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Silvio Berlusconi



(born 29 September 1936) is an Italian politician, the current Prime Minister of Italy as well as a billionaire entrepreneur. He is the second longest-serving Prime Minister of Italy, a position he has held on three separate occasions: from 1994 to 1995, from 2001 to 2006 and currently since 2008. He is the leader of the People of Freedom political movement, a centre-right party he founded in 2009. As of November 2009, he is the longest-serving current leader of a G8 country.

Berlusconi is the proprietor of three analogue television channels, various digital television channels, as well as some of the larger-circulation national news magazines. Together these account for nearly half the Italian market. He is the founder and major shareholder of Fininvest, which is among the ten largest privately owned companies in Italy [http://www.mbres.it/ita/download/ps_1.pdf Le principali società industriali e di servizi italiane] and currently operates in media and finance. With Ennio Doris he founded Mediolanum, one of the country's biggest banking and insurance groups. Berlusconi, together with the Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, is the main shareholder of Mediaset, a publicly traded company. He is the owner of the Italian football club A.C. Milan, which has won a number of national and international trophies under his ownership. According to ''Forbes'' magazine, Berlusconi is Italy's third richest person, with personal assets worth $9.4 billion (USD) in 2008.

Berlusconi's political rise was rapid and surrounded by controversy. He was elected as a Member of Parliament for the first time and appointed as Prime Minister following the March 1994 snap parliamentary elections, when Forza Italia gained a relative majority a mere three months after having been officially launched. However, his cabinet collapsed after seven months, due to internal disagreements in his coalition. In the April 1996 snap parliamentary elections, Berlusconi ran for Prime Minister again but was defeated by 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, on 24 January 2008, of Romano Prodi's government and sworn in as prime minister on 8 May 2008 (see also 2008 Italian political crisis).

Family background and private life



Berlusconi was born in Milan and raised there in an upper middle-class family. His father Luigi (1908–1989) was a bank employee, and his mother was Rosa Bossi (1911–2008). Silvio was the first of three children; his siblings are Maria Francesca Antonietta Berlusconi (1943–2009) and Paolo Berlusconi (born 1949), both entrepreneurs.

After completing his secondary school education at a Salesian college, he studied law at the Università Statale in Milan, graduating with a thesis on the legal aspects of advertising in 1961. Berlusconi was not required to serve the standard one-year stint in the Italian army which was compulsory at the time. 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 ''L'ultimo 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 (b. 1969). By 1980, Berlusconi had established a relationship with the actress Veronica Lario (born Miriam Bartolini), with whom he subsequently had three children: Barbara (b. 1984), Eleonora (b. 1986) and Luigi (b. 1988). He was divorced from Dall'Oglio in 1985, and married Lario in 1990. At 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.
Silvio Berlusconi (left) with Bettino Craxi (right), the then Prime Minister of Italy, in 1984.

Business career



Milano 2


Berlusconi's business career began in construction during the 1960s. In the latter part of that decade, he had the idea of developing Milano 2, a garden city of around 10,500 apartments, which he eventually built at Segrate on the eastern outskirts of Milan. How Berlusconi managed to finance the project is unclear. From the outset, in September 1968, his name disappears from all relevant legal documents, replaced by nominal proprietors of humble means, and only resurfaces in 1975. The financing is lost in a series of offshore company transactions and financial Chinese boxes that investigating journalists, magistrates and historians have never managed to untangle.

Telemilano


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.

Fininvest


In 1978 Berlusconi formed his first media group, Fininvest,at the time he joined P2. In the five years leading up to 1983 it earned 113,000,000,000 lire (€58.3 million). The funding sources are still unknown because of the complex system of holding companies that makes them impossible to trace, despite investigations conducted by various state attorneys.

Fininvest 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 on creating a national network which was later abolished. In 1990 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.

Berlusconi was assisted in his successful effort to create the first and only Italian commercial TV empire 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 legalizing the nationwide transmissions made by Berlusconi's television stations. This was because, on 16 October 1984, judges in Turin, Pescara and Rome, enforcing a law which previously restricted nationwide broadcasting to RAI, had ordered these private networks to cease transmitting.

After some 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 therefore allowed, for instance, 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 (now bankrupt) and then by public offer. In 1999 Berlusconi expanded his media interests by forming a partnership with Kirch called the ''Epsilon MediaGroup''.

Current assets


Berlusconi's main company Mediaset comprises three national television channels, which together have approximately half the national viewing audience, and ''Publitalia'', the leading Italian advertising and publicity agency. He also owns Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, the largest Italian publishing house, whose publications include Panorama, one of the country's most popular news magazines. He has interests in cinema and home video distribution firms (''Medusa'' and ''Penta''), insurance and banking (''Mediolanum'' and ''Mediobanca'') and a variety of other activities. His brother, Paolo Berlusconi, owns and operates ''il Giornale'', a centre-right wing newspaper which provides a strong pro-Berlusconi slant on Italy and its politics. ''Il Foglio'', one of the most influential Italian right-wing newspaper is partially owned by his wife, Veronica Lario.

Berlusconi also owns the nationally and internationally successful football club AC Milan, which has made an important contribution to his continuing political success.

"Forza Italia" (meaning "Go Italy!", "Forward, Italy!" or simply "Italy Forward") was best known, before the political party of the same name was founded, as the slogan of the Italian national football team.

