Swiss hopeful that "Italy is not yet lost" after Berlusconi victory

Swiss newspapers say Berlusconi used his wealth to cement his victory

Swiss commentators are interpreting Silvio Berlusconi's victory in the Italian elections as a triumph for the cult of personality. One newspaper said he had sold himself like a "product" and accused him of "perverting" the democratic process.

This content was published on May 15, 2001 minutes

The official Swiss reaction to Berlusconi's victory was low-key in comparison to the media coverage. A spokesman for the foreign ministry said the government respected the outcome because it was "the result of a democratic process". He added that Switzerland did not expect ties between the two countries to be affected.

The German language "Berner Zeitung", by contrast, derided Berlusconi for turning the election into a "plebiscite" about himself, and said that he had exploited his vast wealth and media empire to secure office, exactly as he did in 1994, when he became prime minister for seven months.

The paper said Italians elected him because they have a soft spot for human weakness, but warned that "at first sight, it appears that Berlusconi has not learnt much since the first time round".

Berlusconi learnt on Tuesday that his centre-right coalition had won majorities in both chambers of the Italian parliament, paving the way for him to form a new government.

Few Swiss commentators were prepared to speculate about the future direction of the Italian government under Berlusconi. But the "Basler Zeitung" said he would have "a hard job" fulfilling his key campaign pledges - to boost pensions, cut taxes and to re-build Italy's infrastructure - without plunging the public finances into the red.

The "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" went further, saying that Berlusconi appeared to be the only person who believed his campaign pledges were affordable.

The paper said Berlusconi's election had significantly altered Italy's political landscape. It said the vote had weakened further the already divided left, and severely undermined the separatist Northern League of Umberto Bossi, one of Berlusconi's coalition partners.

As far as Swiss-Italian relations are concerned, Eric Joszef, Rome correspondent for the French language newspaper, "Le Temps", told swissinfo that Berlusconi's victory could have serious implications for legal cooperation between the two countries.

Joszef recalled that the billionaire media magnate's Forza Italia party refused to ratify a cross-border judicial agreement between Switzerland and Italy in 1998.

He said it was likely that Berlusconi would again try to minimise Swiss-Italian judicial cooperation. "We don't exactly know what he will do but seeing as he has had some problems with justice himself, he is not likely to want to increase the relationship with Swiss justice."

He added: "We know the investigating judge in Milan is asking for a lot of information from Switzerland as part of his inquiries into Berlusconi and his Fininvest group. So there are a lot of questions to which there are no answers and it will probably be much more difficult for the judge in Milan to get this information."

Berlusconi has previously been found guilty three times on corruption-related charges only to have the convictions quashed at a later date.

The Zurich-based "Tages Anzeiger" newspaper ended its comment with the question: "Should Italy be written off?" now that it has elected a prime minister whose activities have drawn approbation both at home and abroad.

It concluded that "half of Italians did not vote for Berlusconi", and that Italy's notoriously unstable political system - post-war governments typically survive less than a year - is likely to save the country from this administration.

In its view: "Italy is not yet lost."


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