Open Europe Blog

The leader of Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party, Pier Luigi Bersani, is in an unenviable position right now. He has been asked by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano to go and meet pretty much everyone (trade unions, employers’ associations, political parties) and see if he can get the support he needs to command a majority in Italy’s hung Senate. Bersani will report back to Napolitano on Thursday, and is due to meet a delegation from Silvio Berlusconi’s PdL party this afternoon.

Berlusconi is playing the hand he has been dealt quite well, taking advantage of Beppe Grillo’s refusal to cooperate. Il Cavaliere has already set his conditions for supporting a Bersani-led government: Angelino Alfano (the Secretary General of Berlusconi’s party) should be the Deputy Prime Minister, and a man close to the centre-right should be elected as the next Italian President.

Bersani has so far rebuffed Berlusconi’s offers, but we have thought of at least three reasons why he may eventually change his mind:

  • Bersani is probably facing a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to become Italian Prime Minister. He is already 61 (although age is not necessarily an obstacle in Italian politics), and if Italy were to return to the polls he would likely come under huge internal pressure to step down as party leader and give way to someone else. Remember Bersani was at the front of an electoral campaign during which his centre-left alliance squandered a double-digit lead in the polls in about two months. Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi seems to be the most obvious candidate to replace Bersani in case of new elections.
  • More generally, Bersani’s own party is already split on this specific issue – with a group of key members close to Renzi not hostile to cooperation with Berlusconi. Reggio Emilia Mayor Graziano Del Rio, for instance, told La Repubblica that if Italian President Giorgio Napolitano were to propose a ‘national unity government’ (which in Italian political jargon is also known as Governo del Presidente, the President’s government), Berlusconi’s and Bersani’s parties should not be “picky” and should work together for the good of the country. Bersani can’t afford to just ignore these voices if he wants to preserve his party’s unity in the longer term.   
  • Italy’s three largest trade unions – which have close ties with Bersani’s party – have explicitly come out against new elections and urged Bersani to form a government “at any cost”.

The situation remains extremely fluid, but if cooperation with Berlusconi were the only alternative to re-run elections, these are three reasons why we believe Bersani would at least think twice before sending Italians back to the polls. 

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