Open Europe Blog

The Italian Senate’s Immunities Committee has recommended that Silvio Berlusconi be ousted from parliament as a result of his recent tax fraud conviction. The Committee will now submit a motion to the full Senate for approval within the next 20 days. The final plenary vote is supposed to be a mere rubber-stamping exercise, so we wouldn’t expect any surprise. 

A couple of quick thoughts:

  • The expulsion from parliament would certainly be a hard blow for Berlusconi, but wouldn’t mean the end of his political career. With all due differences, comedian Beppe Grillo has shown that it’s fully possible to lead a party from outside parliament. 
  • Most importantly, Berlusconi’s large public support is unlikely to evaporate overnight. In the eyes of many Italians, Il Cavaliere remains the example of a successful self-made entrepreneur – and the victim of a conspiracy of left-leaning judges.
  • Indeed, once the process to expel him from parliament is completed, Berlusconi will find himself with a couple more trials under way – and no more parliamentary immunity. However, he remains unlikely to spend any time behind bars because of his age.
  • That said, the key aspect at this stage is perhaps what will happen to Berlusconi’s party in the near future. As we noted in our previous blog posts, the confidence vote in the Italian Senate earlier this week triggered a mutiny that ultimately forced Berlusconi to an unexpected U-turn. Things seem to have cooled down a bit, but the risk of a party split off the back of Wednesday’s rebellion remains. This would be a bigger setback than the loss of a seat in parliament.
  • On a more general note, one of the reasons why Berlusconi still looks likely to remain a rather influential figure in Italian politics is the lack of an obvious substitute to take the lead of Italy’s centre-right forces. So far, Berlusconi has to a large extent, either by hook or by crook, been able to keep his side of the political divide together. The day he leaves the stage, we may well witness the fragmentation of that side of the Italian political spectrum. The impact of such a split on the country’s political stability is difficult to predict at this stage.
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