Silvio Berlusconi

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Silvio Berlusconi
Silvio Berlusconi
Term of office April 23, 2005 – present
Preceded by Himself
Succeeded by Incumbent
Date of birth September 29, 1936
Place of birth Milan, Italy
Spouse Veronica Lario
Political party Forza Italia

(born September 29, 1936) is the current Prime Minister of Italy. He is the leader of the Forza Italia political movement, a party which was established for his entry into politics.

Berlusconi served as Prime Minister for a short term in 1994. In 2001 he was appointed to the office again; the second Berlusconi government is the longest-lasting in Italy's republican history. On April 20, 2005, Berlusconi tendered the resignation of his government after recent losses in regional elections and internal problems in his coalition, but on April 23, 2005, he formed a new government without many changes.

He is also the owner and founder of an Italian media empire. According to Forbes Magazine, Silvio Berlusconi is Italy's richest person, a self-made man with personal assets worth $12,000,000,000 (USD) in 2005, making him the world's 25th richest person [1].

He has often been and is being alleged to use its politic powers in order to enforce pieces of legislation tailored to increase his personal richness and through capricious interpretations of corporate control is said to be avoiding formal breaches of the rules on conflicts of interest that himself enforced.

He has also been the President of A.C. Milan.


Early years

Berlusconi was born in an upper middle-class family in Milan; his father Luigi worked at a small bank, Banca Rasini, of which he became general manager in the 1960s before retiring. Silvio was the first of three children, the others being Maria Antonietta Berlusconi (born 1943) and Paolo Berlusconi (born 1949), now both entrepreneurs. Silvio takes a special pride that his father started his career in Banca Rasini as an employee and left as general manager.

After completing his secondary school education at a Salesian college, which he worked his way through as a singing waiter, he then studied law at the Università Statale in Milan, graduating in 1961. Berlusconi did not serve the standard one-year stint in the army which was compulsory at the time. The reason for this is unknown.

Business career

Silvio Berlusconi with Bettino Craxi, at the time prime minister of Italy.
Silvio Berlusconi with Bettino Craxi, at the time prime minister of Italy.

Berlusconi's business career began in the construction business in the 1960s. His first entry into the media world was by means of a cable television station, Telemilano, designed to service his Milano 2 residential development. Soon afterward, he formed his first media group, Fininvest, and from there he expanded to a country wide network of local TV stations which would all broadcast the same materials, forming, in effect, a single national station. This was illegal at the time, since Italian law reserved the monopoly of TV broadcasting to the public television. In 1980 he founded Italy's first private national network Canale 5, shortly followed by Italia 1 bought from The Rusconis (1982) and Rete 4 (1984) bought from Mondadori. A strong help to his successful effort to create the first and only Italian commercial TV empire is due to his link with Bettino Craxi, at that time the secretary-general of Italian Socialist Party and the prime minister of Italy. For many years, the three TV channels owned by Berlusconi were not allowed to broadcast news and political commentary, yet they formed the main alternative to the three State-owned channels Rai Uno, Rai Due and Rai Tre. Only in the 1990's was the government monopoly on information ended.

In 1995, Berlusconi sold a portion of his media holdings, first to the German media group Kirch (now bankrupt) and then by public floatation. In 1999 Berlusconi expanded again in the media business in a partnership with Kirch called the Epsilon MediaGroup.

Berlusconi's main group, called Mediaset, comprises three national television channels, which hold approximately 45% of the national viewing audience; and Publitalia, the leader Italian advertising and publicity agency; Berlusconi also owns Mondadori, the largest Italian publishing house which publishes Panorama, a news magazine; he has interests in cinema and home video distribution firms (Medusa and Penta), insurance and banking (Mediolanum) and a variety of other activities. His brother controls Il Giornale, and his wife Il foglio, both center-right newspapers which print a lot fewer daily copies then the more popular Il Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica.

Berlusconi also owns the football club AC Milan which some think has been an important factor in the success of his political career ("Forza Italia" means "Go Italy!", a slogan often used as a football chant [2]).

