This chapter focuses on the relationships between politics, justice, and the media. Italian politics has had an unusual interaction with the justice system, channeled and amplified by the media over the last 20 years or so. In particular, this chapter analyzes the Supreme Court of Cassation's ruling that convicted Silvio Berlusconi for tax fraud. The interpretation of this event is framed in a broader context, namely, the system of inter-institutional accountability of the Italian political system as it has been transformed during the last two decades. Particular attention is devoted to the weaknesses within this system that seem to allow room to maneuver for those institutions charged with oversight, among which courts are of the utmost importance.
Paolo Bellucci and Martin Bull
In May 2001, for the first time in the history of united Italy and,
therefore, for the first time in the history of the Italian Republic,
alternation in government occurred as a direct consequence of an
electoral victory of the opposition. The incumbent centre left government
(the Ulivo – Olive Tree Coalition, led by Francesco
Rutelli) was defeated, and a centre right coalition (the Casa delle
Libertà, or CDL – House of Freedoms, led by Silvio Berlusconi)
began governing Italy with a large parliamentary majority.
On 7 May 2008, Silvio Berlusconi accepted the task of forming the
sixtieth government of the Italian Republic. The birth of the new government
marked what some have defined as “the eternal return of the
knight,” and as such has taken on a unique significance. Berlusconi
became prime minister for the fourth time, barely 2 years after the
end of his previous time in office, and almost 15 years since his first
nomination following the elections of March 1994. In the ranking of
Italian prime ministers according to the number of governments that
they headed, led by Alcide De Gasperi, who was prime minister for
eight terms, Berlusconi comes sixth.
The relationship in the course of 2002 between Silvio Berlusconi’s
government and the judges was one of continued and unrelenting
conflict. Few days passed wherein justice was not a central news item.
Accounts of battles between the government and the judiciary carried
titles such as “the duel,” and offered complex descriptions of the
moves and countermoves, in both Parliament and the courts, involving
the government, the opposition, judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and
the accused. Cases of political, administrative, and business corruption
still came to light from different parts of the country, such as
Turin, Milan, Potenza, Salerno, and Agrigento. But the heady days of
Tangentopoli were long over: it was now the judges who were themselves
under attack. For most of the year, Berlusconi and his associates
cast themselves in the role of victims by arguing that they were
being prosecuted and tried by politically and personally biased judges.
The judiciary was made the object of co-ordinated mass media campaigns
that set out in particular to discredit the Milan court and more
generally to show that when judges’ actions were effective, they were
often illegitimate, and that when they were legitimate, they were usually
not effective. Although some of the printed media still gave
unswerving support to the judges, there was little doubt that the initiative
had passed to the government and its parliamentary majority.
With the double defeat of the center-right in Milan and Naples,
the local elections on 15–16 and 29–30 May 2011 marked a turning
point in Italian politics. In Milan, the “moral capital” and center
of Silvio Berlusconi’s empire, the outgoing mayor, Letizia Moratti,
was defeated by the center-left candidate Giuliano Pisapia in an outcome
that recalled, with the roles reversed, the historic defeat of the
center-left in Bologna in 1999. In Naples, the city that symbolizes the
difficulties faced by the center-left in government, the center-right
candidate Giovanni Lettieri was incapable of offering an alternative
and lost to the outsider, Luigi de Magistris, an ex-magistrate and a
member of Italia dei Valori (IdV, Italy of Values) who, in the first
round, had beaten Mario Morcone, the candidate representing the
Partito Democratico (PD, Democratic Party) and Sinistra Ecologia e
Libertà (SEL, Left Ecology and Freedom).
In a communiqué to the press dated 3 May 2009, Silvio Berlusconi’s
wife, Veronica Lario, announced that she was divorcing her husband.
The declaration came less than a week after the publication of a message
that she had sent to a press agency denouncing the apparent
intention of her husband’s political party to field a range of showgirls,
singers, and television actresses as candidates in the forthcoming
European elections. Finding this plan disgraceful and humiliating to
women, she dismissed it as “shameless rubbish.” “We have had Mrs.
Thatcher, and today there is Mrs. Merkel. They show that it is possible
for women to have a political career,” she continued.
The bond markets turned on Italy during the first weekend of July 2011
as part of a wider loss of confidence in European efforts to manage the
sovereign debt crisis. On Friday, 1 July, the difference—or “spread”—
between Italian and German 10-year government bond yields was 178
basis points or 1.78 percent. The following Monday, 4 July, it was up
to 183 basis points and rising. By Friday, 8 July, the spread was 237
basis points. It remained above that level to the end of the year.1 The
center-right government led by Silvio Berlusconi attempted to head
off this change in sentiment by pushing through successive reform
packages to promote fiscal consolidation and stimulate growth. Bond
traders consistently shrugged off these actions as too little, too late.
Ultimately, the pressure became so great that the center-right coalition
fractured and President Giorgio Napolitano replaced Berlusconi’s
Cabinet with a technocratic government headed by Mario Monti. Even
this, however, was not enough to appease the markets, and the year
ended with Italian bond yields again rising..
David Natali and Martins Rhodes
The Berlusconi pension reform of 2004 was characterized by identifiable
similarities with the recent past of pensions policy-making, but
also by important differences. A core element of continuity was the
presence of a strong vincolo esterno—external constraint—which pressured
the government to engage in reform. But the pension reform
is also novel in two key respects. First, it was the only successful
unilateral welfare reform in two decades (Silvio Berlusconi’s previous
such attempt in 1994 having contributed to the collapse of his government).
In contrast to the social pacts of the 1990s, the unions were
not co-decision-makers in 2004. The major players, instead, were the
partners of the governing coalition.
From the moment Silvio Berlusconi entered politics in 1994, the
conflict of interest issue has rarely been off the political agenda.
Yet when he returned to power in 2001, the dilemma posed by his
occupancy of Palazzo Chigi was almost exactly the same as it had
been seven years earlier. Much had been said and written on the
subject in the intervening period by politicians, lawyers and academics.
Numerous bills on the regulation of conflicts of interest
were introduced in both subsequent Parliaments. In April 1998, a
bill with very broad cross-party support was agreed upon by the
Chamber of Deputies, and very late in the day, and with important
amendments from the Chamber version, one was approved,
on a far more partisan basis, by the Senate in February 2001.
Maurizio Cotta and Luca Verzichelli
An assessment of the second Berlusconi government in 2002, quite
predictably, holds considerable interest for a number of reasons. The
hopes pinned on this government, which is unusual in the history of
Italian politics, call for such a review. To begin with, this is the first
republican government characterized by the introduction of the
majority vote system to choose both the ruling coalition and the
prime minister. Secondly, cabinet ministers represent all components
of the electoral majority and can also count on a rather reassuring
advantage in terms of the seats they hold both in the Chamber of
Deputies and in the Senate. Finally, in a radically reshuffled political
structure following the events of the 1990s, the comeback of a player
(who may be identified as Prime Minister Berlusconi as well as the
center-right majority) whose government had failed the first time
around could be profitably analyzed in terms of institutional learning
and of the establishment of a new bipolar/majoritarian order.