Silvio Berlusconi

50th Prime Minister of Italy
In office
8 May 2008 – 16 November 2011
President Giorgio Napolitano
Deputy Gianni Letta
Preceded by Romano Prodi
Succeeded by Mario Monti
In office
11 June 2001 – 17 May 2006
President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Giorgio Napolitano
Deputy Giulio Tremonti
Gianfranco Fini
Marco Follini
Preceded by Giuliano Amato
Succeeded by Romano Prodi
In office
10 May 1994 – 17 January 1995
President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro
Deputy Roberto Maroni
Preceded by Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Succeeded by Lamberto Dini

Member of the Chamber of Deputies
Assumed office 
10 May 1994
Constituency Lombardy

Born 29 September 1936 (1936-09-29) (age 85)
Milan, Italy
Political party Forza Italia
The People of Freedom
Spouse(s) Carla Dall'Oglio (1965–1985, Divorced)
Veronica Lario (1990–2010, Divorced)
Children Marina
Pier Silvio
Alma mater University of Milan
Occupation Chairman and
CEO of Fininvest
Religion Roman Catholicism[1]

Silvio Berlusconi (Italian pronunciation: [ˈsilvjo berluˈskoːni]  ( listen); born 29 September 1936) is an Italian politician and media tycoon who served three times as Prime Minister of Italy from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006 and 2008 to 2011, led the country almost ten years and seven years as leader of opposition. Berlusconi is also the controlling shareholder of Mediaset and owner of the Italian football club, A.C. Milan. He is nicknamed Il Cavaliere (The Knight) for his Order of Merit for Labour. Berlusconi is the longest-serving post-war Prime Minister of Italy, and third longest-serving since the Unification of Italy, after Benito Mussolini and Giovanni Giolitti, holding three separate terms. Technically, he has been sworn in four times because after a cabinet reshuffle, as happened with Berlusconi in 2005, the new ministry is sworn in and subjected to a vote of confidence. He is the leader of the People of Freedom, a centre-right party he founded in 2009 as a successor to the Forza Italia party he previously led since 1993. From November 2009 to November 2011, he was the most senior leader of the G8 countries. In 2012, Forbes magazine ranked him as the 169th richest man in the world with a net worth of US$5.9 billion.[2]

Berlusconi rapidly rose to the forefront of Italian politics in 1994. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies for the first time and appointed as Prime Minister following the 1994 parliamentary elections, when Forza Italia gained a relative majority a mere three months after having been launched. However, his cabinet collapsed after nine months, due to internal disagreements among the coalition parties. In the April 1996 snap parliamentary elections, Berlusconi was defeated by the centre-left candidate Romano Prodi. In the May 2001 parliamentary elections, he was again the centre-right candidate for Prime Minister and won against the centre-left candidate Francesco Rutelli. Berlusconi then formed his second and third cabinets, until 2006. Berlusconi was leader of the centre-right coalition in the April 2006 parliamentary elections, which he lost by a very narrow margin, his opponent again being Romano Prodi. He was re-elected in the parliamentary elections of April 2008 following the collapse of Prodi's government and sworn in for a third time as Prime Minister on 8 May 2008.

After losing his majority in parliament amid growing fiscal problems related to the European debt crisis, Berlusconi resigned as Prime Minister on 16 November 2011.[3] He is currently leading the People of Freedom and its right wing allies in the campaign for the February 2013 parliamentary elections. Although he initially planned to run for a fifth term as Prime Minister,[4][5][6] as part of the agrement with the Lega Nord he would instead plan to lead the coalition without becoming Prime Minister.[7]

Berlusconi has been involved in a number of controversies and over 20 court cases during his political career, including a conviction for tax evasion in October 2012, though he was not jailed.[8] He was criticised for his electoral coalitions with right wing populist parties (the Lega Nord and the neo-fascist National Alliance) and for apologetic remarks about Mussolini, though he also officially apologised for Italy's actions in Libya during colonial rule.[9] While in power, Berlusconi maintained ownerhsip of Mediaset, the largest media company in Italy, and was criticised for his dominance of the Italian media.[10][11] His leadership was also undermined by sex scandals.[12]

Family background and personal life[]

Berlusconi was born in Milan in 1936, where he was raised in a middle-class family.[13] His father, Luigi Berlusconi (1908–1989) was a bank employee and his mother, Rosa Bossi (1911–2008), a housewife.[14] Silvio was the first of three children; he had a sister, Maria Francesca Antonietta Berlusconi (1943–2009) and has a brother, Paolo Berlusconi (born 1949).

After completing his secondary school education at a Salesian college, he studied law at the Università Statale in Milan, graduating (with honours) in 1961 with a thesis on the legal aspects of advertising. Berlusconi was not required to serve the standard one-year stint in the Italian army which was compulsory at the time.[15] During his university studies he was an upright bass player in a group formed with the now Mediaset Chairman and amateur pianist Fedele Confalonieri and occasionally performed as a cruise ship crooner. In later life he wrote AC Milan's anthem with the Italian music producer and pop singer Tony Renis and Forza Italia's anthem with the opera director Renato Serio. With the Neapolitan singer Mariano Apicella he wrote two Neapolitan song albums: Meglio na canzone in 2003 and Lultimo amore in 2006.

In 1965, he married Carla Elvira Dall'Oglio, and they had two children: Maria Elvira, better known as Marina (born 1966), and Pier Silvio (born 1969). By 1980, Berlusconi had established a relationship with the actress Veronica Lario (born Miriam Bartolini), with whom he subsequently had three children: Barbara (born 1984), Eleonora (born 1986) and Luigi (born 1988). He was divorced from Dall'Oglio in 1985, and married Lario in 1990. By this time, Berlusconi was a well-known entrepreneur, and his wedding was a notable social event. One of his best men was former Prime Minister and leader of the Italian Socialist Party Bettino Craxi. In May 2009, Lario announced that she was to file for divorce.[16]

On 28 December 2012, Berlusconi was ordered to pay his ex-wife Veronica Lario $48 million a year in a divorce settlement that was filed Christmas Day, and he will keep the $100 million house they live in with their three children. .[17]

Business career[]

Milano Due[]

Berlusconi's business career began in construction. In the late 1960s he built Milano Due (Italian for 'Milan Two'), 4,000 residential apartments east of Milan. The profits from this venture provided the seed money for his advertising agency.[18]


Berlusconi first entered the media world in 1973 by setting up a small cable television company, 'Telemilano', to service units built on his Segrate properties. It began transmitting in September the following year. After buying two further channels, Berlusconi relocated the station to central Milan in 1977 and began broadcasting over the airwaves.[19]


In 1978 Berlusconi founded his first media group, Fininvest, and joined the Propaganda Due masonic lodge. In the five years leading up to 1983 he earned some 113 billion Italian lire (58.3 million). The funding sources are still unknown because of a complex system of holding companies, despite investigations conducted by various state attorneys.

Fininvest soon expanded into a country-wide network of local TV stations which had similar programming, forming, in effect, a single national network. This was seen as breaching the Italian public broadcaster RAI's statutory monopoly by creating a national network, which was later abolished. In 1980, Berlusconi founded Italy's first private national network, Canale 5, followed shortly thereafter by Italia 1 which was bought from the Rusconi family in 1982, and Rete 4, which was bought from Mondadori in 1984.[20]

Berlusconi created the first and only Italian commercial TV empire. He was assisted by his connections to Bettino Craxi, secretary-general of the Italian Socialist Party and also prime minister of Italy at that time, whose government passed, on 20 October 1984, an emergency decree legalising the nationwide transmissions made by Berlusconi's television stations.[20] This was in response to judgments on 16 October 1984 in Turin, Pescara and Rome, enforcing a law which previously restricted nationwide broadcasting to RAI, that had ordered these private networks to cease transmitting.

After political turmoil in 1985 the decree was approved definitively. But for some years, Berlusconi's three channels remained in a legal limbo, and were not allowed to broadcast news and political commentary. They were elevated to the status of full national TV channels in 1990 by the so-called Mammì law.

