After Berlusconi

With the death of Berlusconi, a long phase of Italian politics comes to an end. But the substantial failure of centre-left politics over the past decade leaves Italy once again under the sway of a right-wing government.

Silvio Berlusconi passed on after being ill for a long time and missing the latest plan to reach the top of the Republic as head of state. Regardless of what the historical judgment may be, Berlusconi was at the center of Italian political life for one of the longest periods in the republican context.

When he came to politics, Berlusconi had already had an intense experience in the business, basically in the construction world in Milan. But it is also true that it would not have been a singular biography. Other great entrepreneurs have remained in the shadows. But Berlusconi remains a particular example that is difficult to compare, having been four times head of government for a total of almost ten years, unparalleled in the second post-war history of the country.

His first experience of government lasted just eight months in 1994 with the weak consent of the League directed by Bossi. It could have been a crucial closing moment in Berlusconi's political experience that had just begun. But the center-left, after the interlude in the caretaker government of Lamberto Dini, former director general of the Bank of Italy, had his most representative politicians at the head of the governments, from Prodi to D'Alema and Giuliano Amato. But all short-lived governments testifying to the difficulties of centre-left parties. So, the political elections of the summer of 2001 decreed a return of Berlusconi at the head of a right-wing coalition.

In essence, Berlusconi benefited for the second time from the inability of centre-left parties to give the country a government with acceptable stability. In effect, a different centre-left policy wouldn't have been impossible. Not surprisingly, 2002 was characterized by one of the largest popular demonstrations promoted by the CGIL, the main Italian trade- union directed by Sergio Cofferati.  A significant proof of prevailing trends in the country. It couldn’t overthrow the government but, however, changed its inclination to liquidate the most important gains of the working class, as was the purpose of the new center-right government.

The new government also wanted to affirm its role in international politics and had the opportunity to do promoting an international conference with the presence of the major Western countries and the participation of Putin who had risen to the top of Russian politics. But the United States remained Berlusconi's essential point of reference.

The proof came in the wars led by the US government, which, after the attack on the Two Towers, first hit Afghanistan, were resided Bin Laden, a Saudi exponent but not implied in the attack in New York; and then Iraq which did not have the nuclear weapons that the Washington government, falsifying the evidences, attributed to it,

As we know, Germany and France did not take part in the middle-eastern war. Italy, instead, alongside Spain and UK, sided with the United States. For Berlusconi it was a way to consolidate his leadership supporting an unjustified double war. Wars that America was destined to lose, first in the Middle East and twenty years later in Afghanistan.

With the 2006 elections, the Berlusconi government found itself in the minority, and the new government came under the leadership of Prodi, former President of the European Commission. However, with the early elections of 2008 Berlusconi returned to the head of the government.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi was threatened undermined by the trials against him for activities relating to his past as an entrepreneur. But also, for the particular characteristics of his private life characterized by dinners in his private residence with more or less young girls, including Ruby, a Marocain girl, who was discovered to be less than 18 years old with the criminal consequences that this entailed.

When the monetary crisis that erupted in late 2008 swept parts of Europe, the European Commission and the European Central Bank seized the opportunity to get rid of the left-wing Spanish, Greek and Italian governments. A phase of European politics was closing.

The European Central Bank, while the recession loomed, paradoxically, imposed a restrictive monetary policy and, simultaneously, the reduction of the public debt. It was the opposite politics that had issued Barack Obama in the US facing the 2008-09 crisis. A large part of the Eurozone was condemned to recession, growing unemployment and poverty.

In December 201the government of Berlusconi ends and a new phase of Italian politics begins. It could have been a phase led by governments aimed at resuming economic growth. But, as we know, the opposite happened. The Italian Monti's government, which succeeded Berlusconi's, followed the prescriptions of a recessive nature imposed by the European Commission and by Jean-Claude Trichet head the European Central Bank.

Mario Draghi, appointed to the presidency of the ECB – after having been president of the Italian central Bank - reversed the monetary policy to prevent a general crisis of the European economy. But it was not sufficient. while the euro stabilized, the economies of the countries most affected by the crisis followed the recessionary path. Unemployment reached 14 per cent in Italy and over 25 per cent in Spain, while Greece was in the grip of a bankruptcy situation.

The new decade of the Italian policy was dominated by the policy imposed by the European commission. A policy  fundamentally based on the reduction of the public expense in health care, school and pensions. After the alternation of seven governments of different colours, Italy decided in 2021 to rely on Draghi's "technical" government supported by all the parties of the governmental tradition.

During the decade following the 2011 crisis, Italy had experienced several governments in large part led by the Democratic Party. But, surprisingly, in the 2018 elections entrusted the government to the Five Star Movement, which had achieved success beyond all expectations, with nearly 33 percent of the vote. But the resulting government formed by parties traditionally placed on opposite political sides, such as “Five Star” and the League, a right-wing movement, had a brief life. Italian policy returned to its sequence of week and unstable governments until the engagement of    not linked to any party but, as we have seen, with the experience of the presidency of the ECB and before of the Bank of Italy, Il was still once the recourse to personalities extraneous to the parties. Again a signal of the crisis of the centre-left.

In essence, the Berlusconi government was followed by a decade of policy unable to find out a route to develop economy and front the most acute social problems. After the alternation of seven governments of different colours, Italy returned in 2021 to rely on Draghi's "technical" government, initially supported by all parties of the governing tradition.

But, with the elections in the autumn of 2022, the scenario has radically changed. Brothers of Italy won the elections with the extraordinary passage from 4.3 percent of the votes in 2018 to 26 percent, becoming the first party, and gaining with Georgia Meloni the leadership of the government. The other traditional right-wing parties have instead collapsed. The League, which had reached 34 percent in the European elections of 2019, fell to 8 percent, and Forza Italia, still under Berlusconi's leadership, stalled at around 7 percent. In the end, the extraordinary adventure of Berlusconi's party is over, and Forza Italia could dissolve.

Concluding, we can say that the four governments directed by Berlusconi during about nine years were clearly unadapt to lead the country. They were years of largely mistaken policy. But we have also to say that different governments, generally directed by center-left parties, have been unable to lead a policy able to give to Italy an acceptable economic and social policy. The consequence is that, after having experimented a larger number of more or less left-wing governments we are again confronted with a right-wing government.

We don’t know how much it can last.  For a hopefully different future, the left should be reborn with assumptions and tendencies different from those that led to its decline in Italy and in the majority of European countries. But, as we have seen, the future follows different lines from anticipations and auspices.

Antonio Lettieri

Antonio Lettieri is Editor of Insight and President of CISS – Center for International Social Studies (Roma). He was National Secretary of CGIL; Member of ILO Governing Body,and Advisor of Labor Minister for European Affairs.(