Political career



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

Entering "the field"




In the early 1990s, the five pro-western 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 there was an alternative. 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, (i.e. the usual five governing parties) who were shocked and confused by Mani Pulite scandals, that Forza Italia offered both novelty and the continuation of the pro-western free market policies followed by Italy since the end of the 2nd 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 years of political career Berlusconi has repeatedly stated that the Mani Pulite investigations were led by communist prosecutors who wanted to establish a soviet-style government in Italy.

1994 electoral victory


Forza Italia
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. 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. 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 communication of a new investigation from Milan magistrates that was leaked to the press, 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 side. Lega Nord also resented the fact that many of its MPs had switched to Forza Italia, allegedly lured by promises of more prestigious portfolios.

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 was replaced by a centre-left government led by Romano Prodi.

Electoral victory of 2001


The House of Freedoms

In 2001 Berlusconi again ran as leader of the centre-right coalition House of Freedoms (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'' (Contract with the Italians), an idea copied outright by his advisor Luigi Crespi from the Newt Gingrich's Contract with America introduced six weeks before the 1994 US Congressional election, which was widely considered to be a creative masterstroke in his 2001 campaign bid for prime ministership. In this solemn agreement, Berlusconi claimed his commitment on improving 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; and fifthly, he would suppress the crime wave by introducing police officers to patrol all local zones and areas in Italy's major cities. 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


From left to right: Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Silvio Berlusconi.
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 have 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 has 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. Luca Ricolfi, an independent analyst, held that Berlusconi had managed to maintain 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.

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.

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 kept 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 required 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.

The 2006 elections


The logo of Forza Italia used in the 2006 electoral campaign

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 has 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) 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, the same electoral law that Berlusconi's coalition had approved shortly before the election in order to win the election, caused his 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 the nine parties forming The Union withdrew its support to Prodi, his government would have collapsed. This situation was ''also'' the result of the new "''diabolic''" electoral system.

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.

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



Following the run-up to the 2006 general election there had been talk among some of the components of the House of Freedoms regarding 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''", stressing that the people and the voters of the different political movements adhering to the demonstration were all part of a "''people of freedom''".
The People of Freedom

On 18 November 2007, after claiming the collection of more than 7 million signatures (including Umberto Bossi's) demanding the President of the Republic Giorgio Napolitano to call a fresh election, Silvio Berlusconi announced from the running board of a car in a crowded Piazza San Babila in Milan that Forza Italia would have soon merged or transformed into The People of Freedom party. Berlusconi also stated that this new political movement could see the participation of other parties. Both supporters and critics of the new party called Berlusconi's announcement "''the running board revolution''".

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''" (Il Popolo della Libertà), allied with the ''Northern League'' of Umberto Bossi and with the Sicilian ''Movement for Autonomy'' of Raffaele Lombardo.

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. Berlusconi and his ministers (Berlusconi IV Cabinet) were sworn in on 8 May 2008.

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 official 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 5820 voting delegates 5811 voted in favour, 4 against and 5 abstained. During that political congress Silvio 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.

Policies



Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with Silvio Berlusconi
From left to right: Silvio Berlusconi, Dmitry Medvedev, Angela Merkel, and Gordon Brown
From left to right: Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Silvio Berlusconi, at the opening of a gas pipeline
US President Barack Obama meets Silvio Berlusconi in the Oval Office of the White House

General guidelines


As he founded his Forza Italia party and entered politics, Berlusconi expressed his support for "freedom, the individual, family, enterprise, Italian tradition, Christian tradition and love for weaker people" and his intention to combat fiscal, judicial and bureaucratic oppression of Italians. The political family of the European People's Party was joined by Forza Italia in 1999 and by the People of Freedom in 2009. Some allies of Berlusconi, especially the Lega Nord, push for controls on immigration. Berlusconi himself has shown some reluctance to pursue such policies as strongly as his allies might like. A number of measures have been taken, with mixed results. The government, after introducing a controversial immigration law (the "Bossi-Fini" law, from the names of the Lega Nord and National Alliance leaders, as first authors of the text) is seeking the cooperation of European and other Mediterranean countries in reducing the large number of immigrants trying to reach Italian coasts on old and overloaded ferries and fishing boats, risking (and, often, losing) their lives.

Attempt to reform the Italian Constitution


A key point in Berlusconi's government programme was a planned reform of the Italian Constitution, which Berlusconi considered to be 'inspired by [the] Soviets', 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 the condition itself for remaining in the coalition. The National Alliance party pushed for the 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 the 25th and 26 July 2006 and resulted in the rejection of the constitutional reform, refused by 61.3% of the voters.

Foreign policy


Berlusconi and his cabinets have had a strong tendency to support American foreign policies, despite the policy divide between the U.S. and many founding members of the European Union (Germany, France, Belgium) during the Bush administration. Under his 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 (Silvio Berlusconi acted as wedding witness for the son of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan) than in the past, hence rebalancing relations with 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. 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 . Italy, with Berlusconi in office, became a solid ally of the United States due to his support in the post-invasion phase following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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 the same year.

Relations with Russia


The cabinets chaired by Silvio Berlusconi have enhanced and strengthened the ties between Italy and Russia, which were already substantial in the Soviet Union period because 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. Silvio Berlusconi is among the most vocal supporters of closer ties between Russia and the European Union. In an article published to Italian media on 26 May 2002, he said that the next step in Russia's growing integration with the West should be EU membership. On 17 November 2005 he commented in regards to the prospect of such a 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." The Prime Minister of Italy has made similar comments on other occasions as well.