In 1995, Berlusconi sold a portion of his media holdings, first to the German media group Kirch Group (now bankrupt) and then by public offer. In 1999 Berlusconi expanded his media interests by forming a partnership with Kirch called the Epsilon MediaGroup.[21]

On 9 July, a Milan court ordered Fininvest to pay 560 million euros in damages to Compagnie Industriali Riunite in a long-running legal dispute.[22]

Political career[]

Berlusconi with the United States President Barack Obama.

The political career of Silvio Berlusconi began in 1994, when he entered politics, subsequently serving as Prime Minister of Italy from 1994 to 1995, 2001 to 2006, and 2008 to 2011. His career was racked with controversies and trials; amongst these was his failure to honour his promise to sell his personal assets in Mediaset, the largest television broadcaster in Italy, in order to dispel any perceived conflicts of interest.

In the early 1990s, the Pentapartito (it) - the five governing parties, Christian Democracy (Democrazia Cristiana), the Italian Socialist Party, the Italian Social-Democratic Party, the Italian Republican Party and the Italian Liberal Party - lost much of their electoral strength almost overnight due to a large number of judicial investigations concerning the financial corruption of many of their foremost members (see the Mani Pulite affair). This led to a general expectation that upcoming elections would be won by the Democratic Party of the Left, the heirs to the former Italian Communist Party, and their Alliance of Progressives coalition - unless an alternative arose. On 26 January 1994, Berlusconi announced his decision to enter politics, ("enter the field", in his own words) presenting his own political party, Forza Italia, on a platform focused on defeating the Communists. His political aim was to convince the voters of the Pentapartito, who were shocked and confused by Mani Pulite scandals, that Forza Italia offered both a fresh uniqueness and the continuation of the pro-western free market policies followed by Italy since the end of the Second World War. Shortly after he decided to enter the political arena, investigators into the Mani Pulite affair were said to be close to issuing warrants for the arrest of Berlusconi and senior executives of his business group. During his political career Berlusconi repeatedly stated that the Mani Pulite investigations were led by communist prosecutors who wanted to establish a soviet-style government in Italy.[23][24]

1994 electoral victory[]

In order to win the March 1994 general election Berlusconi formed two separate electoral alliances: Pole of Freedoms (Polo delle Libertà) with the Lega Nord (Northern League) in northern Italian districts, and another, the Pole of Good Government (Polo del Buon Governo), with the post-fascist National Alliance (Alleanza Nazionale; heir to the Italian Social Movement) in central and southern regions.[25] In a shrewd pragmatic move, he did not ally with the latter in the North because the League disliked them. As a result, Forza Italia was allied with two parties that were not allied with each other.

Berlusconi launched a massive campaign of electoral advertisements on his three TV networks. He subsequently won the elections, with Forza Italia garnering 21% of the popular vote, the highest percentage of any single party.[26] One of the most significant promises that he made in order to secure victory was that his government would create "one million more jobs". He was appointed Prime Minister in 1994, but his term in office was short because of the inherent contradictions in his coalition: the League, a regional party with a strong electoral base in northern Italy, was at that time fluctuating between federalist and separatist positions, and the National Alliance was a nationalist party that had yet to renounce neo-fascism at the time.

Fall of the Berlusconi I cabinet[]

In December 1994, following the leaking to the press of news of a fresh investigation by Milan magistrates, Umberto Bossi, leader of the Lega Nord, left the coalition claiming that the electoral pact had not been respected, forcing Berlusconi to resign from office and shifting the majority's weight to the centre-left. Lega Nord also resented the fact that many of its MPs had switched to Forza Italia, allegedly lured by promises of more prestigious portfolios. In 1998 various articles attacking Berlusconi were published by Lega Nord's official newspaper (, with titles such as "La Fininvest è nata da Cosa Nostra" – "Fininvest (Berlusconi's principal company) was founded by the Mafia".

Berlusconi remained as caretaker prime minister for a little over a month, until his replacement by a technocratic government headed by Lamberto Dini. Dini had been a key minister in the Berlusconi cabinet, and Berlusconi said the only way he would support a technocratic government would be if Dini headed it. In the end, however, Dini was only supported by most opposition parties but not by Forza Italia and Lega Nord. In 1996, Berlusconi and his coalition lost the elections and were replaced by a centre-left government led by Romano Prodi.[27]

Electoral victory of 2001[]

Forza Italia logo.

In 2001 Berlusconi ran again, as leader of the right-wing coalition House of Freedoms (Italian: La Casa delle Libertà), which included the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, the Lega Nord, the National Alliance and other parties. Berlusconi's success in the May 2001 general election led to him becoming Prime Minister once more, with the coalition receiving 45.4% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies and 42.5% for the Senate.

On the television interviews programme Porta a Porta, during the last days of the electoral campaign, Berlusconi created a powerful impression on the public by undertaking to sign a so-called Contratto con gli Italiani (English: Contract with the Italians), an idea copied outright by his advisor Luigi Crespi from Newt Gingrich's Contract with America introduced six weeks before the 1994 US Congressional election.[28] This was considered to be a creative masterstroke in his 2001 bid for prime ministership. Berlusconi committed in this contract to improve several aspects of the Italian economy and life. Firstly, he undertook to simplify the complex tax system by introducing just two tax rates (33% for those earning over 100,000 euros, and 23% for anyone earning less than that figure: anyone earning less than 11,000 euros a year would not be taxed). Secondly, he promised to halve the unemployment rate. Thirdly, he undertook to finance and develop a massive new public works programme. Fourthly, he promised to raise the minimum monthly pension rate to 516 euros. Fifthly, he would suppress the crime wave by introducing police officers to patrol all local zones and areas in Italy's major cities.[29] Berlusconi undertook to refrain from putting himself up for re-election in 2006 if he failed to honour at least four of these five promises.

The Berlusconi II cabinet[]

Opposition parties claim Berlusconi was not able to achieve the goals he promised in his Contratto con gli Italiani. Some of his partners in government, especially the National Alliance and the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, admitted the Government fell short of the promises made in the agreement, attributing the failure to an unforeseeable downturn in global economic conditions. Berlusconi himself consistently asserted that he achieved all the goals of the agreement, and said his Government provided un miracolo continuo (a continuous miracle) that made all 'earlier governments pale' (by comparison). He attributed the widespread failure to recognize these achievements to a campaign of mystification and vilification in the printed media, asserting that 85% of newspapers were opposed to him.[30] Luca Ricolfi, an independent analyst, held that Berlusconi had managed to deliver only one promise out of five, the one concerning minimum pension levels. The other four promises were not, in Luca Ricolfi's view, honoured, in particular, the undertakings on the tax simplification and the reduction of crime.[31]

Subsequent elections[]

House of Freedoms did not do as well in the 2003 local elections as it did in the 2001 national elections. In common with many other European governing groups, in the 2004 elections of the European Parliament, gaining 43.37% support. Forza Italia's support was 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 electoral results were more satisfactory, asked Berlusconi and Forza Italia for greater influence in the government's political line.

Berlusconi addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress in 2006.

The Berlusconi III cabinet[]

In the 2005 regional elections (3 April/4 April 2005), the centre-left gubernatorial candidates won in 12 out of 14 regions where control of local governments and governorships was at stake. Berlusconi's coalition held only two of the regional bodies (Lombardy and Veneto) up for re-election. Three parties, Union of Christian and Centre Democrats, National Alliance and New Italian Socialist Party, threatened to withdraw from the Berlusconi government. The Italian Premier, after some hesitation, then presented to the President of the Republic a request for the dissolution of his government on 20 April 2005. On 23 April he formed a new government with the same allies, reshuffling ministers and amending the government programme. A key point demanded by the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats (and to a lesser extent by National Alliance) for their continued support was that the strong focus on tax reduction central to the government's ambitions be changed.

Attempt to reform the Italian constitution[]

Anti-Berlusconi demonstration, held during his visit to Amsterdam in 2009.