Political career

In the early 1990s, the two largest Italian majority Parties, the Christian Democrats (Democrazia Cristiana) and the Socialist Party (Partito Socialista Italiano) lost much of their electoral strength due to a large number of judicial accusations of corruption for their foremost members (see the Mani Pulite affair). This led to the expectation that elections would be won by the Democratic Party of the Left (Partito Democratico della Sinistra), (the former Communist Party (Partito Comunista Italiano) and the main opposition party) unless there was a strong alternative: Berlusconi decided to enter politics on a platform centered on the defeat of communism. Some people suggest that the 'fear of the communists' was just an excuse and that he started his political activity exclusively to protect his personal interests. This because just couple of week before he decided to enter in politics, the Mani Pulite affair was very close to issue warrants for him and the chef executives of his group.

Berlusconi founded Forza Italia only two months before the 1994 elections; he formed two separate electoral alliances, with Lega Nord (Northern League) in northern Italy colleges, and with Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) in the center and south; he launched a massive campaign of electoral spots on his three TV networks and he won the elections, with Forza Italia ranking first party with 21% of popular vote. He was appointed Prime Minister in 1994, but his term in office was short because of the inherent contradictions in his coalition, between Lega Nord, a regional party with a strong electoral base in northern Italy, which was at that time oscillating between federalist and separatist positions, and Alleanza Nazionale, a nationalist party which only then started dropping references to fascist ideology and symbols.

From the beginning, Italian public opinion was divided: from the left, the new entry of Berlusconi was seen as an attempt, by a star of the old policy corruption system to bring it on despite of all the accusations and evidences. From the right, Berlusconi was hailed as the "new man" that would have saved the country from the communist horde, bringing the public bureaucracy to new efficiency and reforming the state top to bottom. Others have claimed that his entry was rather designed to help him avoid the bankruptcy of his companies due to large amounts of debt [3].

In December 1994, Lega Nord left the coalition claiming that the electoral pact had not been respected, forcing Berlusconi to resign from office and moving the majority's weight to the centre-left side. The coalition of opposition parties (now including Lega Nord) then replaced him. In 1996, the ad-interim coalition formed by Lega Nord and centre-left was replaced, after a new election, by a centre-leftist government (without Lega Nord) led by Romano Prodi. [4]

In 2001 Berlusconi again ran as leader of the centre-right coalition Casa delle Libertà (House of Freedoms) which includes Alleanza Nazionale, UDC (Christian Democrats), Lega Nord and other parties. His success in this election led to him becoming Prime Minister once more, with the coalition receiving 45.4% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies (Italian's Lower House), and 42.5% for the Senate-House (Italian's Upper House).

Casa delle Libertà has done less well in the 2003 local elections in comparison with the 2001 national elections, and, in common with many other European governing groups, in the 2004 elections of the European Parliament, gaining 43.37% support. Forza Italia's support also reduced from 29.5% to 21.0% (in the 1999 European elections Forza Italia had 25.2%). As an outcome of these results the other coalition parties, whose electorals results were more satisfactory, asked Berlusconi and Forza Italia for more influence in the government's political line.

In the last local elections (April 3 & 4, 2005), the opposition The Union (formerly known as Olive Tree) won easily 12 of 14 regions where there was a vote; Berlusconi's coalition held in only two regions (Lombardy and Veneto). Two parties (UDC and NPSI) left the Berlusconi government. Berlusconi thus presented to the President of the Republic the dissolution of his government on April 20, 2005, after much hesitation. On April 23 he formed a new government with the same allies, but with some changes in the ministers and in the program. A key point required by UDC (and to a minor extent by AN) was to reduce the focus on tax reduction the government had had, because this was considered incompatible with Italy's financial situation.

There have been harsh criticisms on Berlusconi's choices: the ministry of Health, previously occupied by Girolamo Sirchia, a famous doctor, has been given to Francesco Storace, who, only a few weeks earlier, lost the regional elections in Latium. Another controversial move was the nomination of Giulio Tremonti as Vice-Prime Minister. Tremonti had been the Minister of Economy just few years earlier, but was forced to resign. He is strongly supported by Lega Nord, but opposed by UDC and AN.


