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Italians deserve better than Berlusconi

It is fortunate indeed for New Labourite lawyer David Mills that he took a £400,000 bung from Silvio Berlusconi in 1999 rather than 2000. Were it not for Italy’s equivalent of the statute of limitations, he would now be around a quarter of the way through a four year jail term in whatever qualifies as the local equivalent of Ford Open Prison.

One little noticed aspect of the judgement that let him off the hook was the ruling that he had to pay the office of the Italian prime minister €250,000 for ‘damaging its reputation’. Yes, you read that right.

I almost feel like congratulating Mr Mills on this signal achievement. Blackening the name of a man who has widely been accused of mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, and bribery of police officers and judges, and who is currently in the dock on charges of hiring underage hookers, is obviously no easy job.

Silvio Berlusconi has dominated Italian politics for more than two decades, effectively paying his way to power through his ability to fund a rightwing populist party he created from scratch, and to systematically promote it through his monopoly of the media.

The bunga bunga is neither here nor there. His rule has been typified by standards of probity that are shockingly lax, even in relation to those that have typified that corruption-riddled country’s post-war polity.

This afternoon he faces a vote of confidence in the country’s parliament. That in itself should not phase him; he has survived at least 20 similar votes before now. Yet with any luck, this may be the time his luck finally runs out.

There are those on both the right and the left who are viscerally opposed to the European Union, and they may seek to paint Berlusconi’s departure as yet another example of unwarranted meddling in the internal affairs of a member state.

It is for the Italian electorate, and not for Merkel, Sarkozy or the European Central Bank, to decide who should head the Italian government, they will argue. Even as a euro-agnostic, I see their point.

Yet on general principles alone, Berlusconi’s resignation is something the democratic left ought to welcome, whether it comes this afternoon or at some later date.

I am not sure whether the cause of those who wish to resist austerity is better served by having to face a neoliberal administration led by an out and out buffoon, or a neoliberal administration led by possibly dangerously competent technocrats.

But to put it as simply as possible, Italy deserves better than Berlusconi.

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