A key point in the Berlusconi government's programme was a planned reform of the Italian Constitution, which Berlusconi considered to be 'inspired by [the] Soviets',[32] an issue the coalition parties themselves initially had significantly different opinions about. The Lega Nord insisted on a federalist reform (devolution of more power to the regions) as a condition for remaining in the coalition. The National Alliance party pushed for a so-called 'strong premiership' (more powers to the executive), intended as a counterweight to any federalist reform, in order to preserve the integrity of the nation. The Union of Christian and Centre Democrats asked for a proportional electoral law that would not damage small parties, and was generally more willing to discuss compromises 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 and "strong premiership") was passed by the Senate in April 2004; it was slightly modified by the Chamber of Deputies in October 2004, and again on October 2005, and finally approved by the Senate on 16 November 2005 with a bare majority. Approval in a referendum is necessary in order to amend the Italian Constitution without a qualified two-thirds parliamentary majority. The referendum was held on 25–26 July 2006 and resulted in the rejection of the constitutional reform, refused by 61.3% of the voters.

The 2006 elections[]

Operating under a new electoral law written unilaterally by the governing parties over strong criticism from the parliamentary opposition, the April 2006 general election was held. The results of this election handed Romano Prodi's centre-left coalition, known as The Union, (Berlusconi's opposition) a very thin majority: 49.8% against 49.7% for the centre-right coalition House of Freedoms in the Lower House, and a two-senator lead in the Senate (158 senators for The Union and 156 for the House of Freedoms). The Court of Cassation subsequently validated the voting procedures and determined that the election process was constitutional.

According to the new electoral rules, The Union, (nicknamed "The Soviet Union" by Silvio Berlusconi[33]) with a margin of only 25,224 votes (out of over 38 million voters), nevertheless won 348 seats (compared to 281 for the House of Freedoms) in the lower house as a result of a majority premium given to whichever coalition of parties was awarded more votes.

Ironically, this electoral law, approved shortly before the election by Berlusconi's coalition in an attempt to improve their chances of winning the election, led to the coalition's defeat and gave Prodi the chance to form a new cabinet. However, Prodi's coalition consisted of a large number of smaller parties. If only one of these nine parties that formed The Union withdrew its support to Prodi, his government would have collapsed. This situation was also the result of the new "diabolic" electoral system.[34]

Centrist parties such as the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats immediately conceded The Union's victory, while other parties, like Berlusconi's Forza Italia and the Northern League, refused to accept its validity, right up until 2 May 2006, when Berlusconi submitted his resignation to President Ciampi.[35]

The "running board revolution": 2008 electoral victory and formation of a new party[]

Berlusconi during a PdL meeting in 2008.

In the run-up to the 2006 general election, there had been talk among some of the coalition members of the House of Freedoms about a possible merger into a "united party of moderates and reformers". Forza Italia, the National Alliance party of Gianfranco Fini, and the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats of Pier Ferdinando Casini all seemed interested in the project. Soon after the election, however, Casini started to distance his party from its historical allies.

On 2 December 2006, during a major demonstration of the centre-right in Rome against the government led by Romano Prodi, Silvio Berlusconi proposed the foundation of a "Freedom Party", arguing that the people and voters of the different political movements aligned to the demonstration were all part of a "people of freedom".

On 18 November 2007, after claiming the collection of more than 7 million signatures (including that of Umberto Bossi) demanding that the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano call a fresh election,[36] Berlusconi announced from the running board of a car in a crowded Piazza San Babila in Milan[37] that Forza Italia would soon merge or transform into The People of Freedom party, also known as the PdL (Il Popolo della Libertà).[38][39][40] Berlusconi also stated that this new political movement could include the participation of other parties.[41] Both supporters and critics of the new party called Berlusconi's announcement "the running board revolution".[42][43][44]

After the sudden fall of the Prodi II Cabinet on 24 January, the break-up of The Union coalition and the subsequent political crisis (which paved the way for a fresh general election on April 2008), Berlusconi, Gianfranco Fini and other party leaders finally agreed on 8 February 2008 to form a joint list named The People of Freedom (Italian: Il Popolo della Libertà), allied with the Lega Nord of Umberto Bossi and with the Sicilian Movement for Autonomy of Raffaele Lombardo.[45]

In the snap parliamentary elections held on 13/14 April 2008 this coalition won against Walter Veltroni's centre-left coalition in both houses of the Italian Parliament.

In the 315-member Senate of the Republic, Berlusconi's coalition won 174 seats to Veltroni's 134. In the lower house, Berlusconi's conservative bloc led by a margin of 9% of the vote: 46.5% (344 seats) to 37.5% (246 seats). Berlusconi capitalised on discontent over the nation's stagnating economy and the unpopularity of Prodi's government. His declared top priorities were to remove piles of trash from the streets of Naples and to improve the state of the Italian economy, which had underperformed the rest of the Eurozone for years. He also said he was open to working with the opposition, and pledged to fight tax evasion, reform justice and reduce public debt. He intended to reduce the number of Cabinet ministers to 12.[46] Berlusconi and his ministers (Berlusconi IV Cabinet) were sworn in on 8 May 2008.[47]

On 21 November 2008 the National Council of Forza Italia, chaired by Alfredo Biondi and attended by Berlusconi himself, dissolved Forza Italia and established The People of Freedom, whose inauguration took place on 27 March 2009, the 15th anniversary of Berlusconi's first electoral victory.

While Forza Italia had never held a formal party congress to formulate its rules, procedures, and democratic balloting for candidates and issues, (since 1994 three party conventions of Forza Italia have been held, all of them resolving to support Berlusconi and reelecting him by acclamation) on 27 March 2009 at the foundation congress of the People of Freedom political movement the statute of the new party was subject to a vote of approval. On 5,820 voting delegates, 5,811 voted in favour, 4 against and 5 abstained.[48] During that political congress Berlusconi was elected as Chairman of the People of Freedom by handraising. According to the official minutes of the congress the result favoured Berlusconi, with 100 per cent of the delegates voting for him.[49][50][51]

The People of Freedom split and the fall of the Berlusconi IV cabinet[]

File:The People of Freedom logo.png

The People of Freedom logo.

Between 2009 and 2010 Gianfranco Fini, former leader of the national conservative National Alliance (AN) and President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, became a vocal critic of the leadership of Berlusconi. Fini departed from party's majority line on several issues but, most of all, he was a proponent of a more structured party organisation. His criticism was aimed at the leadership style of Berlusconi, who tends to rely on his personal charisma to lead the party from the centre and supports a less structured form of party, a movement-party that organises itself only at election times.[52]

On 15 April 2010 an association named Generation Italy was launched in order to better represent Fini's views within the party and push for a different party organisation.[53] On 22 April 2010 the National Committee of the PdL convened in Rome for the first time in a year. The conflict between Fini and Berlusconi was covered live on television. At the end of the day, a resolution proposed by Berlusconi's loyalists was put before the assembly and approved by a landslide margin.[54] On 29 July 2010 the party executive released a document in which Fini was described as "incompatible" with the political line of the PdL and unable to perform his job of President of the Chamber of Deputies in a neutral way. Berlusconi asked Fini to step down, and the executive proposed the suspension from party membership of three MPs who had harshly criticized Berlusconi and accused some party members of criminal offences.[55] As response, Fini and his followers formed their own groups in both chambers under the name of Future and Freedom (FLI).[56][57][58][59] It was soon clear that FLI would leave the PdL and become an independent party. On 7 November, during a convention in Bastia Umbra, Fini asked Berlusconi to step down from his post of Prime Minister and proposed a new government including the Union of the Centre (UdC).[60] A few days later, the four FLI members of the government resigned.[61] On 14 December FLI voted against Berlusconi in a vote of confidence in the Chamber of Deputies, a vote nonetheless won by Berlusconi by 314 to 311.[62][63]

In May 2011 PdL suffered a big blow in local elections. Particularly painful was the loss of Milan, Berlusconi's hometown and party stronghold.[64] In response to this and to conflicts within party ranks, Angelino Alfano, the Justice minister, was chosen as national secretary in charge of reorganising and renewing the party.[65] The appointment of 40-year old Alfano, a former Christian Democrat and later leader of Forza Italia in Sicily, was unanimously decided by the party executive. On 1 July the National Council modified the party's constitution and Alfano was elected secretary almost unanimously. In his acceptance speech, Alfano proposed the introduction of primaries.[66]

Foreign policy[]

Berlusconi with the U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House.