As he founded his Forza Italia party and entered politics, Berlusconi claimed to believe in "freedom, person (the individual), family, enterprise, Italian tradition, Christian tradition and love for weaker people" [5]. Forza Italia could be considered a liberal party, although references to liberalism were more common in the initial years of the party development than are now; some consider Forza Italia a populist party. However, Forza Italia officially joined the European People's Party in 1999, theoretically choosing to be identified mainly as a Christian Democratic party. Internal democracy in the party is very low and internal dissent virtually nonexistent. There are no known factions or currents; at present three party conventions have been held, all of them resolved in a Berlusconi showdown, and his re-election by acclamation. Every man in the party apparatus is appointed by Berlusconi himself: for all these reasons, its political opponents call Forza Italia "the plastic party".

Some allies of Berlusconi, especially Lega Nord (Northern League) push for a strong control of immigration and getting their support has required some changes in policies from Berlusconi. Berlusconi himself has shown some reluctance to pursue such policies as strongly as his allies might like. [6] Even so, a number of measures have been taken, but the effects are controversial. The government, after introducing a controversial immigration law (the "Bossi-Fini", from the names of Lega Nord and Alleanza Nazionale leaders) is searching for the cooperation of both European and other mediterranean countries to face the emergency of the large number of immigrants trying to reach Italian coasts on old and overloaded ferries and fishing boats, risking (and, often, losing) their life.

The Berlusconi government has had a strong tendency to support American foreign policies despite the policy divide between the U.S. and many other founding members of European Union (Germany, France, Belgium), a break from the traditional Italian foreign policy. Italy, with Berlusconi in office, became a substantial ally to the United States of America in 2003 as Berlusconi supported the American/British-led Iraq War to oust the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Berlusconi, in his meetings with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. President George W. Bush, said that he pushed for "a clear turnaround in the Iraqi situation" and for a quick hand-over of sovereignty to the government chosen by the U.N. Italy has some 2,700 troops deployed in Southern Iraq, the third largest contingent there after the American and British forces.

The government confirms the agenda to reduce taxes and simplify the taxation system for both privates and enterprises (Berlusconi himself engaged personally during his electoral campaign). The opposition claims these programs are not realistic in the present economic trend. The EU Commission also pushes for a strict budget control, to meet the European mandatory standards. It must be noted the Italian State has historically a large debt (at the present time 106% of GDP) whose cost heavily burdens the annual budgets.

A key point of the government program is the planned reform of the Constitution, an issue the coalition parties themselves initially had significantly different opinions about, with Lega Nord insisting on the federal reform (devolution of more power to the Regions) as the condition itself for remaining in the coalition; Alleanza Nazionale pushing for the so-called "strong premiership" (more powers to the executive), meant as a counterweight to the federal reform, to preserve the State unity; UDC asking for an electoral law not damaging small parties (more proportional) and being generally more willing to find a compromise with the moderate wing of the opposition. Difficulties in arranging a mediation caused some internal unrest in the Berlusconi government in 2003, but then they were mostly overcome and the law (comprising power devolution to the regions, Federal Senate, "strong premiership" and to be complemented with a new electoral law) was passed by the Senate in April 2004; it was slightly modified by the Chamber of Deputies in October 2004, and now is in process of being examined by the Senate again. Its final date of approvation is projected to be around July 2005, and, if passed, will then be subject of a popular referendum (necessary in the Italian law for constitutional reforms which don't meet a two thirds majority).

Silvio Berlusconi meeting with Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas
Silvio Berlusconi meeting with Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas

Legislative actions

Berlusconi's government passed many pieces of legislation. Within the 2001-2003 period, the government issued: 332 bills, 184 approved laws and 148 halfway.

