On Berlusconi and Villepin. The True Cavaliere Might Be French

Today’s leader in The Economist exhorts the Italians to sack Silvio Berlusconi in next Sunday’s elections. According to The Economist – the weekly that calls itself a “newspaper” – Italy needs economic reform and Berlusconi is not ready to push it. The magazine certainly has a point. There is no denying that il Cavaliere has failed to liberate the Italian economy from the shackles of state interference. However, there is no reason to believe that his rival, former EU Commission president Romano Prodi, will do a better job. Berlusconi was a disappointment, but Prodi will not be the “bold economic reformer of the kind that Italy desperately needs.”

The Economist acknowledges this, saying that “Italians have a rotten choice to make.” It correctly points out that if Prodi wins he is going to depend on the support of the unreformed Communists. Forced to choose between Communist hardliners and Silvio Berlusconi, the choice seems pretty obvious. However, while there was no need for the global “newspaper” in London to give voting advice, it wants Italy to pick Prodi. Our “newspaper” takes another position. The Brussels Journal agrees with The Economist that one of Berlusconi’s “better points” is his “more sceptical approach to Brussels,” while Prodi, being a socialist, is “a faithful believer in a European federal superstate.” Some of my Italian friends, who voted for Berlusconi five years ago, told me that they will not bother to vote this time. Not being an Italian myself, however, it seems pretty clear whom freedom loving Eurosceptics should back next Sunday. Why, I wonder, does The Economist back the other side?

Meanwhile in France, the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, is still standing firm. He has made it clear that he will battle on to the end to save his youth labour law (CPE). The latter constitutes the first step towards the much needed economic reform in France. The CPE will enable French employers to lower the cost of job creation by allowing them to hire first-time employees under the age of 26 for a conditional two-year period during which they can be fired without compensation and without the employer having to provide a reason.

Left-wing student organisations and trade unions have been rioting violently against the CPE for weeks, preferring no jobs to jobs under “Anglo-Saxon” conditions. In an attempt to quell the street protests, French president Jacques Chirac proposed to limit the trial period to one year rather than two and oblige the employer to provide a reason when firing employees. Chirac suspended the CPE until Villepin modifies the law in this sense. Nevertheless the left has been demanding the complete withdrawal of the CPE.

According to a recent poll in the leftist newspaper Libération 72% of French voters are not satisfied with Villepin’s social and economic policies. The CPE, however, was approved by a majority in Parliament. Though parliamentary majorities do not necessarily reflect public opinion they tend to do so more adequately than polls published by leftist papers. Nevertheless, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Villepin’s political rival for the center-right nomination in next year’s presidential elections, has called for constitutional reform in order to “reconnect voters to their government.” Sarkozy said an “exhausted” political system has caused a “crisis of political representation.”

Sarkozy’s analysis about the “exhaustion” of France’s political system might be correct. It is ironic, however, that he is using the first attempt at adequate (so-called “Anglo-Saxon”) economic reform by the French parliament and government to subvert the authority of these institutions in the clash with vandalising students and socialist trade unions. The latter have given Villepin until Easter to withdraw the CPE.

Sarkozy is being criticised from the right for his “appeasement of the street.” According to Philippe de Villiers of the Mouvement pour la France (MPF) “Sarkozy has stabbed Villepin in the back at the crucial moment.” Jean-Marie Le Pen of the Front National said “Chirac has betrayed the whole world. Hence it is not surprising that he betrays Villepin, while Sarkozy does not want to miss the chance to trip up his competitor.”

The current clash in France is one over political primacy between an elected parliament and government versus the street and the unions. It is a battle that will have repercussions all over Europe. John Monks, the head of the European Trade Union Confederation, has said that the anti-CPE movement in France “has the support of all the European trade unions.” Consequently, all freedom loving Europeans should be on the side of Villepin and the French “silent majority,” which organisations such as Liberté Chérie are trying to rally. Liberté Chérie has called for a protest march next Sunday of the “silent majority” against the blockades and obstructions of the unions

French history indicates that the street and the unions will win, but so far Villepin seems to be made of sterner stuff than expected. If Berlusconi had been made of the same stuff he might have stood a better chance in next Sunday’s elections.


I can understand one has objections against the ex-communist fraction in the prodi-coalition. Yet there is also a far more important ex-fascist fraction in the Berlusconi-team. They are probably even less democracy-minded then the communists.   

does it really matter?

Berlusconi or Prodi? Who cares, it is the whole (political) culture that needs to change. Is this going to happen? Hell no. Italy will go down the drain just as France will. Let's finish this EU political nonsense as soon as possible. Let the lefties shouvel their own shit.

Split Belgium before it's too late! The French speaking 'Belgians' can sink together with their French comrades. Let's quit this socialist bullshit while elsewhere people are dying of hunger. Can it get any more hypocritical?

Berlusconi - Prodi...if the

Berlusconi - Prodi...if the choice is between those two...I'd be inclined to pick Berlusconi. Anything to keep Prodi out with his communist support. Is there no other alternative, a liberal party with an alternative program?