Cooperation with Libya


On 30 August 2008, the Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi signed a historic cooperation treaty in Benghazi. Under its terms, Italy will pay $5 billion to Libya as compensation for its former military occupation. In exchange, Libya will take measures to combat illegal immigration coming from its shores and boost investments in Italian companies. The treaty was ratified by Italy in 6 February 2009, and by Libya on 2 March, during a visit to Tripoli by Berlusconi. 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. Gaddafi also took part in the G8 summit in L'Aquila in July as Chairman of the African Union. 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), then at summit's official dinner offered by President Giorgio Napolitano US and Libyan leaders upset the ceremony and sat by the Italian Prime Minister and G8 host, Silvio Berlusconi. (According to ceremony's orders Gaddafi should seat three places after Berlusconi)

Cooperation with the Western Balkans


On 5 April 2009 at the EU-USA summit in Prague Silvio Berlusconi proposed an 8-point road map to accelerate the Euro-Atlantic integration of the western Balkans. During that summit the Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini urged his European colleagues to send "visible and concrete" signs to the countries concerned (Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Montenegro, Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania).

The first point concerns the liberalisation of visas between the EU and the Western Balkans. The Italian Government hopes that liberalisation can begin between late 2009 and early 2010, with priority being given to Serbia and Macedonia. The second point calls upon the European Commission to prepare a technical report on Montenegro’s accession to EU, which will be followed by those of Serbia and Albania, while the third point urges completion of Croatia’s EU accession process by the end of 2010. The fourth point regards strengthening the role of the EU High Representative for Bosnia Herzegovina Valentin Inzko. The fifth calls for the entrance into effect of the Association and Stabilisation Agreement with Serbia, which, in turn, is to collaborate fully with the Hague Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The sixth point calls for the rapid resolution of the dispute putting Skopje against Athens over the name “Macedonia”. The seventh point concerns Italy’s insistence on the importance of economic support for the young Republic of Kosovo. The Eighth point requests for an EU-Balkans summit, enlarged to the United States, to be held by mid-2010.

Legislative actions



During the legislative period from 2001 to 2006, Berlusconi's parliamentary majority passed many pieces of legislation, among which:
* The law on large public works. ("Highways on the sea" project, high speed railways Turin-Milan-Florence-Rome-Naples and Turin-Verona-Venice; MOSE project saving city of Venice; bridge between Sicily and mainland Italy; underground in Rome, Parma, Naples, Turin, Milan; modernisation of highways and water structures in southern Italy)
* The reform of the labour system, with the so called "legge 30" or "legge Biagi", (named after the Italian professor of labour law killed by the communist terrorist group Red Brigades due to his role as economic advisor to Berlusconi administration) promoting labour flexibility for new workers
* The new pensions' law, issued on July 2004, raised the minimum age for retirement and added incentives for delayed retirement. The so called "Maroni Reform", named after the former Minister of Welfare, should have gradually raised the age of retirement. Before the reform came into force in 2008, it was stopped by the newly elected centre-left government. Instead of 60 years, the minimum age was reduced again to 58 years.
* The reform of the school system, called "riforma Moratti", named after the former Minister of Education, Universities and Research, that was quickly put under revision by centre-left government when Romano Prodi returned to power.
* The reform of rules regarding drivers' licenses, led to a significant decrease in car accidents, in particular of lethal car accidents, according to the Italian police department.
* The harsh "Article 41-bis prison regime" for Mafia leaders was legally made a permanent provision. Under previous law, it had to be confirmed every two years.
* Abolition of donation and inheritance taxes - reinstated by the subsequent government of Romano Prodi.
* The banning of smoking in offices, pubs, restaurants and all closed public places, which came into effect in January 2005.
* The Urbani decree, named after the ''Ministro per i beni e le attività culturali'' Giuliano Urbani, punishing whoever circulates, even via file sharing software, a film or other copyrighted material or part of it, or enjoys it with the same technology, with a 1,500€ fine, the confiscation of the instruments and the material, and the publication of the measure on a national daily paper and a periodical about shows. The decree was later modified by the parliament to include only copyright violation for the purpose of profit, where "profit" also includes the savings due to not buying the software. The Court of Cassation, however, sentenced that "profit" only means an actual "significant monetary profit".
* The increase in taxation on blank data storage devices (considered as means for digital piracy), to finance the intellectual property agency SIAE. This was required by a European Union directive, but the fee in Italy is much higher than in most other EU countries, up to a 60% increase in price. ASMI, the association of digital supports producers, filed a complaint against SIAE, the intellectual property agency, reporting a 40% decrease in sellings.
* The law regulating artificial insemination, banning research on embryonic stem cells, pre-implant diagnosis and insemination by donors other than the husband, forcing women to being implanted after the embryo creation even in case of genetic diseases, recognising the embryo as a human rights bearer. The abrogation of the most controversial items has been the object of an unsuccessful popular referendum called in June 2005 by former allies such as the Italian Radicals, together with some (but not all) parties of L'Unione.
* The reform of the electoral law. The First Past the Post system, which had been approved by popular vote in a 1993 referendum, was replaced by a proportional representation system with a majority prize for the winning coalition. (See also the page on the Parliament of Italy in the section "Electoral System").

