable to assume that they will sooner or later be used against him. Read more

Matteo Renzi (Getty)

Outside Italy there is an understandable enthusiasm for the constitutional and electoral reform proposals of Matteo Renzi, leader of the centre-left Democratic party. Italy unblocked – at last! Inside the nation itself, there is more caution and scepticism. This reflects the experience of Italians, who have travelled such roads in the past without being rewarded with better government and a better class of political leaders.

Renzi, 39, and Silvio Berlusconi, 77, leader of the revived conservative Forza Italia party, struck a deal this month which is beguiling in its simplicity. Read more


An optimist would draw much inspiration from Matteo Renzi’s convincing victory in Sunday’s primary elections for the leadership of Italy’s ruling centre-left Democratic party (PD). Doesn’t the success of the 38-year-old Florence mayor prove that a new generation of vigorous, reform-minded politicians is, at long last, replacing the squabbling, incompetent and sometimes corrupt oldsters who have presided over the nation’s decline over the past 20 years? Read more

♦ Spain may be emerging from the recession with a more competitive economy, but critics claim that confidence in the rebound is premature and potentially dangerous.
♦ A leaked video shows Egyptian Army officers debating how to influence the media before the military takeover.
♦ Patrick Cockburn writes about how media coverage of conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria doesn’t always reflect the whole reality of each war.
♦ Justice officials in Hong Kong admitted to knowing that one of Berlusconi’s allies tried to interfere with evidence in a money laundering case, where Berlusconi’s son is one of the defendents, according to the South China Morning Post.
♦ The stance of some Republican House members on the US government shutdown is generating anger among senior Republican officials, who think the small bloc of conservatives is undermining the party and helping President Obama. Read more

♦ The FT’s Matthew Garrahan looks at the effects of the sequester on a Los Alamos research centre.
♦ Silvio Berlusconi finds himself significantly weakened after making a U-turn and declaring his support for the coalition.
♦ Two Brookings Institute fellows warn that the US needs to change its policy on Egypt.
♦ Many of Egypt’s liberals moved to the right after the coup.
♦ Guadalajara is becoming the Bangalore of the Americas.
♦ A 72-year-old Syrian engineer and Munich resident’s kidnap, and escape, shows just how chaotic and confused the situation is on the ground in Syria.
♦ Ezra Klein at Wonkblog asks Robert Costa, Washington editor at the National Review, why John Boehner doesn’t just ditch the hard right.
♦ The Washington Post also looked at how Boehner came to be the man between a rock and a hard placeRead more


As the FT’s former man in Rome, I find it poignant to see Silvio Berlusconi battling this week to hold together the political movement he launched 20 years ago. The billionaire Milanese entrepreneur did not seriously contemplate a political career until 1993, when he realised it would be the most effective way to protect his business interests. In fact, one of his closest associates once confided – perhaps only half-jokingly – that, if Berlusconi had not formed Forza Italia, the boss and his loyalists would have ended up either in prison or hanging lifeless à la Roberto Calvi under a London bridge.

In its various incarnations Forza Italia is sometimes depicted as one of the most formidable vote-gathering and coalition-building political machines of modern Europe. Read more

♦ The FT’s Martin Wolf asks whether the US is a functioning democracy.
♦ Charles Pierce at Esquire is already convinced that this was to be expected from “the worst Congress in the history of the Republic”.
♦ Russia is spending $755m on bolstering its military as part of Vladimir Putin’s plan to rebuild the country’s status as a credible diplomatic and military force.
♦ Silvio Berlusconi’s antics now do little to shock the bond markets – an indication that the eurozone crisis has moved decisively into a less aggressive phase, argues the FT’s Ralph Atkins.
♦ India’s Hindu temples are resisting requests from the central bank to declare their gold holdings amid mistrust of authorities trying to cut a hefty import bill.
♦ A new book on the birth of Bangladesh and the White House diplomacy of the time unearths conversations between Nixon and Kissinger that reveal their hateful attitudes towards IndiansRead more

After a testing two years for Vladimir Putin that saw the first serious protests against his rule, Russia’s president was back to his relaxed, confident and sometimes acerbic self at an annual meeting with academics and journalists on Thursday.

Though avoiding triumphalism, Mr Putin seemed to bask in his diplomatic success over the plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons. He also appeared to believe the sting had been drawn out of the demonstrations that followed parliamentary elections in December 2011 and his own decision to return for a third term as president. Read more

Pardon or no pardon, Silvio Berlusconi, who was handed a final conviction for tax fraud by the Supreme Court earlier in August, has for now retreated in his private residence just outside Milan, as uncertainty looms over his political future.

