Silvio Berlusconi made a spectacular entrance on to the Italian political stage in 1994. Italy was still rocking from operation ‘Mani Pulite’ the nationwide Italian judicial investigation into political corruption that resulted in the disappearance of some traditional political parties.
The entrepreneur-politician owner of the media group Fininvest was determined for his party Forza Italia, which he managed like a business, to fill the gap left by the Christian Democrats. His credo: individual freedom and the market. Its promise: a new era of growth and prosperity.
His tactics paid off and he became prime minister, but had to make concessions with his two allies, Giannfranco Fini of the National Alliance and Umberto Bossi of the Northern League.
The first Berlusconi government was short-lived noted for the bad-tempered defection of the Northern League angry by the abandonment of federalisation of the state. On 22 December 1994 Berlusconi was forced to resign.
But after a brief interlude, in 2001 Silvio Berlusconi took revenge. In front of ‘voter-viewers’ on a talk show during an election campaign, he signed a contract with the Italians. He promised them liberal reforms and – especially popular – lower taxes.
His coalition party, the House of Freedoms, won a comfortable absolute majority. Berlusconi completed a second term of five years, a first in 50 years for Italy.
In foreign policy he was aligned with the United States during the Iraq crisis sending army personnel there, contrary to public opinion.
His trouble with Italian justice continued, several trials followed, he raged against the judges, attacking the judicial system of the country which was unheard of in Italy.
This second term also saw Berlusconi as the actor. The episodes with the head of the Italian government deploying his sense of humor raised doubts in people’s minds.
In the European Parliament, for example, he said to the German Martin Schulz, “Mr Schulz, I know there is in Italy a man producing a film on the Nazi concentration camps. I would like to suggest you for the role of camp leader.”
His third term in 2008, after the victory of his new project The People of Freedom, began with promises of cutting taxes and pursing illegal immigration.
The sex scandals which surrounded him persisted and led to court where he was accused of incitement to prostitution with a minor and abuse of political power.
But it was the crisis of sovereign debt in the eurozone which engulfed Italy in 2011 that finally forced Silvio Berlusconi to resign on November 13, 2011. The Knight, as he was nicknamed gave way to a technocrat, Mario Monti.