The four-time prime minister tells Il Foglio how he will lead Italy, again: by switching to a presidential system and smoothing the path for youth employment
Silvio Berlusconi (foto LaPresse)
Some time ago, Joseph Daul, president of the Epp, said, using words not too different to those resumed last week by Bill Emmott, that Berlusconi and Forza Italia represent stability in the face of a populist insurgency. Can you explain us who are the populists today in Italy and in what way they are a danger for the country’s welfare specular to what the communists have symbolized for years?
“President Daul judgement obviously pleases me and confirms what we have been saying for some time: the real challenge is between our liberal revolution, a possible, concrete, constructive revolution, and the Five Star Movement rebellism - I do not like to call it populism. They are a danger because they has inherited the worst sides from the old left: the statism, the No culture, tax oppression, the mistrust of citizens' freedom, the fierce justicialism, without even having the tradition of seriousness and the culture of government the Communists did not lack. This is why they are doubly dangerous. If they won they would massacre the middle class with taxes - attacking the house, the assets, the successions, the pensions - would block the fundamental infrastructures, would bring to the government the most politicized sectors of the judiciary”.
We can not fail to notice, Mr President, that there is a problem in this euphoria. The formula with which the center right is standing for election is a formula that the center right has experimented on other government occasions. Often the alliance with Lega has also been a brake for the reformist center-right. Lega says it is a twin party of the AFD, of Le Pen, of the Austrian ultra-right. How the center-right, that is said to be the alternative to the populists, can be fully credible as a government force if it stands with the twins of the European populist parties?
“Lega has governed Italy for ten years, it is still running important Italian regions with us and every time it is called to management responsibilities, it proves to be a concrete, reliable, pragmatic political force. We must not confuse the tones of electoral propaganda with the concrete facts. Of course, the Forza Italia leading role in the center-right, firmly rooted in the values of the Epp, which will be the largest political force of the coalition, will ensure that there could be no room for demagogic temptations, if they ever manifest. But I repeat, I do not have this fear, Lega is profoundly different, in terms of history and culture of government, from the political forces that you have remembered”.
If Forza Italia will have an important role in the next government, do you think it is a feasible dream to imagine the next legislature as a constituent one, to give our country, at last, a presidential system on the French model?
“We fought hard, and successfully, against a wrong constitutional reform, but we did not do it, unlike some left wing movements or “grillinis”, to keep the Constitution we have. The reform process must start again and I have often expressed my preference for a presidentialist model”.
Talking about Europe. A few weeks ago, Il Foglio proposed to the largest Italian political forces to challenge anti-systemic parties and anti-European forces with a symbolic move: put the European flag inside their party’s logo. Would you like the Forza Italia flag to have the 12 european stars?
“I would like to do it, if Europe were the Europe dreamt by De Gasperi, of Adenauer, of Schuman. This Europe, however, the Europe of bureaucrats and stupid rules, must first of all be changed profoundly if we want to save it. You see, being pro-European today does not mean rhetoric about Europe or pretending that everything is fine, it means working concretely to transform it into a great area of freedom: a Europe of people and not against people, based on common Christian and liberals values. A Europe that, in the name of these values, is capable of a truly common foreign and defense policy. Our government will work to build it. It will be a real change of pace compared to the inertia and passivity of the center-left governments. Then - when we have succeeded - we will gladly put the stars in the flag”.
The Minister of Economy Pier Carlo Padoan claims to have helped Italy to get out of the economic crisis. He arrived with Renzi before and Gentiloni then. Before him Italy had a sign minus and today has a plus sign. Can you tell us how would you rate the economic line of this government. And which should be the three characteristics that the person Berlusconi dreams of having at the helm of the dicastery of the economy should have?
“Italy does not live isolated from the world, the economic results of a government must be judged according to the international scenario in which they are located. We have ruled in the middle of the worst post-war world economic crisis, now we are at the height of a very sustained growth phase in some regions of the planet, and relevant also in Europe. Today of course Italy is growing, like the whole world, but half of the rest of the European Union is growing too. Is it a result of which to be proud of? Our Minister of Economy will obviously have to be an authoritative technician, but also a person who knows the real economy, is clear that there is a widespread suffering in the economic system, and that keeping the accounts in order is a goal that is realized better if the country really starts to grow again”.
Within the next government, if the center-right will win the elections and if a positive sentence should come from Strasbourg, Berlusconi would be ready to give his availability also for a different role from that of President of the Council ?
“I have no personal ambitions: after doing the Prime Minister three times and having the privilege of representing my country among the great men of earth for many years. I really do not have anything else to ask for in political life. I know, however, that the major coalition party will indicate the premier, and that party will be Forza Italia”.
In recent years you have observed the growth path of the two Matteos of Italian politics, Renzi and Salvini. Can you tell us what are the strengths and weaknesses of the two Matteo in your opinion?
“Matteo Salvini is a great breakthrough striker, precious to score. Is more difficult to make a judgment about Renzi: he had the undoubted merit to really break with the post-communist history that linked the Democratic Party to the old PCI, from which came D'Alema and Bersani. But he wasn’t able to replace this identity with another, and has reduced the Democratic Party to an agglomeration of power without ideas and without a reference culture. It is not entirely his fault. Across all Europe the left is in crisis, aware of the failure of its old recipes of the '900, and unable to develop new ones. It is no coincidence that in all the major European countries, as in Italy, the challenge is between the moderates linked to the Epp and the rebelists. France is an exception, but only partially: Macron is a left-wing technocrat, but he rules because he has destroyed the traditional left”.
At the center of this electoral campaign, will be the issue of youth unemployment. Is there a shock proposal that the center-right is ready to put in place to tackle the problem of unemployment at its root?
“It will be one of our top priorities. We can not allow an entire generation to be sacrificed to the wrong policies of the governments that preceded it. It is estimated that there are 3 millions of young people who do not study and do not have a job. An intolerable figure, to which we have to add the serious damage of those who must leave Italy to find a suitable job - they are often the brightest young people. One of our first measures will be to relieve any tax on labor and any contribution for the first six years from companies that will hire young unemployed indefinitely”.
In Europe, meanwhile, Angela Merkel will probably lead Germany in this legislature too. What do you think are three great lessons deriving from the history of the German chancellor from whom even a modern center should take stock?
“Consistency with their own positions, even when they do not seem to be electorally paying immediately. The pride of representing a great nation and protecting its interests. The international authority that comes from personal credibility”.
If you had been at the helm of the Italian government, would you have sent a mandate to our UN ambassador to vote against the UN decision to condemn Trump's choice to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel?
“I understand that Trump's choice has risen to tensions and concerns, but it can not be denied that Jerusalem is historically the capital of Israel, nor can it be subjected to the blackmails of the more extremist factions of the Palestinian world, as Europe and also Italy did. I consider Israel a part of our culture and civilization, a beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. I would add, however, that Palestinians have the right to have a fully sovereign state, to live in peace, well-being and security. But this can only be achieved through a peace process that fully guarantees the rights and the security for all. That vote was therefore a mistake”.