Other laws were particularly at issue, the opposition considering them to be aimed to benefit Berlusconi and his partners:
* The Gasparri Law, i.e. a law comprising a new media reform legislation replacing the Mammì Law. Among other things, such legislation increased the maximum limit on an individual's share of the media market, allowing Berlusconi to retain control of his three national TV channels (one of which was still using a frequency which by law should have gone to another channel). The legislation also enabled the roll-out of digital television and internet based publishing, and hence his government claimed it resolved the problem of conflict of interest and his media monopoly "by opening up more channels". The law was initially vetoed by the President of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, on charges of being anti-constitutional. After being slightly modified, the law was definitively adopted on 3 May 2004.
* A much shorter statute of limitation for most crimes, coupled with an increase in sanctions for repeated offenders. The opposition argued that this law was designed to save a close friend of Berlusconi, Cesare Previti, from corruption charges; however, after modifications in parliament, Previti was excluded from the benefits of this law. However, the Constitutional Court had to abolish this exclusion, on ground of equality of all citizens before the law, so at last Previti did benefit from this law.
* The suspension of criminal trials against the five highest officers of the state during their terms: the so called "Lodo Maccanico", or "Lodo Schifani", was declared unconstitutional in 2004 by the Italian Constitutional Court. In July 2008 a similar bill, named "Lodo Alfano", was approved by the Parliament. Under the "Lodo Alfano" act, immunity was guaranteed for the four highest public servants. (President of the Republic, Speakers of the Houses of Parliament and Prime Minister). In October 2009 the Lodo Alfano was also declared unconstitutional.
* The decriminalization of false account statements and their punishment with administrative fines, only if there is a specific damaged party reporting the fact to the authorities and if the alteration is less than 5% of profits or 1% of total assets; otherwise it is still a crime, to be sanctioned with up to 6 years of prison.

In the last few weeks before the April 2006 general election, Berlusconi's parliamentary majority approved many disputed bills. For example, a bill about the Winter Olympics also included controversial provisions tightening penalties for drugs use and peddling.

One of these acts was a penal code reform forbidding prosecutors to appeal against acquittals (defendants could still appeal, though). This law was not signed by President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi , but eventually it went through both houses of parliament again, forcing the head of state to sign. The law was declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court, since the constitution of Italy provides for equal rights for prosecutors and defendants.

Legal problems




Clear record up to now


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. Conveniently for Berlusconi, 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. In all of them, but one, he was acquitted, either by a court of first instance or on appeal, or when proceedings came to a halt because the statute of limitations had expired. Therefore he has a clear record up to now. 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", 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" reeling off statistics that he said have constituted a "calvary including 577 visits by police, 2,500 court hearings and 174 million euros in lawyers' bills paid by me". Berlusconi has always been able to afford top lawyers, for example Nicolas Sarkozy was one of his French top advocates. Some of his former prosecutors are members of the parliamentary opposition. Some of his attorneys are also members of parliament.






Delaying tactics


The Italian legal system, trying to contain the excessive length of judgments, allows the statute of limitations to continue to run during the course of the trial. Due to the unceasing slow justice system, the delaying tactics adopted by Berlusconi's attorneys (including repeated motions for change of venue) have served to nullify pending charges on many occasions.
Some of Berlusconi's close collaborators, friends and firm managers have been found guilty of related crimes, notably his brother, Paolo, who in 2001 agreed to pay 100,000,000 Italian Liras (52,000 Euros) as a plea bargain for various charges including corruption.

False testimony regarding membership of the "Propaganda 2" (P2) masonic lodge


Receipt for membership of Silvio Berlusconi to "Propaganda 2" (P2) masonic lodge
In 1981, a scandal arose after the police discovery of Licio Gelli's secret freemasonry lodge Propaganda 2 (P2), which aimed to change the Italian political system to a more authoritarian regime to oppose communism. 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.Proceedings of the parliamentary inquiry commission headed by Tina Anselmi The P2 lodge was dissolved by the Italian Parliament in December 1981 and a law was passed declaring similar organizations illegal, but no specific crimes were alleged against individual members of the P2 lodge.

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 (52 Euros) 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 did not proceed to sentence because the wrongdoing had been extinguished by an amnesty passed in 1989.

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

"Jowellgate"/David Mills bribery case



The link between him and the difficulties of British Culture Secretary, Tessa Jowell, has attracted less media attention in Italy than in the United Kingdom, where the media has sensed a whiff of something scandalous (or at least hypocritical and embarrassing) for the government. David Mills, lawyer husband of the British cabinet minister in the Blair government, had acted for Berlusconi in the early 1990s and has been accused by Italian prosecutors of money laundering and of accepting a gift from Berlusconi in return for friendly evidence given as a prosecution witness against Berlusconi. However, Mills has asserted that the money in question did not come from Berlusconi but from another client. No formal indictment has yet been issued but on 10 March 2006 it was reported that prosecuting magistrates in Italy had submitted evidence to a judge, seeking an indictment for bribery against Berlusconi and Mills27: all parties vehemently deny wrong-doing and Berlusconi commented that the timing showed that the prosecution is political. Berlusconi denied meeting Mills. The British media have not yet unearthed anything to warrant Jowell's resignation or which proves the guilt of Mills, Berlusconi or their intermediaries. Mills separated from his wife around this time. On 17 February 2009, Mills was found guilty of accepting a bribe of about 400,000 Sterling Pounds, allegedly from Silvio Berlusconi. Mills was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison but is appealing.