But, ever the master of reinvention, he has channelled his energies into launching the rebranding of his PDL party as Forza Italia (after an earlier attempt in 90s) and their move to new offices in Rome: decorators are at work, hauliers are being enlisted and preparations are underway for the grand opening expected in September. Read more


By Catherine Contiguglia

It seemed an era of Italian politics came to an end with the announcement that Italy’s supreme court had upheld a four-year sentence against Silvio Berlusconi for tax fraud.

Though the 76-year-old centre-right politician will not be going to jail due to his age, he could be placed under house arrest for a year, will not be able to hold public office for as long as five years, will not be able to run for elected office for six years and could be voted out of his current position as a senator.

Emerging from the ashes has been a major part of Berlusconi’s public career and, since the ruling, Berlusconi has assured his supporters he still has more plans up his sleeve. However, many believe this most recent ruling could be the definitive end of Berlusconi in politics. Read more

By Catherine Contiguglia
Angela Merkel’s plan is not to fire up her own supporters, but to lull the other side, says Josef Joffe, editor of Die Zeit.
The collapse of Rana Plaza focused attention on the grim conditions of garment workers, but it is the toxic political culture that undermines Bangladesh’s attempts to lift itself out of poverty, writes Victor Mallet.
Silvio Berlusconi’s political career could be over after a sentence was upheld temporarily barring him from holding or running for public office – speculation is bubbling that his oldest daughter Marina could be in line to relaunch his political party.
♦ A villa in a leafy neighbourhood in Cannes will be used as evidence in the criminal trial of Bo Xilai, the former Communist party chief at Chongqing.
♦ You may well have heard that a publication called the Washington Post is being sold – to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, no less. The newspaper itself examined how its history is inextricably tied to that of the Graham family.
♦ Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was surprised by a $250m charge on his credit card earlier today, the New Yorker’s Borowitz report says. He was shocked to find out he had clicked on the Washington Post by mistake.  Read more

An Egyptian doctor observes the pro-Morsi protests outside the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo and the subsequent military intervention that wounded hundreds and killed 51 people, mostly protesters. Egyptian authorities have cracked down on Muslim Brotherhood businesses — reportedly shutting some down. The FT writes on the debate between Islamists and the military over who is to blame for the violence. The FT’s Geoff Dyer questions whether the United States still has influence in the country — with the military or the Islamists.

For German chancellor Angela Merkel, the allegations of collaboration between US and German intelligence services may be an election problem, since data protection is a sensitive issue for Germans. She has sent a team of intelligence and interior ministry officials to Washington for an explanation of US activities. The New Yorker analyses Mr Obama’s motives for spying and whether it is justified.

With a debt burden of $18bn and city infrastructure plunging in quality, Detroit may have to file bankruptcy — an extremely rare act for so populous a city — and may even sell the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

♦ Eliot Spitzer resigned in 2008 after a call-girl scandal. However, the former governor of New York, is running for comptroller — the city’s third-highest elected office. But he is met by resistance from Wall Street executives — since he advocated reigning in their salaries — and by others who question his moral integrity. In a satire, the New Yorker reported yesterday that the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is considering running for office in New York City because New Yorkers are much more forgiving of political mistakes than Italians. Read more

Berlusconi at a rally (Getty)

Will he or won’t he? Since a court in Milan on Monday sentenced Silvio Berlusconi to seven years in prison on charges of paying for sex with an underage prostitute and abuse of office, Rome-watchers have wondered whether this ruling will have consequences for the Italian government led by Enrico Letta. Mr Berlusconi’s People of Liberty is one of the three parties backing the cabinet, alongside the centre-left Democrats and the centrist formation, Civic Choice.

Mr Letta and Mr Berlusconi met on Tuesday to discuss the road ahead for the coalition. Top of the agenda was the government’s economic policy and, in particular, how to spare Italians of a rise in VAT, which is planned for July 1st but which Mr Berlusconi wanted to avoid at all cost. It is hard to imagine, however, that in their three-hour long meeting, Mr Letta and his predecessor did not discuss the consequences of the ruling in Milan.

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News that the US government monitors vast amounts of private communications data has divided opinion at home and caused outrage in Europe. But what lengths do other countries go to in order to keep tabs on their citizens?


It has been a requirement since 2009 for communication service providers to hold information about their customers’ use of communications for at least a year. (CSPs are a broad group that can include telephone companies, Skype and search engines).