Here is the problem with Berlusconi

Voting for the man just because the alternative is worse prevents the possible rise of new (and surely better) leader for the right parties. As such I agree with the Economist : it is time to sack Berlusconi.

about Berlusconi:

his foreign policy is ok, but he has failed to deliver on the economy

I don't know exactly what to make out of the allegations of media concentration and fixing the law for his own benefit, but if solid (meaning it is not a left-wing mantra), they are problematic, to say the least

Prodi would probably be no improvement, so, if I were an Italian, I may not go out to vote.

Backing the other side

Why, I wonder, does The Economist back the other side?

The Economist has been campaigning for the last few years against Berlusconi's corrupt practices, and in particular his inclination to wriggle out of prosecutions by changing the law to suit himself.

Anyway, they've got a new editor from this week, so presumably there will be some changes.

Bob Doney

The Economist


Laws are made in parliament, not by the Prime Minister. It is inaccurate to say that Berlusconi could "change the law to suit himself". As the leader of the Executive he has to IMPLEMENT the law, not to MAKE it. He should be judged on implementation of the laws. It MAY well be true that Berlusconi has instigated certain legal changes that are 'questionable'. But, if so, there must have been a parliamentary majority for these changes to become law. It MAY also be true that The Economist has not accurately (in an even-handed or unbiased way) reported on certain questionable practices of the Italian judiciary in recent times. While I am not an expert on the separation-of-powers in the Italian context, I do not have the impression that The Economist has given adequate voice to Berlusconi's complaints about the Italian judiciary, while having given ample voice to Berlusconi's critics.

You are right that the new editor will lead to some changes. Whether these changes will be for the better, remains to be seen.

Separation of powers

As the leader of the Executive he has to IMPLEMENT the law, not to MAKE it.

I don't think that constitutional niceties are S Berlusconi's strong suit. Anyone interested can make their way over to the Economist website and judge for themselves whether or not their criticisms are well researched or not.

(Sorry, but a lot of the material is subscription only - money well spent though...)


Bob Doney

Separation of powers #2


I do not think that one can fairly judge whether a particular source is "adequately researched" simply by reading that particular source. Your and The Economist's opinions about Berlusconi MAY be well-founded, or they may not. I do not claim to know very well. But I do warn against repeating popular media mantras.

My point was that Berlusconi himself could not have changed the law to suit his needs. Any change in the law requires a parliamentary majority, so that there is broadly-shared responsibility. The same applies to (1) various laws passed by, for instance, the Belgian parliament and that are manifestly unconstitutional, and to (2) the failure of the Belgian judiciary to perform its proper constitutional role by pointing that out. I am referring to laws that violate the constitutional provisions w.r.t. freedom of speech and w.r.t. equality-before-the-law.

Of course, one could always take the post-modern 'deconstructionist' view that words - even constitutional ones! - have no specific clear meaning, and can thus mean anything. This, coupled with a utilitarian attitude of giving them the meaning of the ruling cultural naive-left orthodoxy, and you could well have arrived at the source of many problems afflicting the Italian judiciary.

By the way, whether "constitutional niceties" are Berlusconi's strong suit, or not, is besides the point. It would also be so in the case of Prodi, i.e. beside the point that I made.

Beside the point

Your and The Economist's opinions about Berlusconi MAY be well-founded, or they may not. I do not claim to know very well.

I'm beginning to think that you might not be an avid reader of the Economist, insofar as they have published many, many in-depth articles about Berlusconi over the past few years. In which case I'm perplexed as to how you have formed the view that they "have taken leave of their senses". I hope you're not just relying on popular media mantras!

And one of the problems with the Italian judiciary - aside from their cultural naive-left orthodoxy of course - is that the Mafia and other criminals in high places keep murdering them.

Bob Doney

PS Re another popular Italian leader, there was an interview on BBC Radio this morning with the nephew of the woman who shot Mussolini through the nose. He was saved by the fact that he tossed his head back in an characteristic gesture at that moment. She shot again from point blank range. This time the gun misfired.

Excellent and subtle analysis

Indeed, Berlusconi failed to institute the necessary economic reforms that Italy urgently needs.  It is the slowest growing 'large' economy in Europe.  But there is absolutely no reason to believe that Prodi would do better on that score.  The 'blockage' in Italy is cultural, not personal.  I concur with Gillibrand that "The Economist has taken leave of its senses".  Not solely from the perspective of internal Italian economic prospects, but especially from the broader perspective of maintaining western resolve in a dangerous world.   The Economist is today no longer what it used to be.  Two years ago, they presented the American federal presidential election as a choice between "incompetence" (Bush) and "incoherence" (Kerry), and then opted for "incoherence".   It does not require great intelligence to understand that "incompetence" can be improved, but that "incoherence" is fatal in adults.  The Economist these days is in danger of losing sight of the big picture.

And I agree with Belien that the current clash in France is about "political primacy".  It is about a choice between the primacy of parliamentary rule versus mob rule.  The history of France is not encouraging in this respect.  



I once her Prodi give a speech on the Lisbon process. "This is not an academic exercise" he stressed, three or four times.  Mr Prodi was originally an academic. 

Italy  deserves a man of stature, not the man who so ill-served the peoples of Europe.  The Economist has taken leave of its senses.