Berlusconi and his cabinets have had a strong tendency to support American foreign policies,[67] despite the policy divide between the U.S. and many founding members of the European Union (Germany, France, Belgium) during the Bush administration.[68] Under Berlusconi's lead, the Italian Government also shifted its traditional position on foreign policy from being the most pro-Arab western government towards a greater friendship with Israel and Turkey than in the past. (Silvio Berlusconi acted as wedding witness for the son of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.)[69] This resulted in a rebalancing of relations between all the Mediterranean countries, to reach equal closeness with them. Berlusconi is one of the strongest supporters of Turkey's application to accede to the European Union.[70] In order to support Turkey's application the Italian Premier invited Prime Minister Erdoğan to take part in a meeting of the European leaders of Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom, gathered in L'Aquila for the 2009 G8 summit .[71][72] Italy, with Berlusconi in office, became a solid ally of the United States due to his support in the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War following the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the War on Terror.

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 handover of sovereignty to the government chosen by the Iraqi people. Italy had some 3,200 troops deployed in Southern Iraq, the third largest contingent there after the American and British forces. Italian troops were gradually withdrawn from Iraq in the second half of 2006 with the last soldiers leaving the country in December of that year.

Relations with Russia[]

Berlusconi has a warm relationship with Vladimir Putin.[73]

In November 2007, Italy's state-owned energy company Eni signed an agreement with Russian state-owned Gazprom to build the South Stream pipeline.[74] Investigating Italian parliament members discovered that Central Energy Italian Gas Holding (CEIGH), a part of the Centrex Group, was to play a major role in the lucrative agreement. Bruno Mentasti-Granelli, a close friend of Berlusconi, owned 33 percent of CEIGH. The Italian parliament blocked the contract and accused Berlusconi of having a personal interest in the Eni-Gazprom agreement.[74][75]

The various cabinets chaired by Silvio Berlusconi have enhanced and strengthened the ties between Italy and Russia, which were already substantial in the Soviet Union period - during the Cold War, Italy had the strongest communist party in western Europe. Vladimir Putin has many times expressed his appreciation for the respect shown by the Italian Prime Minister towards the leadership of the Russian Federation. Berlusconi is among the most vocal supporters of closer ties between Russia and the European Union. In an article published in Italian media on 26 May 2002, he said that the next step in Russia's growing integration with the West should be EU membership.[76] On 17 November 2005 Berlusconi commented, in relation to the prospect of such membership, that he is "convinced that even if it is a dream ... it is not too distant a dream and I think it will happen one day."[77] The Prime Minister of Italy has made similar comments on other occasions as well.[78]

Berlusconi with the Russian President Vladimir Putin in Italy, 2008.

On 1 December 2010, Wikileaks leaked American state diplomatic cables showing that American officials voiced concerns over Berlusconi's extraordinary closeness to Putin, "including 'lavish gifts,' lucrative energy contracts and a 'shadowy' Russian-speaking Italian go-between". Diplomats considered him "to be the mouthpiece of Putin" in Europe.[79] According to one of the leaked cables, the Georgian ambassador in Rome told American officials that Georgia believes Putin has promised Berlusconi a percentage of profits from any pipelines developed by Gazprom in coordination with Eni S.p.A..[80]

Relations with Belarus[]

Berlusconi visited Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus in 2009. Berlusconi became the first Western leader to visit Lukashenko since Lukashenko came to power in 1994. At a press conference, Berlusconi paid compliments to Lukashenko and said "Good luck to you and your people, whom I know love you".[81][82]

Cooperation with Libya, apology and financial compensation for historic Italian colonial rule[]

On 30 August 2008, the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a historic cooperation treaty in Benghazi.[83][84][85] Under its terms, Italy would pay $5 billion to Libya as compensation for its former military occupation. In exchange, Libya would take measures to combat illegal immigration coming from its shores and boost investment in Italian companies.[84][86] The treaty was ratified by Italy in 6 February 2009,[83] and by Libya on 2 March, during a visit to Tripoli by Berlusconi.[84][87] In June Gaddafi made his first visit to Rome, where he met Prime Minister Berlusconi, Italian President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano and Senate's Speaker Renato Schifani.[84] Gaddafi also took part in the G8 summit in L'Aquila in July as Chairman of the African Union.[84] During the summit a warm handshake between US President Barack Obama and Muammar Gaddafi took place (the first time the Libyan leader has been greeted by a serving US president).[88] Later, at the summit's official dinner hosted by President Giorgio Napolitano, US and Libyan leaders upset protocol by sitting next to Italian Prime Minister and G8 host Berlusconi. (According to protocol, Gaddafi should have sat three places away from Berlusconi.)[89][90][91]


Berlusconi at the EPP summit in March 2012, the first one after his resignation.

On 10 October the Chamber of Deputies rejected the law on the budget of the State proposed by the government.[92] As a result of this event Berlusconi moved for a confidence vote in the Chamber on 14 October, he won the vote with just 316 votes to 310, minimum required to retain a majority.[93] An increasing number of Deputies continued to cross the floor and join the opposition and on 8 November the Chamber approved the law on the budget of the State previously rejected but with only 308 votes, while opposition parties didn't participate in the vote to highlight that Berlusconi lost his majority.[94] After the vote, Berlusconi announced his resignation after Parliament passed economic reforms.[95] Among other things, his perceived failure to tackle Italy's debt crisis with an estimated debt sum of € 1.9 trillion ($ 2.6 trillion) had urged Berlusconi to leave office. The popularity of this decision was reflected in the fact that while he was resigning crowds sang the hallelujah portion of George Frederick Handel's "Messiah", complete with some vocal accompaniment; there was also dancing in the streets outside the Quirinal Palace, the official residence of the President of Italy, where Berlusconi went to tender his resignation.[96]

The austerity package was passed, it will raise €59.8 billion in savings from spending cuts and tax raises, including freezing public-sector salaries until 2014 and gradually increasing the retirement age for women in the private sector from 60 in 2014 to 65 in 2026.[97] The resignation also came at a difficult time for Berlusconi, as he was involved in numerous trials for corruption, fraud and sex offences. He was often found guilty in lower courts but used loopholes in Italy's legal system to evade incarceration.[97]

Berlusconi had also failed to meet some of his pre-election promises and had failed to prevent economic decline and introduce serious reforms.[97] Many believed that the problems and doubts over Berlusconi's leadership and his coalition were one of the factors that contributed to market anxieties over an imminent Italian financial disaster, which could have a potentially catastrophic effect on the 17-nation eurozone and the world economy.[98] Many critics of Berlusconi accused him of using his power primarily to protect his own business ventures.[97] Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League, a partner in Berlusconi's right-wing coalition, was quoted as informing reporters outside parliament, "We asked the prime minister to step aside."[99]

On 12 November 2011, after a final meeting with his cabinet, Berlusconi met Italian president Giorgio Napolitano at the Palazzo del Quirinale to tend his resignation.[100] Following Berlusconi's resignation, Mario Monti formed a new government that would remain in office until the next scheduled elections in 2013.[101][102] On 16 November, Monti announced that he had formed a Cabinet and was sworn in as Prime Minister of Italy, also appointing himself as Minister of Economy and Finance.[103]

Legal problems[]


Silvio Berlusconi has an extensive record of criminal allegations, including mafia collusion, false accounting, tax fraud, corruption and bribery of police officers and judges. Berlusconi has been tried in Italian courts in several cases. In three of these cases accusations were dropped by the judiciary because of laws passed by Berlusconi's parliamentary majority shortening the time limit for prosecution of various offences and making false accounting illegal only if there is a specific damaged party reporting the fact to the authorities.[104][105] In all of them, but one, either he was acquitted by a court of first instance or on appeal, or charges were dropped because the statute of limitations had expired. Therefore he has not been sentenced up to now, despite having been found guilty of providing false testimony in 1990.[106][107][108][109][110] Berlusconi claimed that "this is a manifest judicial persecution, against which I am proud to resist, and the fact that my resistance and sacrifice will give the Italians a more fair and efficient judicial system makes me even more proud",[111] and added that "789 prosecutors and magistrates took an interest in the politician Berlusconi from 1994 to 2006 with the aim of subverting the votes of the Italian people" citing statistics that he said have constituted a "cavalry including 577 visits by police, 2,500 court hearings and 174 million euros in lawyers' bills paid by me".[112][113] Berlusconi has always been able to afford top lawyers and publicists, for example Nicolas Sarkozy was one of his French top defenders.[114][115][116] Some of his former prosecutors later joined the parliamentary opposition. Some of his attorneys are also members of parliament.

