Silvio Berlusconi

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

Ferdinando Giugliano

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?

UK

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

Ferdinando Giugliano

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

Ferdinando Giugliano

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.

 

Tom Burgis

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. 

Esther Bintliff

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…

Esther Bintliff

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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