"In Rome, we also have a judge," delightedly announces Il Manifesto. For the left-wing daily, "the rejection of the Lodo Alfano has restored the rights of Italy's citizens and one of the central tenets of the constitution: all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law." In a 9 to 6 vote, the judges ruled that the law — which was drafted specifically to protect the Prime Minister and rushed through parliament by the Northern League Justice Minister Angelino Alfano in July 2008 — violates article 3 of Italy's constitution, which guarantees the equality of citizens before the law.

Leading with the headline, "Court refuses to be intimidated," Il Fatto Quotidiano thanks the judges "for saying 'basta' to the impunity of just one man." However, the brand new opposition daily has no illusions about the consequences of the ruling. The rejection of the law will not put an end to Berlusconism, but it should be welcomed as an event that will "establish a dividing line" between Berlusconi's Italy and those citizens "who have had enough." The director of La Repubblica Ezio Mauro hails what he describes as fresh proof "of the force of democracy," and the conclusion of a long battle, in which his newspaper was on the front line.

A political plot by the judiciary

At the same time, the newspapers which support the head of government, are outspoken in their criticism of the court's decision. Libero leads the way with the announcement that "everything is going according to plan, and the operation to discredit Il Cavaliere is now in full swing." The right-wing daily further notes that "Berlusconi will now have to defend himself against these lawsuits (…), as well as rumor mongers and his enemies in the judiciary." In conclusion it takes the view that "the judges of the constitutional court are not the impartial arbitrators the founding fathers of the constitution intended them to be, but an active force engaged in a political battle."

As The Economist remarks, ever since he came to power in 1994, the Italian leader has always claimed that he is the victim of incessant plots orchestrated by the left and the judiciary. "The weakness (but also the strength) of the right-wing conspiracy theory is that it is self-confirming: the more the prime minister is prosecuted, the more he seems persecuted." For the London weekly, the problem is that many Italians believe him, because they also doubt the good faith of "the judiciary, whose impartiality is essential to any functioning democracy."

Is this the beginning of the end?

"Silvio Berlusconi now faces the most difficult phase of his long career in politics," remarks Il Sole 24 Ore. A Prime Minister who is continually obliged to turn up in court is a public relations disaster and an international embarrassment. "In view of his increasing weakness, it is worth wondering if Berlusconi will still have the capacity to lead his coalition? There is no easy answer to this question, but we can be certain that with or without him, the Right, which has a vast majority in parliament, has an obligation to govern." In conclusion the business daily wonders "if it would it not be in the interest of the Right to present another leader who could "reduce the tension in the country?"

"The worst is yet to come," announces La Repubblica. Silvio Berlusconi is aware "that he has sapped the political strength of his parliamentary majority with the sex scandals that marked the summer, and he knows that his system, which is hindered by these untruths, is no longer producing politics. His future will depend on "his capacity to assume his responsibilities in the courts, in parliament, and in response to changes in public opinion."

Berlusconi doesn't risk much in the long term

Corriere della Serais more sceptical: "Berlusconi is under no real threat in the long term," because "the statute of limitations will invalidate the bulk of the charges against him before they reach the appeals court." In the most important case, in which he has been accused of paying British lawyer David Mills to perjure himself, "the evidence against Berlusconi will have to be presented from scratch and the overwhelming likelihood is that the proceedings will not be concluded before the date set by the statute of limitations in 18 months time," explains the Milanese daily.

In an interview published in Dutch daily Trouw, Green member of parliament Judith Sargentini calls for a Europe-wide campaign for freedom of the press in Italy. Sargentini wants the European Council to apply article 7 of the Maastricht Treaty, which stipulates that the rights of member states that do not respect the fundamental human rights and freedoms of citizens may be suspended. She is also calling for a European directive to limit the extent of media empires, an idea that is currently tabled for debate in parliament. Within the EU, "we talk a lot about European values. Freedom of the press plays a key role in these values, it is one of the fundamental conditions for democracy."