The expected has finally happened – Silvio Berlusconi, former Italian Prime Minister, has been banned from government as part of his conviction for tax fraud. Across Europe, people have been regaled with horror stories from the Italian government – ‘Bunga Bunga’ parties, racist assertions and more, all tied to Berlusconi. Europe can breathe a sigh of relief, now that the Italian government’s greatest clown has been severed from his influence on government.
But has he truly lost his power? The political party that he has founded and fostered since his entry into politics, Forza Italia (formerly known as Popolo della Libertà, and before that Forza Italia) is still the second largest party in the Italian senate, and the third largest party in the Chamber of Deputies. Despite recent rebellion against Berlusconi’s leadership, his own political power is strong within his party, whether or not he is allowed to take office – it is important to note that Beppe Grillo, leader of the Five Stars movement which has recently taken Italy by storm, is also barred from government for criminal activity.
Berlusconi has always claimed that he is innocent of wrongdoing, and is simply the target of a corrupt judiciary – in 2009, he famously claimed that he was “the most persecuted man in the entire history of the world.” His continued popular support demonstrates that people believe him in this. He has ridden the waves of scandal surrounding him, from the his connection to the alleged underage prostitute Karima El Mahroug (‘Ruby Rubacuore’) to his ill-considered outbursts that survivors of the 2009 Aquila earthquake should treat their time living in tents as a “camping holiday.”
Despite this, Berlusconi has consistently come back from the brink. He was beaten out of office by Romano Prodi in elections in 1996 and 2006. He left government to allow Monti’s technocratic government to attempt to revitalize the economy in 2011, before pulling out of the agreement and allowing the government to crumble again. Every time people have assumed that Berlusconi’s time in office is over, he makes a comeback. This makes me reluctant to believe that his time in office is completely over.
We should not be too hasty to celebrate Berlusconi’s expulsion from the Senate. So long as he has his supporters in Forza Italia and among the Italian population, he will remain a powerful figure. His media empire means that he remains one of the most powerful men in the Italian state. Being barred from holding public office will not stop him from affecting the priorities of the Italian government, and he will still be involved through Forza Italia. His current effect on the Italian state will continue to ripple into the future.