Controversies




The debate about motives


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

While investigating these matters, three journalists noted the following facts:
* Mediobanca's annual report about the 10 biggest Italian companies showed that, in 1992, Berlusconi's media and finance group Fininvest had about 7,140 billion lire of debts, 8,193 billion lire of assets (with 35% of liquidity) and a net worth (that is, assets minus debts) of 1,053 billion lire. The asset-debt ratio represented a patrimonial situation bordering on bankruptcy.
* Between 1992 and 1993, Fininvest was investigated several times by prosecutors in Milan, Turin and Rome. The investigations regarded: alleged bribes (to political parties and public officials with the aim of getting contracts), alleged fake invoicing by Publitalia, the financing of political congresses and abuse of television frequencies.
* On the other hand Dr. Bruno Vespa notest that "In January 1994, Silvio Berlusconi was under no proceedings. Two members of the staff from the Ministry of the Finances were charged to be corrupted for a minor episode by a Fininvest manager, but the accusation would have later fallen. Aldo Brancher, who was working with Fininvest at the time, was charged for having financed some stands at the "Feste dell'Unità" and "L'Avanti!", and he would have been declared fully not guilty only in 2004. Paolo Berlusconi [Silvio Berlusconi's brother] was instead arrested [...] after the Cavaliere went into politics." After having decided to enter the political arena, Berlusconi was investigated for forty different inquests in less than two years.

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 of a self-made man. Frequently cited by opponents are also 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 more than hundreds of millions of dollars to political parties or individual politicians in exchange for sweetheart deals with Italian state companies and the government itself. Berlusconi acknowledges a personal friendship with Craxi.

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 on the purpose of protecting himself from legal charges. An enquiry realized by the newspaper "La Repubblica" sustained that Berlusconi passed 17 different laws which have advantaged himself; 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) judges 11.

For such reasons, Berlusconi and his government have an ongoing quarrel with the Italian judiciary, which reached its peak in 2003 when Berlusconi commented to a foreign journalist that judges are "mentally disturbed" and "anthropologically different from the rest of the human race", remarks that he later claimed he meant to be directed to specific judges only, and of a humorous nature12. More seriously, the Berlusconi administration has long been planning a judiciary reform intended to limit the 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 judges 13,14 and, after three years of debate and struggle, was passed by the Italian parliament in December 2004, but was immediately vetoed by the Italian President, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi 15, who said some of the passed laws were "clearly unconstitutional".

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 "Corte de Casacion" in July 2008.

Alleged links to the Mafia


Silvio Berlusconi has never been tried on charges relating to the Mafia, 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 (convicted of extortion in association with Cosa Nostra in 2004) who introduced Mangano to Berlusconi in 1973.[http://www.economist.com/world/displaystory.cfm?story_id=587107 An Italian Story], The Economist, 26 April 2001[http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2638609.stm Berlusconi accused of Mafia links], BBC News, 8 January 2003 Berlusconi denied any ties to the Mafia. Marcello Dell'Utri even stated that the Mafia did not exist at all.

Heated debate on this issue emerged again in 2004 when Dell'Utri, the manager of Berlusconi's publishing company Publitalia '80 and a Forza Italia senator was sentenced to nine years by a Palermo court on charge of "external association to the Mafia", [http://www.repubblica.it/2004/l/sezioni/politica/dellutri/dellusentenza/dellusentenza.html Accusa e difesa del senatore "M" Una vicenda lunga dieci anni], La Repubblica, 11 December 2004 a sentence describing Dell'Utri as a mediator between the economical interests of Berlusconi and members of the criminal organization. Berlusconi refused to comment on the sentence.

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 90s. Cancemi disclosed that Fininvest, through Marcello Dell'Utri and mafioso Vittorio Mangano, had paid Cosa Nostra 200 million lire (100 000 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.[http://www.guardian.co.uk/Archive/Article/0,4273,4183973,00.html Berlusconi friend on trial for 'aiding Mafia'], The Guardian, 10 May 2001 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.

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."[http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/jan/08/italy.philipwillan Berlusconi aide 'struck deal with mafia'], The Guardian, 8 January 2003 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.[http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/jan/12/italy.philipwillan Mafia supergrass fingers Berlusconi], The Observer, 12 January 2003 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.

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. 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. 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.

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.

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 party 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, Niccolo Ghedini said that "the statements given by Spatuzza about prime minister Berlusconi are baseless and can be in no way verified."[http://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/English/Politics/?id=3.0.3909367513 Lawyer rejects turncoat's claims linking Berlusconi to mafia], Adnkronos International, October 23, 2009

Russia and Gazprom



Berlusconi has a warm relationship with Vladimir Putin.

In November 2007 Italy’s state-owned energy company Eni signed an agreement with Russian state-owned Gazprom to build the controversial South Stream pipeline. 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. Italian parliament blocked the contract and accused Berlusconi of having a personal interest in the Eni-Gazprom agreement.

''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 the 26 April 2001 carried a title on its front cover, 'Why Silvio Berlusconi is unfit to lead Italy'. 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. The newspaper claimed that the documentation contained in its article proves that Berlusconi is 'unfit' for office 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 corrupted and self-serving. A key journalist for ''The Economist'', David Lane, has set out many of these charges in his book ''Berlusconi's Shadow''.

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, 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.

Influence on the media


Berlusconi's extensive control over the media has been widely criticised by both analysts and press freedom organisations, who allege Italy's media has limited freedom of expression. The ''Freedom of the Press 2004 Global Survey'', an annual study issued by the American organization Freedom House, downgraded Italy's ranking from 'Free' to 'Partly Free' due to Berlusconi's influence over RAI, a ranking which, in "Western Europe" was shared only with Turkey (). 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". 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.

