Top News: Silvio Berlusconi’s government is facing another crisis after the departure of long-time ally Gianfranco Fini. Berlusconi’s popularity has deteriorated in the wake of a series of sex scandals.
With parliamentary support for Berlusconi’s coalition splintering, the 73-year-old leader is trying to avoid early elections that would probably further erode his support. A key development will be Berlusconi’s address to parliament at the end of September, in which he is expected to outline a plans for the future and a peace between Fini and fellow ally Umberto Bossi, who have locked horns repeatedly in recent years.
Berlusconi, meanwhile, is showing no lack of bravado. He has vowed that his government will last until the end of its term in 2013, and after a meeting with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, projections went even farther, with Putin suggesting that he and his Italian counterpart should both serve in office until they are 120 years old.
The troubles have not kept Berlusconi away from controversial statements. During a convention of the youth wing of his party, Berlusconi suggested that young women marry men for their money. He said he had plenty of proof this was already happening, as women were lined up to meet him because, he said, “I’m a nice guy and I’m loaded.” Asked about the comments, a key Berlusconi ally stoked the flames even further, saying it was expected that women should use their bodies and sex appeal to get ahead in politics and other walks of life.
Money: Italian law enforcement seized the largest Mafia-linked haul ever, taking in an estimated $1.9 billion in assets that the mob was laundering through a series of fake investments in renewable energy companies. The move added much-needed cash to state coffers, while striking a blow against organized crime families considered the largest drag on the economy in southern Italy.
Meanwhile, there are signs that Italy is starting to pull out of its epic economic malaise, with the European Union adjusting Italy’s growth projections upward, though long-term prospects still remain “lackluster.” Italian exports are on the rise, while inflation fell and the beleaguered service sector finally began showing signs of life. But a series of economic experts gathered for a conference in northern Italy said that the long-term economic prospects for Italy and elsewhere in the industrialized world remained pessimistic.
The head of Italian carmaker Fiat, which last year took control of struggling U.S. rival Chrysler, is predicting a “difficult” year for the Detroit-based company despite two profitable quarters in a row. Sergio Marchionne also said Fiat itself is losing money in Italy, its traditional stronghold. The news has sparked speculation that Fiat could sell its sports car brand Alfa Romeo to Germany’s Volkswagen. But Marchionne said it would not happen, and he predicted the marriage between Fiat and Chrysler would eventually prove fruitful for both sides, with Alfa Romeo playing a key role in that process.
Elsewhere: The Venice Film Festival this year received an unusual dose of controversy amid charges that auteur and main jury president Quentin Tarantino may have rigged the competition to give awards to those close to him, including ex-girlfriend Sophia Coppola, who won the festival’s prestigious Golden Lion award for her film “Somewhere.”
The festival has been tight-lipped about the accusations, but Tarantino was quick to dismiss them, noting that the vote for Coppola’s film was unanimous and that the jury jointly decided on all prizes.
“There was no steering in any direction,” he said.
The charges came mostly from the Italian media and there was some speculation that the attacks against the award-winning director of “Pulp Fiction” and “Kill Bill” could be a retaliation for Tarantino’s well-publicized criticisms of contemporary Italian film.