Global Politics

Italian leader issues economic warning

Italy's prime minister Silvio Berlusconi today warned parliament that Italy could be plunged into economic crisis if his opponents succeed in passing a �no confidence� measure against him tomorrow. The World's Gerry Hadden reports.

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Silvio Berlusconi has frequently defended himself in Parliament, and his tone has usually been fiery. Today it was somber.

Berlusconi: �I understand those who would challenge the government, leading to fresh elections or at least proposing a different prime minister. However, I cannot understand the spirit of those who want to trigger at all costs a crisis in the dark.�

Berlusconi was referring the dark economic days in Italy and across Europe. Greece and Ireland have already been promised bail-out packages. Now the bond markets are putting pressure on other countries within the euro monetary zone. Berlusconi argues the last thing Italy needs is to spook investors further with political
instability. But Berlusconi's detractors say what's political unstable in Italy is the Prime Minister himself.

Thousands marched in Rome this weekend against the Prime Minister.
Including this young man. He told Italian tv, �We are here to defend a society that is still based on serious, concrete values, on a public school system, on values that are the exact opposite of the Berlusconi model.�

Critics describe the Berlusconi model as a sort of phony populism, with more big smiles and showmanship than real policy making. Fair or not, the PM's smile has been fading. He's been plagued by a series of scandals over his private life. Prosecutors say they'll try Berlusconi on corruption charges as soon as he's out of office and no longer has legal immunity. James Walston is a professor of international relations at the American University in Rome. �He cannot afford not to be in power, and in power as PM. There are the three cases pending. And then there are others that are coming rapidly to boil,� says Walston.

The votes are scheduled in the parliament tomorrow. Berlusconi can expect no confidence votes from all 41 deputies of the Future and Liberty Party. One of them, Benedetto della Vedova, says Berlusconi has embarrassed Italy. He says, �we told Berlusconi that there are serious problems with his image, the scandals, the international reputation..look at Wikileaks..it's simply confirmed that even among American diplomats there's disappointment with the state of Italian politics.�

In the leaked cables, American officials describe Berlusconi as feckless and too tired from partying to be an effective leader. They also worry that Berlusconi has become too cozy with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. What's hurt Berlusconi the most at home is Italy's faltering economy. Unemployment is eight and a half percent.
The public debt equals 120 percent of Italy's gross domestic product. Still, Berlusconi has bounced back before. Just last Friday the Prime Minister's defeat appeared inevitable. But the weekend brought feverish negotiations to lure back some of his lost sheep. Professor James Walston says that's led to accusations of illegal inducement. �There's been talk of one dep having his mortgage paid for. and his sick wife being looked after. Other talk of people being given consultancy jobs, there are also political proposals. The Radical party says if you do prison reform I'll give you my six votes.�

A technicality in Italian law might also work in Berlusconi's favor. Freshmen legislators know that if the government is dissolved they'll lose their generous paychecks � and won't qualify for a life-long government pension. On the eve of the no confidence votes, Berlusconi's fate is anyone's call.

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