Berlusconi's influence over RAI became evident when in Sofia, Bulgaria he expressed his views on journalists Enzo Biagi and Michele Santoro, and comedian Daniele Luttazzi. Berlusconi said that they "use television as a criminal means of communication". They lost their jobs as a result. 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. 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. 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. In November 2007, allegations of news manipulation caused the departure from RAI of Berlusconi's personal assistant.

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”

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, in particular the newspaper la Repubblica and the newsmagazine L'espresso, calling the publishing group "shameless", 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". The publishing group has announced to begin legal proceedings against Berlusconi, to protect the image and the interests of the group.

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".

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.

Conflicts of interest


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 Left coalition under Prodi was often criticized 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."

The authors of the book ''Inciucio''26 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, didn't pass a law to solve the conflicts of interest between media ownership and politics.

Controversy concerning Berlusconi's ''conflicts of interest'' are normally centred around the use of his media and marketing power for political gain. However, there is also controversy regarding his financial gains. When RAI was being run by a two-man team appointed by the presidents of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate (both in Berlusconi's coalition), the state broadcaster increased its viewers, but lost a significant share of its advertising revenue to the rival Mediaset group, owned and run by the Berlusconi family, which has led to large personal gain.

His government has passed some laws that have shortened statutory terms for tax fraud. Berlusconi responded to critics by saying that he would not take advantage of these himself, but later did. Romano Prodi, who defeated Berlusconi in 2006, claimed that these were ''ad personam laws,'' meant to solve Berlusconi's problems and defend his interests.

Remarks on western civilization and Islam


On 26 September 2001, after the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, USA, 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." This declaration caused an uproar, not only in the Arab and Muslim world, but also all around Europe, including Italy. 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."

Wiretaps and accusations of corruption through the exploitation of prostitution


In December 2007 the audio recording of a phone call between Berlusconi, then leader of the opposition parties, and Agostino Saccà (general director of RAI) were published by the magazine ''L'espresso'' and caused a scandal in several media.
The wiretap was being part of an investigation by the Public Prosecutor Office of Naples, where Berlusconi was investigated for corruption.
In the phone call, Saccà expresses words of impassioned political support to Berlusconi and criticises the behaviour of Berlusconi's allies. Berlusconi urges Saccà to broadcast a telefilm series which was strongly advocated by his ally Umberto Bossi. Saccà laments that many people have spread rumors on this agreement causing problems to him. Then Berlusconi asks Saccà to find a job in RAI for a young woman explicitly telling him that this woman would serve as an asset in a secret exchange with a senator of the majority who would help him to cause Prodi, with his administration, to fall. After the publication of these wiretaps, Berlusconi has been accused by other politicians and by some journalists of political corruption through the exploitation of prostitution. Berlusconi said, in his own defense: "In the entertainment world everybody knows that, in certain situations in RAI TV you work only if you prostitute yourself or if you are leftist. I have intervened on behalf of some personalities who are not leftists and have been completely set apart by RAI TV."

Right-to-die case


After the family of Eluana Englaro (who had been comatose for 17 years) succeeded in having her right to die recognized by the judges and getting doctors to start the process of allowing her to die in the way established by the court, Berlusconi issued a decree to stop the doctor from letting her die. Stating that, "This is murder. I would be failing to rescue her. I'm not a Pontius Pilate", Berlusconi went on to defend his decision by claiming that she was "in the condition to have babies", arguing that comatose women were still subject to menstruation.

Prostitution accusations and divorce case


Noemi Letizia at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.
At the end of April 2009, Veronica Lario wrote an open letter expressing her anger at Berlusconi's choice of young, attractive female candidates—some with little or no political experience—to represent the party in the 2009 European Parliament elections. Berlusconi demanded a public apology, claiming that for the third time his wife had "done this to me in the middle of an election campaign", and stated that there was little prospect of his marriage continuing.
On 3 May, Veronica Lario announced she was filing for divorce following her husband's attendance at a girl's 18th birthday party in Casoria, province of Naples. She claimed that Berlusconi had not attended his own sons' 18th birthday parties, and that she "cannot remain with a man who consorts with minors" and "is not well". Noemi Letizia, the girl in question, gave interviews to the Italian press, revealing that she calls Berlusconi ''"papi"'' ("daddy"), that they often spent time together in the past, and that Berlusconi would take care of her career as showgirl or politician.

In the following days Silvio Berlusconi gave explanations about the incident to press and television, swearing that he knew the girl only through her father and that he never met her alone without her parents.
However, on 14 May, newspaper ''la Repubblica'' published an article showing the many inconsistencies and contradictions arisen so far and formally asking Berlusconi to answer ten questions in order to clarify the situation.

Ten days later, Letizia's ex-boyfriend Luigi Flaminio claimed that Berlusconi contacted the girl personally in October 2008, impressed by her "purity" and "angelic face" after seeing pictures of her in a photobook, brought to him by the journalist Emilio Fede (director of Rete 4's news program). Flaminio also mentioned that she spent a week without her parents at Berlusconi's Sardinian villa around New Year's Eve 2009, a fact confirmed later by her mother. Photographs of the event taken by a paparazzo were confiscated by the Prosecutor's Office of Rome for violation of privacy but a selection of those photos was published in ''El País'' on 4 June.

On 28 May 2009, Silvio Berlusconi said that he never had "spicy" relations with Noemi Letizia, swearing also on his sons. He said also if had any such thing like this occurred, he would have resigned immediately.