Among the most far-reaching legislative actions and reforms attempted by the second Berlusconi government were:

  • The reform of the labour system, strongly opposed by labor unions,
  • The reform of the school system, srongly opposed by teachers' unions and students
  • The law on large public works (MOSE project saving city of Venice, High speed railways Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples and Turin-Verona-Venice, Bridge between Sicily and Italy, underground in Rome, Parma, Naples, Turin, Milan, a strong modernisation of Highways and Water structures in South of Italy, project "Highways on the sea", etc. )
  • The reform of Justice
  • Abolition of Donation and succession taxes
  • The support of US foreign politics, in Afghanistan and Iraq
  • The abolition of military service for all male Italians (only volunteers from 2004)
  • The infamous SIAE stamp, to be sticked on any medium containing copyrighted software, sounds, or motion pictures sold in Italy. Many Italians refused buying anything with this sticker on it throughout May 2005.
    The infamous SIAE stamp, to be sticked on any medium containing copyrighted software, sounds, or motion pictures sold in Italy. Many Italians refused buying anything with this sticker on it throughout May 2005.
    The Urbani decree, named after the Ministro per i beni e le attività culturali Giuliano Urbani, punishing whoever circulates, even via file sharing software, a film or other copyrighted material or part of it, or enjoys it with the same technology, with a 1,500 € fine, the confiscation of the instruments and the material, and the publication of the measure on a national daily paper and a periodical about shows. This decree was fiercely opposed by the Italian Internet community.

Also, well-known (because regulating aspects of every-day life) legislative acts were:

  • The increase in taxation on virgin data storage devices — this enacted an European Union directive.
  • The reform of rules regarding drivers' licenses, which (according to the Italian police department) led to a 14.5% decrease in car accidents, or an 18.5% decrease of lethal car accidents.
  • The anti-smoke campaign with the prohibition of smoking in offices, pubs, restaurants and other public places, which came into effect in January 2005.
  • The law regulating assisted fertilization, actually banning free research on staminal cells, pre-implant diagnosis, and "eterogal" fertilization, forcing women into being implanted after the embryo creation, recognising embryo as a rights bearer. The abrogation of the most controversial items has been the object of an unsuccessful popular referendum called in June 2005 by left wing parties, including Radicals, Left-Wing Democrats, Socialists, Communists.

In a controversial move, the Berlusconi government also presented a new media reform legislation. Among other things, such legislation increased the maximum limit on an individual's share of the media market, allowing Berlusconi to retain control of his three national TV channels. The legislation also enabled the roll-out of digital television and internet based publishing, and hence his government claimed it resolved the problem of conflict of interest and his media monopoly "by opening up more channels". The law was initially vetoed by the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, on charges of being anti-constitutional, but it was then forced into law by the Parliament.

The new pensions' law, issued on July 2004, raised the minimim age for retirement and added incentives for delayed retirement.

Berlusconi has forced through the Parliament an overall constitutional reform to deepen the current federal form of the State and strengthen the power of the Prime Minister. This reform is disputed, because it has been imposed only by pressions of former separatist party Lega Nord, and without an adequate sharing with the opposition. Many experts of constitutional law think it is fraught with potential disfunctionalities. As of October 2005, the reform has been approved by the Parliament and is in wait for the 2nd approval.

In October 2005, Berlusconi forced a reform of electoral law. The First Pass the Post system is abolished, even if it was voted by the people in the referendum of 1993 and even if a referendum to strenghten the system failed because the needed quorum was not reached in 1999 for a few voters.

Other pieces of legislation include:

  • the depenalization of fake balance sheets
  • the suspension of penal trials for high constitution authorities during their terms (this law has been declared unconstitutional)
Silvio Berlusconi, summer 2004
Silvio Berlusconi, summer 2004


Berlusconi is a controversial figure. In one widely reported incident, upon being asked how he would have dealt with his conflict of interests by the German member of the European parliament Martin Schulz (SPD) during Italy's presidency, Berlusconi reacted with the words "Mr. Schulz, I know there is a producer in Italy who is making a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I will suggest you for the role of Kapo. You'd be perfect." The reference to the Nazis caused an uproar in the 626-seat assembly and a short diplomatic crisis between Italy and Germany.

On another occasion, he stated that "Benito Mussolini's regime hadn't killed a single person" and that Mussolini "just used to send opposers on holiday", thus apparently denying or dismissing a long series of fascist crimes, from the murder of Giacomo Matteotti to the infamous fascist concentration camps (Rab, Gonars, etc). Berlusconi later claimed that he did not mean to white-wash Mussolini, that he only reacted to a comparison, which he felt unfair, between the fascist dictator and Saddam Hussein.