The spy base at RAF Menwith Hill in north Yorkshire, England (Getty)

The government proposed further legislation that would require CSPs to collect additional information generated by third-party CSPs based outside the UK in order to access services like Gmail. The communications data bill was rejected by the Liberal Democrats, who were concerned that it would infringe civil liberties.
However, a recent terror attack in Woolwich, London, in which an army fusilier was killed in an apparent attack by Islamist extremists, prompted calls for the coalition government to resurrect its proposals.  Read more

An elderly man plays his accordion at the old town market in Warsaw, Poland, on June 24, 2012 (CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/GettyImages)

(Photo by Christof Stache/AFP/Getty)

The former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato once compared the powers of Italy’s president to an accordion. Just as the box-shaped musical instrument can expand and contract, the same is true for the influence of Italy’s head of state: what the president can or cannot do largely depends on the strength of the political parties.

On Thursday, Italy’s 949 MPs and 58 representatives from the 20 regions will convene to elect the successor to President Giorgio Napolitano. Amato himself is a candidate, alongside former prime minister Romano Prodi, former European commissioner Emma Bonino, and others.

The political stalemate following February’s inconclusive election means that the new president will have to be picked on the basis of a last-minute deal between the centre-left, (the largest alliance in Parliament) and at least one of the other three significant forces – the centre-right coalition of the People of Liberty and the Northern League, Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement and Mario Monti’s Civic Choice. There are no clear favourites for the job. Yet, this election will matter a great deal for Italy and for those who are interested in a solution to its political crisis.

For decades, the President’s job was seen as largely ceremonial. True, the President is the head of the judiciary and of the armed forces. But he doesn’t have anything like the kind of executive powers held by the French or American presidents (though he can veto any law if he believes it is against the constitution). Read more

Situation vacant? Mario Monti (Getty)

There were two big job vacancies in Rome last month. The Catholic Church began looking for a new pope after the shock resignation of Benedict XVI. Meanwhile, Italians went about the business of picking a new head of government who would end Mario Monti’s technocratic interlude.

The Vatican is not exactly known for its speedy decision-making. Yet it only took the conclave of cardinals a couple of days to elect Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the new head of the church. Pope Francis – as he is now – is already making headlines with his new message centred on the need for a humbler and more austere church.

On the other side of the Tiber, Italian politicians are still struggling to choose a new prime minister. Today and tomorrow, President Giorgio Napolitano is meeting party leaders and other institutional figures to talk about what to do next. But Italy-watchers do not expect white smoke to come out of the presidential palace any time soon.

Last month’s inconclusive elections have produced a three-way deadlock in the Senate between Pier Luigi Bersani’s centre-left coalition, Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-right alliance, and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement. The only solution to the impasse is a government that is backed by at least two of these forces. But this trilemma has no easy solution. Read more

Italy ‘s parliamentary elections ended in political deadlock on Monday night with little hope of a clear majority. Join the FT as it covers the unfolding political and economic drama. By Lina Saigol.


Italians cast their ballots in a tight election, with Brussels, Berlin and the markets looking on. By Tom Burgis, Lina Saigol, Ben Fenton and Shannon Bond with contributions from FT correspondents across Italy and beyond. All times are GMT. 

On this, the final day of polling in Italy’s 2013 election, we thought it would be worth highlighting five blog posts from the FT that will help provide the context you need to understand the results when they eventually emerge…

Beppe Grillo at a rally in March 2008 (Marcello Paternostro/AFP/Getty)

He has been called many things: clown, showman, a “sans-culottes satirist”, Italy’s “funniest man”. And less complimentary things too: “populist, extremist and very dangerous”. But Beppe Grillo, the comedian-turned-political campaigner, can give as good as he gets. His nickname for Silvio Berlusconi is “the psycho-dwarf”, while he refers to the technocrat Mario Monti as “rigor Montis”. Grillo’s way with words is just one talent he has used to shake up the political landscape in Italy in recent years; his digital savvy – he runs Italy’s most popular blog – has helped him harness growing public anger at corruption and turn it into a grassroots political movement.

Final opinion polls published ahead of the February 24-25 election showed his Five Star Movement in third position with 13-16% of the vote – ahead of Monti’s Civic Choice and only a few points behind Berlusconi’s People of Liberty. So how did he get there? And what does he really believe in?

In the FT

  • Grillo’s Movimento 5 Stelle (M5S) presents itself as an antidote to a corrupt political elite, focused on five key areas: public water, transportation, development, internet availability, and the environment. In October, the group scored well in a regional election in Sicily, despite a web-driven campaign spending of just €25,000 – far less than the major parties. The head of one of Italy’s biggest companies lamented: “I can’t stand Grillo. He is against everything. He is aiming to destroy not change”.

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