On 17 June 2009, Patrizia D'Addario, a 42-year old escort and retired actress from Bari, Italy, claimed that she had been recruited twice (by a common friend, who paid her 2000 Euros) in order to spend the evening, and once also the night with Berlusconi.
Magistrates in Bari are investigating this case, since the common friend could be prosecuted for favouring prostitution.

Silvio Berlusconi denied any knowledge of D'Addario being a paid escort: "I have never paid a woman - he declared - I have never understood what satisfaction there is if the pleasure of conquest is absent". He also accused an unspecified person of maneuvering and paying D'Addario (accusations which she vehemently denied).

Other young women have also described to the press the parties held in Berlusconi's Rome residence (Palazzo Grazioli): while photos and transcripts of audio cassettes circulated widely in the press: these descriptions have raised, in particular, concerns about the lack of security measures and the uncontrolled access to the PM's residence.

On 26 June 2009, the "10 questions" to Berlusconi were reformulated by ''la Repubblica'' newspaper, and then frequently republished on it. No answers were given, until 28 August 2009, when Berlusconi sued Gruppo Editoriale L'Espresso, the owner company of the newspaper, and defined these ten questions as "defamatory" and "rhetorical".

Berlusconi's lifestyle has raised eyebrows in Catholic circles, with vigorous criticism being expressed in particular by the newspaper ''Avvenire'', owned by the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (Conference of Italian Bishops). This was followed by the publication in the newspaper il Giornale (owned by the Berlusconi family) of details with regard to legal proceedings against the editor of ''Avvenire'', Dino Boffo, which seemed to imply him for harassments case against the wife of his ex-partner. Dino Boffo has always declared the details of proceeding as false, although hasn't denied the fact.

After a period of tense exchanges and polemics, on 3 September 2009, Boffo resigned from his editorial position and the assistant editor Marco Tarquinio became editor ''ad interim''.

On 22 September 2009, Silvio Berlusconi after a press conference declared that he has asked his ministers not to respond anymore to questions regarding "gossip". He has stated also that the Italian press should talk only about the "successes" of Italian Government in internal and foreign policies, adding also that the press now will be able only to ask questions such as "how many apartments will be given in L'Aquila", i.e. on his administration and not on gossip.

During a contested episode of ''AnnoZero'' on 1 October 2009, the journalist and presenter AnnoZero has interviewed Patrizia D'Addario. She has stated she was contacted by Giampaolo Tarantini - a businessman from Bari - who already knew her and requested her presence to Palazzo Grazioli with "the President". D'Addario also stated that XX1 knows that she was a paid escort.

Jokes, gestures and blunders


Berlusconi is notorious for his questionable sense of humour.

In February 2002, at a European Union summit of foreign ministers, Berlusconi, who was present since the replacement of his previous foreign minister, Renato Ruggiero, had not yet been appointed, made a vulgar gesture (the "corna") behind the head of the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Piqué, intimating he was a cuckold during an official photo shoot. This is a common joke among Italian children, but many felt it was utterly out of place in an international meeting. He later explained that he "was just kidding", and was trying to create a relaxed atmosphere, that this sort of meeting was meant to "create friendship, cordiality, fondness and kind relationships" between the participants, and that he wanted to amuse a small group of Boy Scout bystanders.

On 2 July 2003, one day after taking over the rotating presidency of the EU Council of Ministers, he was heavily criticised by the German SPD Member of the European Parliament Martin Schulz because of his domestic policy and his alleged links to the Mafia. Berlusconi responded: "Mr Schulz, I know a movie producer in Italy who is making a movie about Nazi concentration camps. I will recommend you for the role of a Kapo. You are perfect for the part!". Responding to the shoutings that then came from the Socialist MEP backbenchers, Berlusconi insisted that he was only joking, but soon after accused Martin Schulz and others leftish MEPs to be "bad-willing tourists of democracy". His comparisons with the Nazis caused a brief cooling of Italy's relationship with Germany.

In 2003, during an interview with Nicholas Farrell and Boris Johnson, then editor of ''The Spectator'' magazine, Berlusconi claimed that Mussolini "had been a benign dictator who did not murder opponents but sent them "on holiday".

In mid-May 2005, while opening the European Food Safety Authority in Parma (preferred over a Finnish location, after Berlusconi made an assertion of Finns "not knowing what prosciutto is"), Berlusconi claimed that he had to "dust off my playboy skills" with the Finnish president, Tarja Halonen, to convince her to locate the EFSA in Parma. This caused criticism from both Italy and Finland, with the Italian ambassador in Finland being summoned by the Finnish foreign minister. A minister of his cabinet later 'explained' the comment by saying that "anyone who had seen a picture of Halonen must have been aware that he had been joking". Before that, speaking to a group of Wall Street traders, he listed a series of reasons to invest in Italy. The first of them was that "we have the most beautiful secretaries in the world". This resulted in uproar in Italy, where, for a day, female Members of Parliament took part in a cross-party protest. Over the prosciutto comment, the Finnish pizza chain Kotipizza later came back with a new 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.

In March 2006, Berlusconi defended accusations he made that the "Communists used to eat children", by responding with claims that "... read the Black Book of Communism and you will discover that in the communist China of Mao, they did not eat children, but had them boiled to fertilise the fields". He later admitted, "It was questionable irony ... because this joke is questionable. But I did not know how to restrain myself." His political opponent, Romano Prodi, told the press, "The damage caused to Italy by an insult to 1.3 billion people is by all means a considerable one", and that Berlusconi's comments were "unthinkable". Berlusconi replied by gifting 1000 copies of the Black Book of Communism during one of his election rallies.