False testimony[]

In 1981, a scandal arose after the police discovery of Licio Gelli's secret quasi-Masonic lodge Propaganda 2 (P2), which aimed to change the Italian political system to a more authoritarian regime. The list of people involved in P2 included members of the secret services and some prominent characters from political arena, business, military and media. Silvio Berlusconi, who was then just starting to gain popularity as the founder and owner of "Canale 5" TV channel, was listed as a member of P2.[117][118] The P2 lodge was dissolved by the Italian Parliament in December 1981 and a law was passed declaring similar organisations illegal, but no specific crimes were alleged against individual members of the P2 lodge. While the Italian Constitution had forbidden secret associations since 1948, no penal law provision had ever been passed by Parliament to enact that, and in the Italian legal system an action cannot be a crime if no law declaring that action a crime was in force when the action was committed. Thus, members of the P2 were members of an illegal but not criminal association.

Berlusconi later (in 1989) sued three journalists for libel for writing articles hinting at his involvement in financial crimes. In court, he declared that he had joined the P2 lodge "only for a very short time before the scandal broke" and "he had not even paid the entry fee". Such statements conflicted with the findings of the parliamentary inquiry commission appointed to investigate the lodge's activity, with material evidence, and even with previous testimony of Berlusconi, all of which proved that he had actually been a member of P2 since 1978 and had indeed paid 100,000 Italian liras (approximately equivalent to 300 euros today) as an entry fee. In 1990 the court of appeal of Venice found Berlusconi guilty of false testimony in front of the Court of Verona, however the court could not pass sentence as the offense had been pardoned by an amnesty passed in 1989.[119]

Receipt for membership of Silvio Berlusconi to "Propaganda 2" (P2) masonic lodge

Some political commentators claim that Berlusconi's electoral programme followed the P2 plan.[120]

Jowell controversy/David Mills bribery case[]

David Mills, lawyer husband of the former British cabinet minister Tessa Jowell, acted for Berlusconi in the early 1990s, and was later accused by Italian prosecutors of money laundering and of accepting a gift from Berlusconi in return for witness evidence favourable to Berlusconi given in court. Mills claimed that the money in question came not from Berlusconi but from another client. Tessa Jowell then announced her separation from Mills, which some of the UK media suggested was an attempt to distance herself from a potential scandal. She also denied having discussed the money with her husband; Private Eye magazine published a satirical front cover of Jowell with a speech bubble stating: "I have never met my husband". In December 2010, information obtained by the Wikileaks website revealed Mr Berlusconi had become very fond of Ms Jowell, referring to her in private company as 'piccolo puntaspilli' (the little pincushion).

On 17 February 2009, Mills was found guilty of accepting a bribe of about 400,000 pounds sterling, allegedly from Silvio Berlusconi, and was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison.[121] On 25 February 2010, the Court of Cassation gave a verdict of not guilty because the statute of limitations expired.[122][123] The supreme court judges ruled that he received the money in 1999, and not 2000 as prosecutors had previously argued. He was ordered to pay €250,000 compensation to the office of the Italian prime minister for "damaging its reputation".[124]

Soliciting minors for sex[]

In February 2011, Berlusconi was charged with paying for sex with nightclub dancer Karima El Mahroug between February and May 2010 when she was under the age of 18.[125][126] He was also charged with abusing his political powers in an attempt to cover up the relationship (by trying to persuade the police to release the girl while she was under arrest for theft, based on a false claim that she was a relative of Hosni Mubarak)'s.[125]

Abuse of office[]

In February 2012, Milan prosecutors brought charges against Berlusconi for alleged abuse of office connected with the publication of confidential wiretaps by the Italian newspaper Il Giornale, which is owned by Berlusconi's brother, in 2005.[127][128] The publication of the conversations between then Governor of the Bank of Italy Antonio Fazio, senior management of Unipol and Italian centre-left politician Piero Fassino was a breach of secrecy rules and was seen at the time as an attempt to discredit Berlusconi's political rivals. Their publication also eventually led to the collapse of the proposed takeover of Banca Nazionale del Lavoro by Unipol and the resignation of Fazio.[127] The head of the company used by Italian prosecutors to record the conversations has been previously convicted of stealing the recordings and making them available to Berlusconi.[128] On 7 February 2012, at an initial court hearing, Berlusconi denied he had listened to the tapes and ordered their publication.[128]

Fraud conviction[]

On October 26, 2012, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison by an Italian court for tax evasion.[8][129] Although the term was longer than the three years and eight months the prosecutors had requested, it was shortened to one year in accord with a 2006 amnesty law.[6] The charges were in relation to a scheme to purchase overseas film rights at inflated prices through offshore companies.[6] He and his co-defendants have been ordered to pay 10 million Euros and have been banned from holding public office for three years.[6] He remains free and is expected to appeal the decision.[6]


Economic conflicts of interest[]

According to journalists Marco Travaglio and Enzo Biagi, Berlusconi entered politics to save his companies from bankruptcy and himself from convictions.[130] From the very beginning he said it clearly to his associates. Berlusconi's supporters hailed him as the "novus homo", an outsider who was going to bring a new efficiency to the public bureaucracy and reform the state from top to bottom.

Berlusconi was investigated for forty different inquests in less than two years.[131]

Berlusconi's governments passed laws that shortened statutory terms for tax fraud. Romano Prodi, who defeated Berlusconi in 2006, claimed that these were ad personam laws, meant to solve Berlusconi's problems and defend his interests.[132][133][134][135]

Media control and conflict of interest[]


Logo of Mediaset, the broadcasted company of Berlusconi.

Berlusconi's extensive control over the media has been widely criticised by some analysts,[136] some press freedom organisations, and extensively on several Italian newspapers, national and private TV channels by opposition leaders and in general opposition parties members, who allege Italy's media has limited freedom of expression. However such covereage of the complaint in practice put under discussion the point of the complaint itself. The Freedom of the Press 2004 Global Survey, an annual study issued by the American organisation Freedom House, downgraded Italy's ranking from 'Free' to 'Partly Free'[137] due to Berlusconi's influence over RAI, a ranking which, in "Western Europe" was shared only with Turkey (as of 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".[138] 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 reported 90% control of the Italian national media.[139]

Berlusconi owns via Mediaset 3 of 7 national TV channels: (Canale 5, Italia 1, and Rete 4). To better understand the controversies over a conflict of interest between Berlusconi's personal business empire and his political office, it is necessary to look at the structure of governmental control over State television. Under the law, the Speakers of the two Houses appoint the RAI president and board of directors. In practice, the decision is a political one, generally resulting in some opposition representatives becoming directors, while top managerial posts go to people sympathetic to the government. It was normal to have two directors and the president belonging to the parliamentary majority, and two directors who are opposition supporters. A parliamentary supervisory commission also exists, whose president is traditionally a member of the opposition. During the tenure of Mr. Baldassarre as RAI president, the two opposition directors and the one closer to the Union of Christian and Centre Democrats left over internal disagreements that mainly regarded censorship issues. RAI continued to be run by a two-man team (mockingly nicknamed by the opposition the Japanese after the Japanese soldiers who kept fighting on in the Pacific Ocean after the end of World War II).

