This week a landmark ruling by the Italian Constitutional Court – the highest in the country – deemed that a law put in place by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government granting him immunity from prosecution while in power was indeed unconstitutional. Basically, it has taken the highest court in the land to uphold the rule that nobody is above the law. Earlier in the week, during the build up to this verdict, the court heard Berlusconi’s lawyers claiming that the law should see him as “first above equals,” adding that “The law is equal for everyone, but not always in its application.”
Berlusconi has faced charges of corruption, association with the Mafia, bribery, tax fraud, false accounting and illegally financing political parties. After about a dozen court cases since 1990, he has been acquitted on six of these thanks to the statute of limitations, which means a case gets thrown out of court after a set amount of time (note that he was not found innocent in these, indeed found guilty on one occasion). Why does the Statute of Limitations allow a short period of time if it cannot generate firm convictions or clearances? Well Berlusconi himself amended the law, reducing the time from 15 years to seven and a half , and with the money Berlusconi has at his disposal he is able to fund the massive bills of his legal team submitting never-ending motions to slow the process.
The passing of the Lodo Alfano Act meant that he would be immune from prosecution while in power, and the time remaining for two further court cases against him would run out. Now this is not necessarily the case any more. Cases involving the corruption of Senators in the Romano Prodi government, and the alleged bribe for a British lawyer, David Mills (husband of Tessa Jowell), to influence a judicial sentence, are still yet to be decided and will be given the green light to continue, as well as an unknown number of further cases.
Berlusconi is not alone in being an Italian politician accused of corruption and other crimes, and there are indeed a fair number on the Left that fall into this category. However they do not have the influence of the Prime Minister, nor the information outlets that he has. The Prime Minister has direct control over appointments at the state broadcaster Rai, of which Rai 1 and Rai 2 are commonly viewed as pro-Berlusconi channels, whereas Rai 3 is anti-Berlusconi. Added to that however is the private television network that made him famous – Mediaset – that consists of another three major terrestrial channels, Rete 4, Italia 1 and the flagship channel Canale 5. Most of the Italian general public get their news from TV, and the fact that he often gets criticised heavily in some newspapers, for example la Repubblica, does little to damage his reputation with his core voters. Nor have the recent sex scandals had the same affect that they would have in other European countries. The longer he stayed in power due to a lack of information regarding court cases, or those shown in a more favourable light, the longer he is using his powers to save himself from possible prosecution.
This landmark ruling from Wednesday night will not necessarily see the fast descent of the Prime Minister, and indeed he has vowed to defeat all the cases, blaming the “Left-wing” judiciary for the “unfair” ruling, promising to show them what he is made of, and uttering the words of his 2008 election campaign song, “Menomale che Silvio c’e” – “Thank goodness there’s Silvio.” Up until now his own motto could have been “Thank goodness there is a statute of limitations and the Lodo Alfano Act,” but that isn’t quite as catchy.
Living as a foreigner in Italy, you tend to see things differently from the way the Berlusconi supporters do. And that would be normal. Looking at Italian politics when you are used to the British political scene makes the differences all too apparent, and hence my viewpoint on the recent situations that have been brought to light in the Peninsula differ greatly from those of many Italians. This is not because I am Left-wing as critics of Berlusconi are labelled in Italy by the Right, but rather as I come from the typical British centre-Right viewpoint, and a political system that has more checks on power than in Italy. What will be interesting is the Italian reader’s response to both this article and the news in general. If the average Berlusconi voter begins to see that this man would not be allowed to even enter politics in other European countries with his conflicts of interests, let alone introduce self-serving, back-saving legislation, then a new more transparent and positive centre-Right party can emerge, negating the need for the extreme Lega Nord fascist party who have grown in recent years with their xenophobic policies, and forcing the Left to unite again and concentrate on policies rather than personal attacks. But I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Gazzetta Football Italiano
Week 2 –
Welcome back – August 28, 2009
International Week –
Spalletti stutters out – September 4, 2009
Week 3 –
Serie A heats up, Champions League returns with a bang too – September 11, 2009
Week 4 –
Inter and Milan in testing times – September 18, 2009
Week 6 –
Siena show Calcio’s good side – September 25, 2009
Week 7 –
Playing at home, away to Juventus – October 2, 2009
International Week –
Berlusconi to face the music – October 9, 2009