On 4 April 2006, less than a week before the upcoming political elections in Italy, during a speech given at the National Chamber for Trade, Berlusconi stated that he holds "too high esteem of the Italians' intelligence to think that there are so many
''coglioni'' (literally "testicles", a vulgar term often used about people considered stupid) around voting against their interest". He later apologized for the "rude but effective language".

At an awards dinner in January 2007, Berlusconi was quoted as saying, "If I wasn't already married, I would marry you right away," and "With you, I'd go anywhere" to Mara Carfagna, a representative of Forza Italia and former showgirl. These flirtatious comments prompted his wife Veronica to demand an apology in a front-page letter to the Italian newspaper la Repubblica, one of Berlusconi's rival publications. In a statement released through his political party, he begged for forgiveness and stated that he would "always protect [Veronica's] dignity."
Mara Carfagna is now serving under him as minister for Equal Opportunities.

In the run-up to the 2008 Italian general election, Berlusconi claimed that right-wing female politicians were better looking than their left-wing counterparts. His remarks provoked an angry reaction from Italian centre-left parties, which accused him of being sexist. Berlusconi was quoted as saying that when he looked round Parliament, he found that female politicians from the right were "more beautiful" and that "The left has no taste, even when it comes to women".

During a televised encounter with voters on 10 April 2008 a young woman asked Silvio Berlusconi what the younger generation should do about the lack of secure jobs. He promptly suggested that she try to marry "the son of Berlusconi... with a smile like yours, you could try."

Since the 2008 general election, Berlusconi has already begun to court controversy at European level. He has publicly criticized the current 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.

At a joint press-conference at Villa La Certosa (17 April 2008) in Sardinia with the Russian president Vladimir Putin, a Russian journalist from Nezavisimaya Gazeta newspaper, Natalia Melikova, put a question to Putin, asking him if he intended divorcing his wife and marrying Alina Kabayeva, an Olympic gold medalist and an MP in Russia. When his guest showed annoyance, Berlusconi intervened with a gesture toward the journalist that imitated a gunman shooting. The journalist was reportedly reduced to tears. Putin denied rumours that he was to marry Kabaeva. A spokesman for Berlusconi tried to play down the shooting gesture. He said: "It was just a gesture, a playful gesture, in fact it was appreciated given the technical time needed for a long and tedious Russian translation." Afterwards, Melikova said: "I saw Berlusconi's gesture and I know he has a reputation as being a joker. I hope there are no consequences." Vittorio Feltri, founder and editor of the right-wing newspaper ''Libero'', argued that, given the records in transparency that Russia scores, Berlusconi actually 'saved' Melikova's life by making that gesture.

Berlusconi and George W. Bush are known to be intimate friends and spend time together on Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch. He declared that he and Bush would "remain friends forever", nostalgic at the end of Bush's term as a president. On an official dinner in the White House on October 2008, Berlusconi, tripping over a microphone cable, crumbled the podium, too excited about greeting Bush and embracing him. Then Berlusconi commented: "did you see what a huge love can do?"

On 6 November 2008, two days after Barack Obama was elected the first African-American US President, Berlusconi "complimented" Obama on his "suntan":

On 26 March 2009 he added:

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:

Berlusconi then grabbed the priest and told him:



On 18 November 2008, Berlusconi played "hide-and-seek" with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He was set to receive Merkel but opted to hide behind a column while Merkel and her entourage walked by. According to reporters present, Berlusconi called out "coo coo", prompting Mrs Merkel to turn around, saying "Oh, Silvio".

On 24 January 2009 Berlusconi announced his aim to enhance the numbers of military patrolling the Italian cities from 3000 to 30000 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:

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".

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?”. The following day, at the NATO meeting in Kehl, Berlusconi was seen talking on his mobile phone, while the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other NATO leaders waited for him for a photo on a Rhine bridge. (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".

Two days after the 2009 L'Aquila earthquake, devastating the capital city of the Abruzzo region and causing more than 290 deaths, Berlusconi said to ''n-tv'' that the people left homeless by the earthquake should view their experience as a camping weekend.
In that occasion he asked woman councillor Lia Beltrami, "Can I fondle you?" on a tour of an earthquake site.

On May 2009 Berlusconi said to a reporter while he was on a live television in Rome that when he was in Finland he had to travel three hours to see a two hundred year old church in the countryside. In his opinion that wooden church would have been destroyed if it was in Italy. Mr Berlusconi had made a non-official visit to Finland in 1999 and had never seen any Finnish church. He had just been visiting Iceland.


Assault at rally


On 13 December 2009 Berlusconi was hit in the face with an alabaster statuette of Milan Cathedral after a rally in Milan's ''Piazza Duomo'' that evening. As Berlusconi was shaking hands with the public, a man in the crowd stepped forward and launched the statuette at him. The attacker 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. According to a letter released to 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". As a result of the assault, which was captured on film, Berlusconi suffered facial injuries, a broken nose and two broken teeth; he was subsequently hospitalised. 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 no weapons on him, but three hockey sticks and two knives were found in his car. The suspect was known to have a history of mental illness and mandatory treatment in mental institutions.

Berlusconi left the hospital on 17 December 2009.

Silvio_Berlusconi
Source: Wikipedia