One of Berlusconi's strongest critics in the media outside Italy is the British weekly The Economist (nicknamed by Berlusconi "The Ecommunist"). The war of words between Berlusconi and the Economist has been infamous and widely reported, with Berlusconi taking the publication to court in Rome and the Economist publishing open letters against him [7].

In any event, according to The Economist, Berlusconi, in his position as prime minister of Italy, now has effective control of 90% of all national television broadcasting. [8] This figure includes stations he owns directly as well as those he has indirect control of through his position as Prime Minister and his ability to influence the choice of the management bodies of these stations.

Berlusconi's extensive control of the media has been linked to claims that Italy's media shows limited freedom of expression. The Freedom of the Press 2004 Global Survey, an annual study issued by the American organization Freedom House, downgraded Italy's ranking from 'Free' to 'Partly Free' [9] on the basis of Berlusconi's influence over RAI, a ranking which, in "Western Europe" was shared only with Turkey (2005). Reporters Without Borders states that in 2004, "The conflict of interests involving prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his vast media empire was still not resolved and continued to threaten news diversity".[10] In April 2004, the International Federation of Journalists joined the criticism, objecting to the passage of a law vetoed by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi in 2003, which critics believe is designed to protect Berlusconi's alleged 90% control of national media. [11]

Berlusconi's influence over RAI became evident when in Sofia, Bulgaria he expressed his views on the journalists Enzo Biagi, Michele Santoro [[12]], and comedian Daniele Luttazzi after his satiric behaviour and his interview with journalist Marco Travaglio. The four never appeared in any TV shows since then. Left-wing politicians and media refers to this episode as the Sofia Diktat. The TV broadcasting of a satirical program called RAIOT was censored in November 2003 after the comedienne, Sabina Guzzanti, made outspoken criticism of Berlusconi media empire [[13]]. Mediaset, one of Berlusconi's companies, sued the Italian state broadcasting company RAI because of Guzzanti show asking 20 million Euro for "damages" and from November 2003 she was forced to appear only in theatres around Italy.

In response to such claims, Mediaset, Berlusconi's television group, has stated that it uses the same criteria as the public (state-owned) television RAI in assigning a proper visibility to all the most important political parties and movements (the so-called 'Par Condicio'). It is also true that while the distribution of newspapers in Italy is lower than most other European countries (100 copies per 1000 individuals compared to 500 per 1000 in Scandinavian countries [14]), the majority of national press, which includes the three italian largest printed dailies, La Repubblica, Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa, tends to report independently of the Berlusconi government or (in the case of La Repubblica, among the three major newspapers cited above) to be very openly critic of it. Yet the resignations of the director of Corriere della Sera, Ferruccio de Bortoli, were seen as a grasp for more media control from the government. In fact the FNSI, the Trade Union for Italian Journalists, organized a three days long strike to show support to the former director of the newspaper.

The conflict of interest issues can be better understood in the context of the structure of control of the state media. The law delegated the presidents of the Chamber and Deputies to elect the president of RAI and the board of directors. In practice the decision is a political one, which generally results in some opposition representatives becoming directors, but with a majority in the hands of the government candidates; typical numbers used to be two directors and the president for the parlamentarian majority, and two directors for the opposition. There is also a parliamentary supervisory commission, where the president is customarily a member of the opposition. During the Baldassarre presidency of RAI, the two opposition directors and the one closer to UDC left fro internal disagreements, usually centered on censorship issues. RAI continued to be run by a two-man team (mockingly nicknamed by the opposition i giapponesi, "the Japanese" after the Japanese soldiers that kept fighting in the Pacific ocean after the end of World War II).

Controversy concerning Berlusconi's conflicts of interest are normally centered around the use of his media and marketing power for political gain; however, there is also controversy regarding financial gains. When RAI was being run by a 2-man team appointed by the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (both in Berlusconi's coalition), the state broadcaster lost a significant market share to the rival Mediaset group, owned and run by the Berlusconi family, which has led to large personal gain. Berlusconi has many financial interests, and it is inevitable that a lot of legislation can have a direct financial impact on his fortune. His government has passed some laws that have shortened statutory terms for tax fraud. Berlusconi responded to critics by saying that he would not take advantage of these himself, but later he did. Critics claim that this situation indicates that laws about conflict of interest and anti-trust are in practice completely ineffective. Berlusconi himself claims to have resolved his conflict of interest: for example, he cites the fact that he is neither longer president of Mediaset, nor 100% owner.

