Can Berlusconi make a eurosceptic comeback?

Published on 26 June 2012 at 11:25

It looked as though he had disappeared from politics, but now it seems that Silvio Berlusconi may be planning a comeback. In an attempt to surf the wave of euroscepticism that has made comedian Beppe Grillo the rising star of Italian politics, the ex-PM recently raised the issue of Italy leaving the eurozone. He also evoked the possibility of a German exit from the single currency in the event that Berlin refuses to endorse plans to reinforce the European Central Bank. None too pleased by Il Cavaliere’s re-emergence, La Repubblicabelieves that he is a threat to Mario Monti’s technocratic government —

... at a time when national cohesion is vitally important, the ‘Italian-style Grosse Koalition’ could break up if it succumbs to the temptation of early general elections. This amounts to a very difficult position for Mario Monti who is caught between a rock and a hard place. With only two days left to run before the European summit, Europe’s chancelleries continue to see Monti as a mediator who will play a key role in the success of any operation to resolve the crisis, whereas the leaders of Italy’s political parties see him as a catalyst that can easily be blamed if the initiative to resolve the crisis fails. [...]

The PdL [Berlusconi's political party] has been rocked by the improbable and inopportune resurrection of Il Cavaliere. This Berlusconian version of Golden Dawn [the Greek far-right party] has promised two things. A pathetic war against Germany, and an autarkic battle against the euro. This populist revenge […] is an act of political desperation. The government has no alternative. In spite of all of his faults and mistakes, Monti remains the most credible political option for Italy today. But it would be wrong to conclude this is the only reason that keeps Monti in power.

Berlusconi’s recent declarations have also become a source of worry beyond Italy’s borders. In a leader entitled “Please, not again”, British daily The Guardian writes

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The billionaire has seemingly limitless amounts of cash to throw at a campaign. And in recent comments in which he talked up the advantages to Italy's export-led industry of trading again in lire, Berlusconi is on to a potential election winner. Italy is more Eurosceptic than it often appears. While it remains pro-European in the sense that Brussels is seen as a more consistent provider of good governance in Italy than Rome, the euro itself is associated with inflation. Today it has become the icon of stagnation. Mario Monti's popularity, as the technocrat whose sole task is to reduce the budget deficit, has fallen off a cliff. Italy has no cash in the coffers to stimulate growth, as was demonstrated by a long-awaited growth decree. It was approved by cabinet only after it had been bled dry of its more radical provisions by the treasury. And yet without growth, Italy will be unable to repay its ever rising mountain of debt. The euro has acquired something of a bad smell and Berlusconi is far from being the only politician to latch on to the thought that Italy could regain growth through a return to the lira, devaluation and an export-led boom. But he could yet position himself to be its chief beneficiary.


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