Italy. During the year, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was more than usual at the center of events. Bold newspaper headlines told about the 72-year-old’s real or alleged parties and sex business with younger women.
New measures by the government to curb the extensive migration faced international criticism. According to countryaah, most serious for the Prime Minister, however, was that he was again put to trial. He is charged with tax offenses, corruption and accounting offenses.
In February, a Milan court sentenced British lawyer David Mills to prison for corruption for having received a bribe of about SEK 4 million from Berlusconi in 1997. Mills received the sum for falsely testifying in two lawsuits against Berlusconi and his holding company Fininvest.
Earlier, Berlusconi himself was facing trial in these processes, but when he returned as prime minister in 2008, he quickly passed a law in parliament protecting the country’s four top executives from prosecution. He had implemented the same measure as early as 2003, but the Constitutional Court later rejected that law.
In October, a judge fined € 750 million in the case of Fininvest. The sum is to be paid to Berlusconi’s business rival Carlo de Benedetti after a bribed judge helped Fininvest to take over the publishing house Mondadori in the early 1990s. Just a week later, the Constitutional Court closed a review of Berlusconi’s new immunity law and once again ruled that it violated the constitutional principle of everyone’s equality before the law.
In an unusual attack on the country’s respected President Giorgio Napolitano, Berlusconi claimed that he had deliberately staffed the court with leftists. In this context, it has been pointed out that it was the President who finally approved the immunity law that has now been declared unconstitutional.
Despite resumed trials, Berlusconi was expected to be able to remain at his post. In November, the first case was raised, and it concerns tax breaks within the family company Mediaset. The case with David Mills has been appealed and was not expected to be settled until it is prescribed in 2010.
The prime minister completely dominates political life with a strong support in parliament, and in the spring he strengthened his grip on the center-right parties. Berlusconis Forza Italia had dissolved at the end of 2008 to be part of his new, larger project, the People of Liberty (PdL), which was also the name of the right alliance in the 2008 election. In March 2009, Gianfranco Finis dissolved the National Alliance and became part of the PdL, which now formally became a party. Some small parties also joined.
The Left Opposition within the Democratic Party (PD) failed to take advantage of Berlusconi’s difficulties. After a major setback in the regional elections in Sardinia in February, party leader Walter Veltroni resigned, and the party – which is experiencing internal wear and tear – was only able to elect Pier Luigi Bersani as his successor at the end of October.
In the elections to the European Parliament in early June, PD received just over 26 percent of the vote and 21 seats, compared with 33 percent in the national election in 2008. Over 35 percent voted for PdL, which got 29 seats in Brussels/Strasbourg, and the party’s partner Northern Federation (Lega Nord) took 10 percent and 9 seats.
The government’s measures against increasing human smuggling to Italy’s coasts were sharpened during the year. A bill from 2008 that criminalizes illegal immigration and residence in the country without a permit was adopted by Parliament in July. The person found is sentenced to high fines and can be held up to six months and deported if there is no reason for asylum. Anyone who gives housing to people without a permit can receive up to three years in prison. The law, which has been criticized by the Vatican and human rights groups, among others, also gives citizens the right to form patrols to help the police find illegal migrants.
Following the growing Italian contacts with Libya in recent years, an agreement was concluded in early 2009 that allowed Italian vessels to stop boats with migrants and bring them back to Libyan port, if the voyage had begun there. Although Italy has already previously rejected some migrants, including from the island of Lampedusa, the first deportation took place in accordance with the agreement in early May, when 227 migrants were returned to Libya. Interior Minister Roberto Maroni hailed the new model against illegal immigration. Following Berlusconi’s 2008 visit to Libya, when he pledged $ 5 billion in compensation for colonial times, in June 2009, leader Muammar al-Khadaffi made a response visit; his first trip to Italy. The direct rejections were criticized because the migrants were not given the opportunity to seek asylum. The government, for its part, has,
Berlusconi’s weakness for younger, beautiful women is well known, but the business was unusually scandalous in 2009 – although everything that was written was not correct. In April, his wife Veronica Lario stated that PdL planned to nominate a number of glamorous women, including from Berlusconi’s TV shows, to the European Parliament elections; maybe a rash of her husband’s joking mood. In May, it turned out that he was visiting a girl in Naples when she turned 18. Berlusconi claimed that he was an old friend of the family, but as far as is known it was with the girl he had contacts. The story made Veronica Lario announce that she wanted to get divorced.
During a police investigation into a mutually suspected entrepreneur, it was revealed in June that he had conveyed “beautiful ladies” to two parties in Berlusconi’s private residence in Rome. A 42-year-old woman who said she attended has stated that she would be assisted with a building permit when she stayed all night. During her visits, she recorded conversations with a tape recorder, which was then leaked to left-wing newspapers.
In the same month, the magazine El Pais published “paparazzi pictures” taken in the autumn of 2008 outside Berlusconi’s villa in Sardinia. In addition to ladies with bare breasts, there was a picture of a naked man, identified as Czech Republic’s former Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek. These so-called escort ladies should have been mediated by the same businessman. Berlusconi has said that he does not directly remember the woman in Rombostaden. He claimed that the left was running a dirt campaign against him ahead of the G8 meeting to be held in July in L’Aquila, the city that was severely damaged by an earthquake in April when nearly 300 were killed while 65,000 became homeless.
Following Berlusconi’s promise in 2008 to resolve the crisis with the refuse disposal in Naples, a closed incineration plant was opened in March 2009. An even more serious environmental crime with the mafia involved began to be revealed during the autumn. Following a tip from an informant, a sunken ship, apparently with poison barrels, was found off the coast of Calabria in the south. According to the informant, there was also radioactive material, and he stated that he himself participated in the reduction of two other vessels.
The decline of the Italian economy continued, and in October GDP had fallen for six consecutive quarters; totaling about 6.3 percent. The country’s exports fell sharply, and many small and medium-sized companies, Italy’s backbone, experienced problems. The government presented stimulus packages, including for the car industry with a scrapping premium, and decided that the previously halted project with a bridge between Sicily and the mainland should be initiated.