Legal investigations of Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi undoubtedly has a rather long record of judicial trials, as several crimes have been alleged to him or his firms (see also the following subsection on Berlusconi's trials), including false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Some of Berlusconi's close collaborators, friends and firm managers have been found guilty of related crimes, notably his younger brother, Paolo, who in 2002 accepted to pay 52 million euros as a plea bargain to local authorities for various charges including corruption and undue appropriation17. However, no definitive conviction sentence has ever been issued on Silvio Berlusconi himself for any of the trials which have concluded so far; in some cases he has been fully acquitted of the alleged charges, in others he has been acquitted with dubitative formula (not proven), or he was acquitted because the statute of limitations expired before a definitive sentence could be issued; in one case a previously granted amnesty extinguished the crime (perjury) before the sentence came into effect. The Italian legal system allows the statute of limitations to continue to run during the course of the trial. Consequently, the dilatory tactics adopted by Berlusconi's attorneys (including repeated motions for change of venue) served to nullify the pending charges.

Some of the suspects on Berlusconi's person arise from real or perceived blank spots in his past. Notably, in 1981 a scandal arose on the discovery by the police of Licio Gelli's secret freemasonry lodge (Propaganda Due, or P2) aiming to move the Italian political system in an authoritarian direction to oppose communism. A list of names was found of adherents of P2, which included members of the secret services and some prominent personalities from the political, industrial, military and press elite, among which Silvio Berlusconi, who was just starting to gain popularity as the founder and owner of "Canale 5" TV network. The P2 lodge was dissolved by the Italian parliament in december 1981 and a law was passed declaring similar organizations illegal, but no specific crimes were alleged to individual members of P2. Berlusconi later (1989) sued for libel three journalists who had written an article hinting at his involvement in financiary crimes and in this occasion he declared in court that he had joined the P2 lodge "only a very short time before the scandal broke" and "he had not even paid the entry fee". Such statements, however, conflicted with the findings of the parliamentary commission appointed to investigate the lodge's activity, with material evidence, and even with previous testimony of Berlusconi, all of which showing that he had actually been a member of P2 since 1978 and had indeed paid a 100,000 Italian liras entry fee. Because of this he was indicted for perjury, but the crime was extinguished by the 1989 amnesty.

Berlusconi's career as an entrepreneur is also often questioned by his detractors. The allegations made against him generally include suspects about the extremely fast increase of his activity as a construction entrepreneur in years 1961-63, hinting at the possibility that in those years he received money from unknown and possibly illegal sources. These accusations are regarded by Berlusconi and his supporters as empty slander, trying to undermine Berlusconi's reputation of a self-made man. Frequently cited by opponents are also events dating to the 1980s, including supposed "favor exchanges" between Berlusconi and the former prime minister Bettino Craxi, indicted in 1990-91 for various corruption charges; and even possible connections to the Italian Mafia, the latter accusations arising mostly from the curious circumstance that he employed for two years, as a stableman in his Arcore villa, the wanted mafia boss Vittorio Mangano4. Berlusconi acknowledges a personal friendship only to Craxi, and of course denies any ties to the Mafia, stating that he was absolutely not aware of who Mangano really was when he employed him. Heated debate on this issue was recently (2004) triggered again when Marcello Dell'Utri, the manager (later managing director) of Berlusconi`s publishing company Publitalia 80 and a Forza Italia senator and long time friend of Berlusconi, was sentenced to 9 years by the Palermo court on charge of "external association to the Mafia" 5, a sentence on which Berlusconi refused to comment.

