Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi Vows to Stay Relevant
ROME –- Two days after resigning as Italian prime minister, billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi is already showing he will not go quietly into the post-political period of his life.
Berlusconi, who has been prime minister for nine of the last 11 years, stepped down on Saturday, the latest and most high-profile victim of the fast-spreading European debt crisis. Already made weak by historically low approval levels, an anemic economy, and personal and legal controversy, Berlusconi has proven to be one of Europe’s most resilient figures.
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But when he finally quit, it was met with cheers by several thousand die hard critics, who waited in the cold outside Rome’s Quirinal Palace, and by thousands more across the country.
On Sunday, in a taped address carried by the Mediaset networks he controls, Berlusconi, vowed to stay relevant: “To those who cheered what they thought was my exit from the political scene, I want to say very clearly that I will double my commitment in parliament,” he said. “I do not expect any gratitude, but I will not give up.”
Though Berlusconi is no longer a prime minister, he is still a member of parliament.
More importantly, he still has Europe’s largest media empire at his disposal: Mediaset owns Italy’s three largest private broadcasters, plus publishing holdings, leading newspapers, and magazines, and film producer and distributor Medusa.
On Monday, Berlusconi reportedly met with leadership at Mediaset to discuss the future of the company, with similar meetings scheduled for later in the month. Speculation in Italy is that Berlusconi will use his access to the media giant he created and used to mold public opinion and limit the effectiveness of rivals to make sure his voice continues to be heard.
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Berlusconi is expected to be replaced by Mario Monti, the former European Competition Commissioner, who parliament will vote on by Friday. While he was prime minister, Berlusconi tried unsuccessfully to lure the highly respected Monti into his government on at least two occasions, as Minister of Foreign Affairs. But Monti demurred.
Now, as the likely head of an interim technical government, it will be Monti’s task to rebuild confidence in the Italian economy while passing political and economic reforms that will help set the stage for a new set election, probably before mid-2012. Berlusconi has said he will personally support Monti’s interim government, but it is in the lead-up to new elections where Berlusconi is likely to have the biggest impact in influencing who the country’s next elected prime minister will be, and whether or not he will be able to succeed where Berlusconi failed.