The former Italian center-left coalition of Romano Prodi was often criticised for failing to pass a law to regulate the potential conflict of interest that might arise between media ownership and the holding of political office, despite having governed Italy for an entire legislature from 1996 to 2001. In 2002, Luciano Violante, a prominent member of the Left, said in a speech in Parliament: "Honourable Anedda, I invite you to ask the honourable Berlusconi, because he certainly knows that he received a full guarantee in 1994, when the government changed — that TV stations would not be touched. He knows it and the Honourable Letta knows it."[140]

The authors of the book Inciucio[141] cite this sentence as evidence for the idea that the Left made a deal with Berlusconi in 1994, in which a promise was made not to honour a law in the Constitutional Court of Italy that would have required Berlusconi to give up one of his three TV channels in order to uphold pluralism and competition. According to the authors, this would be an explanation of why the Left, despite having won the 1996 elections, did not pass a law to solve the conflicts of interest between media ownership and politics.

Berlusconi's influence over RAI became evident when in Sofia, Bulgaria he expressed his views on journalists Enzo Biagi and Michele Santoro,[142] and comedian Daniele Luttazzi. Berlusconi said that they "use television as a criminal means of communication". They lost their jobs as a result.[143] This statement was called by critics "Editto Bulgaro".

The TV broadcasting of a satirical programmme called RAIot was censored in November 2003 after the comedienne Sabina Guzzanti made outspoken criticism of the Berlusconi media empire.[144] Mediaset, one of Berlusconi's companies, sued RAI over Guzzanti's program, demanding 20 million euros for "damages"; in November 2003 the show was cancelled by the president of RAI, Lucia Annunziata. The details of the event were made into a Michael Moore-style documentary called Viva Zapatero!, which was produced by Guzzanti.

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') – which has been since often disproved.[145][146] In March 2006, on the television channel Rai Tre, in a television interview with Lucia Annunziata during his talk show, In 1/2 h, he stormed out of the studio because of a disagreement with the host journalist regarding the economic consequences of his government.[147] In November 2007, allegations of news manipulation caused the departure from RAI of Berlusconi's personal assistant.[148]

Enrico Mentana, the news anchor long seen as a guarantor of Canale 5's independence, walked out in April 2008, saying that he no longer felt "at home in a group that seems like an electoral [campaign] committee".[149]

On 24 June 2009, Silvio Berlusconi during the Confindustria young members congress in Santa Margherita Ligure, Italy has invited the advertisers to interrupt or boycott the advertising contracts with the magazines and newspapers published by Gruppo Editoriale L'Espresso,[150] in particular the la Repubblica and the newsmagazine L'espresso, calling the publishing group "shameless",[150] because is fueling the economic crisis speaking more and more about it and accusing also to make a subversive attack against him to replace with an "un-elected".[151] The publishing group has announced to begin legal proceedings against Berlusconi, to protect the image and the interests of the group.[151]

On 12 October 2009, Silvio Berlusconi during the Confindustria Monza and Brianza members congress, has again invited the industrialists present to a "widespread rebellion" against a "newspaper that hadn't any limits in discrediting the government and the country and indoctrinating foreign newspapers".[152]

In October 2009, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard declared that Berlusconi "is on the verge of being added to our list of Predators of Press Freedom", which would be a first for a European leader. He also added that Italy will probably be ranked last in the European Union in the upcoming edition of the RWB press freedom index.[153]

The Economist[]

One of Berlusconi's strongest critics in the media outside Italy is the British weekly The Economist (nicknamed by Berlusconi "The Ecommunist"), which in its issue of 26 April 2001 carried a title on its front cover, 'Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy'.[154] The war of words between Berlusconi and The Economist has gained notoriety, with Berlusconi taking the publication to court in Rome and The Economist publishing letters against him.[155] The magazine claimed that the documentation contained in its article proves that Berlusconi is 'unfit' for office[156] because of his numerous conflicts of interest. Berlusconi claimed the article contained "a series of old accusations" that was an "insult to truth and intelligence".

According to The Economist's findings, Berlusconi, while Prime Minister of Italy, retained effective control of 90% of all national television broadcasting. This figure included stations he owns directly as well as those over which he had indirect control by dint of his position as Prime Minister and his ability to influence the choice of the management bodies of these stations. The Economist has also claimed that the Italian Prime Minister is corrupt and self-serving. A key journalist for The Economist, David Lane, has set out many of these charges in his book Berlusconi's Shadow.[157]

Lane points out that Berlusconi has not defended himself in court against the main charges, but has relied upon political and legal manipulations, most notably by changing the statute of limitation to prevent charges being completed in the first place. In order to publicly prove the truth of the documented accusations contained in their articles, the newspaper has publicly challenged Berlusconi to sue The Economist for libel. Berlusconi did so,[158] losing versus The Economist, and being charged for all the trial costs on 5 September 2008, when the Court in Milan issued a judgment rejecting all Mr Berlusconi's claims and sentenced him to compensate for legal expenses.

In June 2011, The Economist published a strong article dealing with Mr. Berlusconi, titled "The Man who screwed an entire country".[159]

Legislative changes[]

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. Relevant examples are the law reducing punishment for all cases of false accounting and 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 Because of these legislative actions, political opponents accuse Berlusconi of passing these laws for the purpose of protecting himself from legal charges. An enquiry realised by the newspaper La Repubblica sustained that Berlusconi passed 17 different laws which have advantaged himself;[160] 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 being subjected to a political "witch hunt", orchestrated by certain (allegedly left-wing) judges11.

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 flexibility currently enjoyed by judges and magistrates in their decision-making, 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 judges13, 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, because of the unconstitutionality of some of the passed laws.

Berlusconi has also been indicted in Spain for charges of tax fraud and violation of anti-trust laws regarding the private television network Telecinco, but his status as a member of the European Parliament allowed him to gain immunity from prosecution until 2005.16 All the accused have been acquitted by the Spanish Supreme Court in July 2008.[161][162]

During the night hours between 5 and 6 March 2010, the Berlusconi-led Italian government passed a decree interpreting the electoral law so as to let the PDL candidate run for governor in Lazio after she had failed to properly register for the elections. The Italian Constitution states that electoral procedures can only be changed in Parliament, and must not be changed by governmental decree. Italy's President, whose endorsement of the decree was required by law, said amid much controversy that the measure taken by the government may not violate the Constitution.[163][164]

Alleged links to the Mafia[]

Berlusconi, in order to solve his problems, has to solve ours.

—Mafia boss Giuseppe Guttadauro in a wiretapped conversation.[165]

Silvio Berlusconi has never been tried on charges relating to Cosa Nostra, although several Mafia turncoats have stated that Berlusconi had connections with the Sicilian criminal association. The claims arise mostly from the hiring of Vittorio Mangano, charged for Mafia association, as a gardener and stable-man at Berlusconi's Villa San Martino in Arcore, a small town near Milan. It was Berlusconi's friend Marcello Dell'Utri who introduced Mangano to Berlusconi in 1973.[166][167] Berlusconi denied any ties to the Mafia. Marcello Dell'Utri even stated that the Mafia did not exist at all.

In 2004 Dell'Utri, co-founder of Forza Italia, was sentenced to nine years by a Palermo court on charge of "external association to the Mafia",[167][168] a sentence describing Dell'Utri as a mediator between the economical interests of Berlusconi and members of the criminal organisation. Berlusconi refused to comment on the sentence. In 2010, Palermo's appeals court cut the sentence to seven years but fully confirmed Dell'Utri's role as a link between Berlusconi and the mafia until 1992.[169]

In 1996, a Mafia informer, Salvatore Cancemi, declared that Berlusconi and Dell'Utri were in direct contact with Salvatore Riina, head of the Sicilian Mafia in the 1980s and 1990s. Cancemi disclosed that Fininvest, through Marcello Dell'Utri and mafioso Vittorio Mangano, had paid Cosa Nostra 200 million lire (between 100,000 and 200,000 of today's euro) annually. The alleged contacts, according to Cancemi, were to lead to legislation favourable to Cosa Nostra, in particular the harsh 41-bis prison regime. The underlying premise was that Cosa Nostra would support Berlusconi's Forza Italia party in return for political favours.[170] After a two-year investigation, magistrates closed the inquiry without charges. They did not find evidence to corroborate Cancemi's allegations. Similarly, a two-year investigation, also launched on evidence from Cancemi, into Berlusconi's alleged association with the Mafia was closed in 1996.[166]

Marcello Dell'Utri.