On some occasions, which raised a strong upheaval in the Italian political opposition, laws passed by the Berlusconi administration have effectively delayed ongoing trials on him, allowing the statute of limitations to expire, or stopped them entirely. Relevant examples are the law reducing punishment for all cases of false accounting; the new law on international rogatories, which made his Swiss bank records unusable in court against him 6; the law on legitimate suspicion, which allowed defendants to request their cases to be moved to another court if they believe that the local judges are biased against them 7,8; and most importantly the lodo Maccanico law, passed in June 2003, which granted the highest five state officers, including the Prime Minister, immunity from prosecution while in office2. This law froze Berlusconi's position in the SME-Ariosto trial in which he was accused of having corrupted judges in previous legal rulings regarding his partecipation in the public auction of the state-owned food company SME in the 1980s. However, the trial was not frozen for other defendants, and the former lawyer of Berlusconi's main firm (Fininvest) and former Italian defence minister, Cesare Previti, was sentenced to 5 years although the crime was reduced from corruption of judges to simple corruption 9,10. In January 2004 the Lodo Maccanico was nullified by the Constitutional court as it was ruled to be in conflict with the Italian constitution. Subsequently Berlusconi has declared his intent to re-introduce the law using the correct procedure for constitutional modification. Because of these legislative acts, political opposers accuse Berlusconi of passing ad personam laws, to protect himself from legal charges; Berlusconi and his allies, on the other hand, maintain that such laws are consistent with everyone's right to a rapid and just trial, and with the principle of presumption of innocence (garantismo); furthermore, they claim that Berlusconi is subject to a judiciary persecution, a political witch hunt orchestrated by politicized (left-wing) judges 11.

For such reasons, Berlusconi and his government have an ongoing quarrel with the Italian judiciary, which reached its peak in 2003 when Berlusconi commented to a foreign journalist that judges are "mentally disturbed" and "anthropologically different from the rest of the human race", remarks that he later claimed he meant to be directed to specific judges only, and of a humorous nature12. More seriously, the Berlusconi administration has long been planning a judiciary reform intended to limit the arbitrariness allowed to the judges in their decisions (for example by introducing civil liability on the consequences of their sentences), but which, according to its critics, will instead limit the magistrature's independence, by de facto subjecting the judiciary to the executive's control. This reform has met almost unanimous dissent from the Italian judges 13,14 and, after three years of debate and struggle, was passed by the Italian parliament in December 2004, but was immediately vetoed by the Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi 15, who said some of the passed laws were "clearly unconstitutional". Presently (February 2005) the law is in process of being re-examined by the parliament, taking into account the President's objections on its constitutionality.

Berlusconi has also been indicted in Spain for charges of tax fraud and violation of anti-trust laws regarding the private TV network Telecinco, but his status as a member of the European Parliament allowed him to gain immunity from prosecution 16.


Main article: Trials involving Silvio Berlusconi


Berlusconi and the "horns" gesture.
Berlusconi and the "horns" gesture.

Berlusconi is admired by some Italians for his tremendous success as a businessman; they praise what they consider his innovative ideas and enterpreneurial spirit. His detractors, however, point out that he tends to centralize power upon his person, and this is reflected in the organization of the Forza Italia party. Furthermore, critics often attribute a substantial part of his financial successes to his closeness to politicians that have been later exposed as corrupt (as Bettino Craxi) or even contiguous to the mafia (as Giulio Andreotti, who narrowly avoided a guilt verdict because the statute of limitations had been reached). Another criticism voiced is that he over-reacts to attacks from political opponents. Just about everyone agrees that he cares a great deal about his appearance; in January, 2004, after intense speculation in the media, he admitted he had a facelift [15].

Berlusconi always tries to maintain a gentle, agreeable character with whoever he is talking to. His opponents perceive this as hypocrisy, since he can also deliver strong speeches that at times border on hate, especially when talking about communists. He is known to tell jokes to create a relaxed atmosphere, and trying to make sure everybody enjoys himself in his presence. He is especially careful about talking in intelligible Italian, though with a light Milan accent, while some politicians prior to 1992 talked an incomprehensible jargon.


