Saturday, October 5, 2013

Berlusconi (eventually) supports Letta’s government in a confidence vote

I haven’t been writing much lately, but definitely not for lack of things to talk about. In fact, now there are too many things to talk about. I honestly don’t even know where to pick up from, so this post will be more a general consideration than a detailed account of events.
Over the last weeks, we have seen the uncontested protagonist of Italian politics, Silvio Berlusconi, threatening (again) to withdraw his support to Enrico Letta’s executive.

Enrico Letta & Silvio Berlusconi

The reason why Berlusconi claimed he would leave the coalition was, supposedly, a fight over IVA (the Italian VAT, “value added tax”). After celebrating his victory following the abolition of IMU (see, Berlusconi piled on it by stating that he would not tolerate an IVA increase. Too bad that Letta’s government, after giving in on IMU, noticed that they were still in need of tax revenue. So rumours about an IVA increase became more and more sound (and it is actually in place now).
At some point, Letta openly said that he would ask Parliament for a confidence vote, because he was not going to waste his time if he did not enough support.
Berlusconi took the IVA excuse to blackmail Parliament one more time. This whole argument in fact originated because Berlusconi, following a definitive jail sentence for tax fraud, is facing expulsion from the Senate. The dedicated Senate commission had already voted once in favour of his decay. What Berlusconi was clearly saying was “Either you save me, or I will end your government”. That’s just how much blackmail potential he still has (and this is without a doubt the worst aspect of a grand coalition in Italy).
So, Berlusconi said until the very end that he would deny the confidence. But when the actual vote took place, last Wednesday, it was pure chaos. He insisted in voting no. But then, and this is a real unprecedented episode, his party divided on the subject: a faction led by secretary Angelino Alfano claimed that they would vote in favour of Letta despite what Berlusconi said. The party held a meeting and, after a morning spent going back and forward, Berlusconi eventually announced that they would vote “yes” in the confidence vote.
So, in the end, the government is still there, still potentially blackmailed by the same person. To quote a famous line from the Italian movie “Il Gattopardo”: “Everything must change, so that everything can stay the same”.
However, something that I found shocking actually happened this time: The People of Freedom did not stand blindly by Berlusconi’s side, for once. Both Berlusconi’s old party Forza Italia and the current People of Freedom are the perfect example of a 100% personalized party: they simply could not exist  without him. And yet, this time something went differently. Either they reconcile, or the party will probably split into those remaining loyal to the leader and those going on to form a new group.

And finally: as expected, yesterday morning the Senate commission voted again in favour of Berlusconi’s decadence from his senatorial title. Now, for what I understood, he will face a vote from the whole Senate. We are all waiting to see if at least something will change, this time.