According to yet another mafia turncoat, Antonino Giuffrè – arrested on 16 April 2002 – the Mafia turned to Berlusconi's Forza Italia party to look after the Mafia's interests, after the decline in the early 1990s of the ruling Christian Democrat party, whose leaders in Sicily looked after the Mafia's interests in Rome. The Mafia's fall out with the Christian Democrats became clear when Salvo Lima was killed in March 1992. "The Lima murder marked the end of an era," Giuffrè told the court. "A new era opened with a new political force on the horizon which provided the guarantees that the Christian Democrats were no longer able to deliver. To be clear, that party was Forza Italia."[171] Dell'Utri was the go-between on a range of legislative efforts to ease pressure on mafiosi in exchange for electoral support, according to Giuffrè. "Dell'Utri was very close to Cosa Nostra and a very good contact point for Berlusconi," he said.[172] Mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano told Giuffrè that they "were in good hands" with Dell'Utri, who was a "serious and trustworthy person". Provenzano stated that the Mafia's judicial problems would be resolved within 10 years after 1992, thanks to the undertakings given by Forza Italia.[167][171]

Giuffrè also said that Berlusconi himself used to be in touch with Stefano Bontade, a top Mafia boss, in the mid-1970s. At the time Berlusconi still was just a wealthy real estate developer and started his private television empire. Bontade visited Berlusconi's villa in Arcore through his contact Vittorio Mangano.[173] Berlusconi's lawyer dismissed Giuffrè's testimony as "false" and an attempt to discredit the Prime Minister and his party. Giuffrè said that other Mafia representatives who were in contact with Berlusconi included the Palermo Mafia bosses Filippo Graviano and Giuseppe Graviano.[174] The Graviano brothers allegedly treated directly with Berlusconi through the business-man Gianni Letta, somewhere between September/October 1993. The alleged pact with the Mafia fell apart in 2002. Cosa Nostra had achieved nothing.[175]

Dell'Utri's lawyer, Enrico Trantino, dismissed Giuffrè's allegations as an "anthology of hearsay". He said Giuffrè had perpetuated the trend that every new turncoat would attack Dell'Utri and the former Christian Democrat prime minister Giulio Andreotti in order to earn money and judicial privileges.[173]

In October 2009, Gaspare Spatuzza, a Mafioso turned pentito in 2008, has confirmed Giuffrè statements. Spatuzza testified that his boss Giuseppe Graviano had told him in 1994 that Berlusconi was bargaining with the Mafia, concerning a political-electoral agreement between Cosa Nostra and Berlusconi's Forza Italia. Spatuzza said Graviano disclosed the information to him during a conversation in a bar Graviano owned in the upscale Via Veneto district of the Italian capital Rome. Dell'Utri was the intermediary, according to Spatuzza. Dell'Utri has dismissed Spatuzza's allegations as "nonsense". Berlusconi's lawyer and MP for the PdL, Niccolò Ghedini said that "the statements given by Spatuzza about prime minister Berlusconi are baseless and can be in no way verified."[176]

Remarks on Western civilisation and Islam[]

After the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, Berlusconi said: "We must be aware of the superiority of our civilisation, a system that has guaranteed well-being, respect for human rights and – in contrast with Islamic countries – respect for religious and political rights, a system that has as its value understanding of diversity and tolerance."[177][178] This declaration caused an uproar, not only in the Arab and Muslim world, but also all around Europe, including Italy.[179] Subsequently Berlusconi told the press: "We are aware of the crucial role of moderate Arab countries... I am sorry that words that have been misunderstood have offended the sensitivity of my Arab and Muslim friends."[180]

Jokes, gestures and blunders[]

Berlusconi with the President of Brazil Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

Berlusconi has developed a reputation for making gaffes or insensitive remarks.[181]

On 2 July 2003, Berlusconi suggested that German SPD MEP Martin Schulz, who had criticised his domestic policies, should play a Nazi concentration camp guard in a film.[182] Berlusconi insisted that he was joking, but accused Schulz and others to be "bad-willing tourists of democracy". This incident caused a brief cooling of Italy's relationship with Germany.[183]

Addressing traders at the New York Stock Exchange in September 2003, Berlusconi listed a series of reasons to invest in Italy, the first of which was that "we have the most beautiful secretaries in the world". This remark resulted in uproar in Italy where female members of parliament took part in a one-day cross-party protest.[184] Berlusconi's list also included the claim that Italy had "fewer communists, and those who are still here deny having been one".[185]

In 2003, during an interview with Nicholas Farrell, then editor of The Spectator, Berlusconi claimed that Mussolini "had been a benign dictator who did not murder opponents but sent them 'on holiday'".[186] In 2013, he returned to calling Mussolini a good leader whose biggest mistake was signing up to exterminate the jews.[187]

Kotipizza Pizza Berlusconi

Berlusconi had made disparaging remarks about Finnish cuisine during negotiations to decide on the location of the European Food Safety Authority in 2001. He caused further offence in 2005, when he claimed that during the negotiations he had had to "dust off his playboy charms" in order to persuade the Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, to concede that the EFSA should be based in Parma instead of Finland, and compared Finnish smoked reindeer unfavourably to culatello. The Italian ambassador in Helsinki was summoned by the Finnish foreign minister.[188] One of Berlusconi's ministers later 'explained' the comment by saying that "anyone who had seen a picture of Halonen must have been aware that he had been joking". Halonen took the incident in good humour, retorting that Berlusconi had "overestimated his persuasion skills".[189] The Finnish pizza chain Kotipizza responded by launching a variety of pizza called Pizza Berlusconi, using smoked reindeer as the topping. The pizza won first prize in America's Plate International pizza contest in March 2008.[190][191]

In March 2006, Berlusconi alleged that Chinese communists under Mao Zedong had "boiled [children] to fertilise the fields". His opponent Romano Prodi criticised Berlusconi for offending the Chinese people and called his comments 'unthinkable'.[192] Berlusconi replied by gifting 1000 copies of The Black Book of Communism during one of his election rallies.

Berlusconi salutes the crowd on the EPP summit in 2009.

In the run-up to the 2008 Italian general election, Berlusconi was angrily accused of sexism for saying that female politicians from the right were "more beautiful" and that "the left has no taste, even when it comes to women".[193] In 2008 Berlusconi criticised the composition of the Council of Ministers of the Spanish Government as being too 'pink' by virtue of the fact that it has (once the President of the Council, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, is counted) an equal number of men and women. He also stated that he doubted that such a composition would be possible in Italy given the "prevalence of men" in Italian politics.[194]

Also in 2008 Berlusconi caused controversy at a joint press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin. When a journalist from the Russian paper Nezavisimaya Gazeta asked a question about Mr Putin's personal relationships, Berlusconi made a gesture towards the journalist imitating a gunman shooting.[195][196]

On 6 November 2008, two days after Barack Obama was elected the first black US President, Berlusconi referred to Obama as "young, handsome and even tanned":[197][198][199] On 26 March 2009 he said "I'm paler [than Mr Obama], because it's been so long since I went sunbathing. He's more handsome, younger and taller."[200]

Berlusconi and George W. Bush laughing and drinking in 2008.

Subsequently, at a tent camp on the outskirts of L'Aquila housing some of the more than 30,000 people who lost their homes during the 2009 earthquake he said to an African priest: "you have a nice tan."[201]

On 24 January 2009, Berlusconi announced his aim to increase the numbers of military patrolling the Italian cities from 3,000 to 30,000 in order to crack down on what he called an "evil army" of criminals. Responding to a female journalist who asked him if this tenfold increase in patrolling soldiers would be enough to secure Italian women from being raped, he said: "We could not field a big enough force to avoid this risk [of rape]. We would need as many soldiers as beautiful women and I don't think that would be possible, because our women are so beautiful." Opposition leaders called the remarks insensitive and in bad taste. Berlusconi retorted that he had merely wanted to compliment Italian women. Other critics accused him of creating a "police state".[202]

Berlusconi jokes with the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010.