His sense of humour is perceived to be somewhat coarse, and could be thought to be purposely targeted at the average Italian, if Berlusconi had not been a known figure already before entering politics. In February 2002, at a European Union summit of foreign ministers, Berlusconi, present since the replacement of his previous foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, had not yet been appointed, made a vulgar gesture (the "corna") behind the head of the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Piqué, indicating he (Piqué) was a cuckold, exactly at the time of the taking of the official pictures. This is a common joke among Italian pre-teens, and many felt it was utterly out of place in an international meeting. He later explained that he "was joking", and he meant to create a relaxed climate, that this sort of meeting were meant to "create friendship, cordiality, simpatia and kind relationships" between the participants, and that he wanted to amuse a small group of bystanding boy scouts. [16]

On July 2, 2003, one day after taking over the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, he was heavily criticised by the German Member of the European Parliament Martin Schulz (from the SPD) because of his domestic policy. Berlusconi replied:

Signor Schulz, so che in Italia c'è un produttore che sta montando un film sui campi di concentramento nazisti: la suggerirò per il ruolo di kapò. Lei è perfetto!
In English: Mister Schulz, I know a movie-producer in Italy, who is making a movie about Nazi concentration-camps. I will suggest you to play the role of a Kapo (concentration-camp supervisor). You would be perfect for this role.

Maybe Berlusconi was referring to the comedy-series Hogan's Heroes, where a slow-witted concentration-camp guard named Sgt. Hans Georg Schultz, played by John Banner, starred.

Even though Berlusconi insisted that he was only "joking", his comparisons with the Nazis caused a brief diplomatic rift between Italy and Germany.

In mid-May 2005, while opening the European Food Safety Authority in Parma (after the location had previously been preferred over one in Finland and Berlusconi had accused Finns of "not knowing what prosciutto is"), Berlusconi claimed that he had to "blow away the dust from my playboy (in English) arts" with the Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, to convince her to locate the EFSA in Parma. This caused criticism from both Italy and Finland, with the Italian ambassador in Finland being called by the Finnish foreign minister. [17]. Berlusconi later 'retracted' the comment by saying that anyone who had seen a picture of Halonen must have been aware that he had been joking. Sexist jokes are considered bad taste in nordic countries, but are part of a macho image in Italy, and are therefore more accepted, though far from classy.


  1. ^ Silvio Berlusconi From's: Forbes World's Richest People, Retrieved 2004/12/24
  2. Italy immunity law provokes fury, BBC news, 25 June 2003, Retrieved 2004/12/24
  3. Berlusconi in EU 'Nazi' slur, BBC news, 2 July 2003, Retrieved 2004/12/24
  4. Berlusconi accused of Mafia links, BBC news, 8 January 2003, Retrieved 2005/1/22
  5. Italy's left attacks Berlusconi, BBC news, 11 December 2004, Retrieved 2005/1/22
  6. Berlusconi plans to get off the hook, The Observer, 7 October 2001, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  7. Italian Senate passes disputed bill, BBC News, 2 August 2002, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  8. Berlusconi scores double victory, BBC News, 5 November 2002, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  9. Berlusconi ally jailed for bribery, BBC News, 29 April 2003, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  10. Berlusconi ally partially cleared, BBC News, 22 November 2003, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  11. Berlusconi warns 'subversive' judges, BBC News, 8 August 2003, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  12. Berlusconi stuns Italian judges, BBC News, 5 September 2003, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  13. Italian judges fight reform, BBC News, 20 June 2002, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  14. Italian magistrates go on strike, BBC News, 25 May 2004, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  15. Italian president blocks reforms, BBC News, 16 December 2004, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  16. Q&A: Berlusconi's battle with the courts, BBC News, 24 January 2002, Retrieved 2005/2/1
  17. Italian premier's brother wants plea bargain in corruption case, Financial Times, 22 April 2002, Retrieved 2005/2/1, reported on the la Margherita (the Daisy) opposition party website.
  18. New storm over Berlusconi 'remarks', BBC News, 11 September 2003, Retrieved 2005/2/2
  19. Jewish communities split over Berlusconi, BBC News, 26 September 2003, Retrieved 2005/2/2

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Preceded by:
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by:
Lamberto Dini
Preceded by:
Giuliano Amato
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by:
Preceded by:
Renato Ruggiero
Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by:
Franco Frattini
Preceded by:
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by:
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