Dark days ahead for Italy after Berlusconi win

Berlusconi smiles "confidently" during the no confidence vote Keystone

The commentaries in Swiss newspapers say that Italy is the big loser following Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s narrow victory in a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday.

This content was published on December 15, 2010 - 10:35
Dale Bechtel and Federico Bragagnini,

Berlusconi survived by winning the vote in Italy’s lower house by a hair, 314-311.

“Italy’s the loser”, was the title of the commentary published in both the Tages-Anzeiger and Bund newspapers. “Silvio Berlusconi will not be happy with this victory,” it said, explaining that Berlusconi now finds himself in the same situation as his predecessor, Romano Prodi.

“In future he’ll have to worry about every single vote in parliament and apply every trick in the book [to win].” In conclusion, the Tages-Anzeiger and Bund said: “Politics has again shown itself to be incapable of giving the country any hope for the future. The longer the current state of affairs remains unchanged, the more dangerous it will become.”

The other Zurich-based paper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ), agreed that no winners emerged from Tuesday’s vote of confidence in Rome. “Since the withdrawal of former ally Gianfranco Fini the government coalition has been hanging by a thread.”

The NZZ warned that the vote could have severe consequences for a country beset by political stagnation and financial instability. “Italy needs a serious personality as prime minister who can speak openly about the country’s problems and present solutions, even if they are painful, and not someone who makes empty promises.”

Geneva’s Le Temps wrote in the same vein. “Not only does the vote fail to solve the serious Italian political crisis, but it also confirms the void created around Berlusconi. Parliament showed that it is incapable of finding an alternative to a highly discredited prime minister.

Presidential ambitions

“Since he returned to power in 2008, Berlusconi’s sole aim seems to have been to use public institutions to defend his own interests and escape justice,” Le Temps continued. “His ambition is to be elected president in 2013 in order to extend his immunity another seven years.”

The Geneva paper concluded that Berlusconi, once representing an Italian dream of consumer heaven, is now “a symbol of national unease”.

In an editorial titled “Commedia” (Italian for comedy), La Liberté from Fribourg saw the outcome of Tuesday’s vote as a sign that the country lacks a clear alternative to Berlusconi.

La Liberté highlighted the “sea of contradictions in which [Berlusconi’s] adversaries swim”, explaining that former allies who became his enemies had again shown their divisions and their lack of backbone.

The Bellinzona newspaper, La Regione Ticino, said the narrow victory on Tuesday could be the last the current government enjoys. It poked fun at those trying to understand how Berlusconi was able to survive the vote.

“The seriousness of the Italian crisis is such that perhaps only an anthropologist or a specialist in collective psychology or history may be able to say something new or important,” said La Regione Ticino.

Not written off

The commentary in Bern’s Berner Zeitung disagreed that Berlusconi’s days as Italy’s prime minister are numbered. “He is not to be written off, even when he no longer has a majority in parliament.

“Even early elections are no guarantee that Berlusconi will disappear from the radar screen,” the Berner Zeitung said. “Many Italians have been numbed by Berlusconi’s constant presence in the media. It’s possible that this effect will gradually wear off, but it’s evidently still strong enough.”

Nor does Ticino’s Corriere del Ticino see Berlusconi’s hold on power necessarily nearing an end. However, the paper says to survive he must “build a government of quality and quantity… introducing a programme of reforms that can boost Italian society and economy”.

The Tribune de Genève and 24 Heures of Lausanne - in the same editorial - spoke of the suspected corruption surrounding the vote of confidence, and accusations by, among others, the former anti-corruption judge Antonio Di Pietro, one of Berlusconi’s fiercest adversaries.

But the commentary warns: a fall of Berlusconi could well lead to a re-election of Berlusconi himself, since he still the most popular politician in Italy, on the right and left.

Italian-Swiss relations

Italy is Switzerland’s second most important trade partner.

It is the third-biggest importer and second biggest exporter to Switzerland.

In 2009 Switzerland imported goods worth SFr18 billion ($18.22) and exported goods worth SFr15.8 billion.

In the crisis year of 2009 trade fell by 16%, but it started to recover again in 2010.

Switzerland is the sixth-largest foreign investor in Italy, while Italy is the ninth-largest foreign investor in Switzerland.

(source: Swiss economics ministry)

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