Berlusconi could hold key to Italian government’s future

FILE PHOTO: Former Italian Prime Minister and leader of the Forza Italia (Go Italy!) party Silvio Berlusconi gestures during a rally ahead of a regional election in Emilia-Romagna, in Ravenna, Italy, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo

He is 83 and has lost most of his former support, but Italy’s four-times prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is manoeuvring to put his centre-right Forza Italia party back into government and could make his move as early as September, sources say.

Berlusconi aims to exploit divisions in the ruling coalition over whether Italy should seek a loan from the euro zone’s bailout fund which could provide cheap money for its coronavirus-battered health system, say sources close to the media tycoon.

The centre-left Democratic Party (PD) wants Italy to tap the fund, known as the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), while the co-ruling anti-establishment 5-Star Movement is fiercely against the proposal, saying it will pave the way for austerity.

The issue is lacerating the coalition and a 5-Star party source says it could bring down the government when the vote is held, probably in September.

“When it happens, there will be an attempt to form a new majority, and the underlying division in the 5-Star between those who want to stay in government and those who don’t will come to light,” the 5-Star source said.

With the economy reeling from the coronavirus pandemic, the ESM is not the only problem facing the coalition parties, which often quarrel over issues ranging from justice to reform of public tender rules.

Berlusconi’s rightist allies, the League and Brothers of Italy, share 5-Star’s position on the ESM, but the ex-premier has broken ranks, lining up with the PD and presenting a pro-European image.

“We will vote in favour of the ESM because it is for the good of Italy,” Berlusconi told daily newspaper Corriere della Sera on Wednesday. He denied any party political motives.

With the political jigsaw increasingly complex, such a scenario could pave the way for a new government centred on the PD and Forza Italia, a mainstream, pro-European option that may go down well with Italy’s partners and financial markets.