On 3 April 2009, Berlusconi appeared to have annoyed Queen Elizabeth II at a photo session during the G20 summit. During the photo session, Berlusconi shouted "Mr. Obama, Mr. Obama", prompting her to turn around and chastise Berlusconi, "What is it? Why does he have to shout?".[203][204] The following day, at the NATO meeting in Kehl, Berlusconi was seen talking on his mobile phone, while Merkel and other NATO leaders waited for him for a photo on a Rhine bridge.[205] (Afterwards, Berlusconi claimed he was talking to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan about accepting the Secretary Generalship of Anders Fogh Rasmussen). Responding to the Italian media's reaction to these incidents, he said he was considering "hard measures" against reporters, and referred to some of their claims as "slander".[206]

Two days after the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, Berlusconi suggested that people left homeless should view their experience as a camping weekend.[207] While touring the earthquake site, he asked councillor Lia Beltrami, "Can I fondle you?".[208]

In May 2009, Berlusconi alleged that he had once had to travel three hours to see a two hundred year old church in the Finnish countryside which, in his opinion, would have been demolished if it was in Italy. Berlusconi had made a non-official visit to Finland in 1999 and had never seen any Finnish church, but had just been visiting Iceland.[209][210]

In October 2010, Berlusconi was chastised by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano after he was filmed telling "offensive and deplorable jokes", including one whose punchline was similar to one of the gravest blasphemies in the Italian language. It was also revealed he had made another antisemitic joke a few days previously. Berlusconi responded to the allegations by saying the jokes were "neither an offence nor a sin, but merely a laugh".[211]

On 1 November 2010, after once again being accused of involvement in juvenile prostitution, he suggested that an audience at the Milan trade fair should stop reading newspapers: "Don't read newspapers any more because they deceive you. [...] I am a man who works hard all day long and if sometimes I look at some good-looking girl, it's better to be fond of pretty girls than to be gay".[212]

Berlusconi with Vladimir Putin, during a vist of the Russian President in Berlusconi's villa in Sardinia. The two leaders have a personal friendship.

The remarks were immediately condemned by Arcigay, Italy's main gay rights organisation, on behalf of both women and gay people; speaking on behalf of the organisation, its president Paolo Patanè said that it was "unacceptable for a head of government to foster a chauvinistic and vulgar attitude" with such a statement, and requested that Berlusconi apologise. Politicians including Nichi Vendola, Antonio Di Pietro, and Franco Grillini released similar statements, with the latter commenting that it was "better to be gay than to be a sex-addicted schemer like Berlusconi."[213][214] Flavia Madaschi, president of Agedo, the Italian equivalent of PFLAG, also commented that it was "better to be gay than Berlusconi."[215] Activists staged an anti-homophobia protest outside Palazzo Chigi.[216]

On 13 July 2011, according to a leaked telephone surveillance transcript, Berlusconi told his presumed blackmailer Valter Lavitola: "The only thing they can say about me is that I screw around [...] Now they're spying on me, controlling my phone calls. I don't give a fuck. In a few months [...] I'll be leaving this shit country that makes me sick."[217] He had already made a comment about sending a postcard from the Bahamas in 2005.[218]

On 27 January 2013, on the occasion of the Holocaust Remembrance Day, Berlusconi said World War II fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had done "good", and said he did the right thing in siding with Adolf Hitler because he appeared to be winning the war at that point.[219]

Friendship with Bettino Craxi[]

Berlusconi's career as an entrepreneur is also often questioned by his detractors. The allegations made against him generally include suspicions 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 as a self-made man. Also frequently cited by opponents are events dating to the 1980s, including supposed "favour exchanges" between Berlusconi and Bettino Craxi, the former Socialist prime minister and leader of the Italian Socialist Party convicted in 1994 for various corruption charges. The Milan magistrates who indicted and successfully convicted Mr. Craxi in their "Clean Hands" investigation laid bare an entrenched system in which businessmen paid hundreds of millions of dollars to political parties or individual politicians in exchange for sweetheart deals with Italian state companies and the government itself.[220] Berlusconi acknowledges a personal friendship with Craxi.

Assault at rally[]

On 13 December 2009 Berlusconi was hit in the face with an alabaster[221] statuette of Milan Cathedral after a rally in Milan's Piazza del Duomo. As Berlusconi was shaking hands with the public, a man in the crowd stepped forward and launched the statuette at him. The assailant was subsequently detained and identified as Massimo Tartaglia, a 42 year-old surveyor with a history of mental illness but no criminal record, living in the outskirts of Milan.[222][223] According to a letter released to the Italian news agency ANSA, Tartaglia has apologised for the attack, writing: "I don't recognise myself", and adding that he had "acted alone [with no] form of militancy or political affiliation". Berlusconi suffered facial injuries, a broken nose and two broken teeth; he was subsequently hospitalised.[224] Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and politicians from all parties in Italy condemned the attack.

In the night of 15–16 December a 26-year old man was stopped by police and Berlusconi's bodyguards while trying to gain access to Berlusconi's hospital room. A search revealed that he carried no weapons, although three hockey sticks and two knives were later found in his car. The suspect was known to have a history of mental illness and mandatory treatment in mental institutions.[225]

Berlusconi was discharged from the hospital on 17 December 2009.[226]

Personal fortune[]

In 2012, Forbes magazine reported that Berlusconi was Italy's sixth richest man, with a net worth of $5.9 billion. He holds significant assets in television, newspaper, publishing, cinema, finance, banking, insurance, and sports.[227] Berlusconi's main company, Mediaset, operates three national television channels covering half of the national television sector; and Publitalia (it), the leading Italian advertising and publicity agency. Berlusconi also owns a controlling stake in Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, the largest Italian publishing house, whose publications include Panorama, one of the country's most popular news magazines. His brother, Paolo Berlusconi, owns and operates il Giornale, a centre-right wing newspaper which provides a pro-Berlusconi slant on Italian politics. Il Foglio, one of the most influential Italian right-wing newspapers, is partially owned by his wife, Veronica Lario. After Lario sold some of her ownership in 2010, Paolo Berlusconi acquired a majority interest in the newspaper. Berlusconi is also the founder and major shareholder of Fininvest, which is among the largest private companies in Italy[228] and operates in media and finance. With Ennio Doris he founded Mediolanum, one of the country's biggest banking and insurance groups. He has interests in cinema and home video distribution (Medusa Film and Penta Film). He is also the owner of the football club A.C. Milan which along with Boca Juniors has won the most FIFA recognized international club titles in the world. After his resignation as prime minister of Italy, he announced that he will return as president of A.C. Milan in 2012.[229]

Honours and awards[]

  •  Italy: Knight of the Order of Merit for Labour (1977)[230]
  •  Holy See: Knight of the Order of Pius IX (2005)
  •  Poland: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland (2002)
  •  Latvia: Grand Officer of the Order of the Three Stars (2005)[231]
  • 22x20px Libya: Recipient of the Al-Fateh Medal (2009)
  •  Malta: Honorary Companion of Honour of the National Order of Merit (2004)
  •  Norway: Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Norwegian Order of Merit (2001)
  •  Romania: Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of Romania (2002)
  •  Saudi Arabia: Member 1st Class of the Order of Abdulaziz al Saud (22 November 2009)[232]
  • House of Bourbon-Two Sicilies: Knight Grand Cross of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George

See also[]

  • Controversies surrounding Silvio Berlusconi
  • Forbes list of billionaires (2011)
  • Policies of Silvio Berlusconi


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Party political offices
New political party Leader of Forza Italia
Succeeded by
as Leader of the People of Freedom
Leader of the People of Freedom
Political offices
Preceded by
Carlo Azeglio Ciampi
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by
Lamberto Dini
Preceded by
Giuliano Amato
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by
Romano Prodi
Preceded by
Romano Prodi
Prime Minister of Italy
Succeeded by
Mario Monti
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Morihiro Hosokawa
Chairperson of the Group of 8
Succeeded by
Jean Chrétien
Preceded by
Giuliano Amato
Chairperson of the Group of 8
Preceded by
Tarō Asō
Chairperson of the Group of 8
Succeeded by
Stephen Harper
NAME Berlusconi, Silvio
SHORT DESCRIPTION Italian politician, entrepreneur, and media proprietor
DATE OF BIRTH 29 September 1936

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