While the US government shut down this week, there was another political farce in Europe. Last weekend, centre-right leader and three-times former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi ordered his ministers to quit the left-right coalition run by prime minister Enrico Letta, ostensibly over an increase in the consumption tax.
In truth, however, Berlusconi was attempting to pre-empt a vote to oust him from parliament after his conviction for tax fraud.
But early this week, after facing a rebellion from some of his ministers, he dropped his demand for snap elections, thus enabling the government to survive the vote of confidence he had triggered.
What the commentators said
For 20 years now, Italy has “given an impression of never moving forward”, said Economist.com’s Charlemagne blog. “The most important reason for this sense of déjà vu is that, whenever you look to the right, you find Silvio Berlusconi.”
He was always far more interested in his own career than Italy’s political and economic progress, and it’s largely his fault that Italy has gone from “top-tier industrial nation to a crisis-ridden, over-indebted country in desperate need of reforms”, added Hans-Jurgen Schlamp on Spiegel.de.
This time Berlusconi planned to topple the government and, assuming a subsequent election victory, pass laws to avoid expulsion from parliament. “He doesn’t want to retire.”
Still, his U-turn this week following dissent from his colleagues is fuelling hope that “the Italian right is finally outgrowing” Berlusconi, as Charlemagne put it. The big picture hasn’t changed much, however.
Italy’s economy has barely grown in 20 years and the seven-month-old government has failed to enact the structural reforms that would raise the long-term growth rate – “it was entangled in vetoes by the coalition parties”, said the FT.
Galvanising growth, and thus starting to work off Italy’s colossal debt pile of 120% of GDP, is what ultimately matters most, said Richard Barley in The Wall Street Journal. But the growth outlook is “nowhere near as exciting as Italian politics”.
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