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Five kids, a media empire, and a political party: How will Italy’s real-life Succession play out?

After his death, Berlusconi's five children have inherited his media empire -- and his political party.
After his death, Berlusconi's five children have inherited his media empire -- and his political party. Copyright Canva, AFP, AP
Copyright Canva, AFP, AP
By Giulia Carbonaro
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Berlusconi had two kids from his first wife, and three from his second. They will all inherit the empire the media tycoon built from scratch.

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Five kids, grown in the shadow of their powerful, wealthy, ruthless father -- a man whom the nation looks up to, who’s built a media empire that has hypnotised the entire country, and shaped its politics and destiny.

Five kids who have been raised with a sense of pride for the name they bear, but who have been haunted by one question their whole life: who’s going to be worthy of their father, who’s going to succeed them?

What sounds roughly like the plot of the popular TV show ‘Succession’ is actually the real-life story of Silvio Berlusconi’s five children, who now have to deal with the cumbersome legacy their father left behind.

Much like Logan Roy, the moody tycoon of the HBO show, Berlusconi came from a modest family -- a clerk and a housewife -- only to become one of the richest and most successful businessmen in his country.

His career began in construction in the 1970s, and continued in the world of television, which he completely revolutionised creating the country’s first private national channel, Canale 5. This would later be incorporated into Mediaset, a network comprising 3 of the 7 national channels -- and a powerful instrument for an ambitious man who loved to be loved.

High on the success of his business investments, Berlusconi entered the world of politics, which he dominated for the next 30 years, covering three terms as Italy’s prime minister between 1994 and 2011 amidst scandals, corruption charges, and controversies. He created his own party, Forza Italia, which is currently in the right-wing coalition governing the country.

When Berlusconi’s health started turning for the worse on Monday, Marina (56) and Pier Silvio (54), from the media mogul’s first marriage to Carla Elvira Lucia Dall’Oglio; and Barbara (38), Eleonora (37), and Luigi (34), from his second marriage to Veronica Lario, rushed to his side.

They were there when the larger-than-life politician and businessman who had divided Italy’s public opinion for the last three decades died at the age of 86 on the same day, brought down not by his excesses and bravado, but by leukemia.

Berlusconi’s media empire and his party will now be passed on to them, his five legitimate children. All of them hold a stake in Fininvest, the multi-billion euro media company that the former prime minister created from scratch and which is currently the largest shareholder of Media for Europe, MFE.

The group owns the television network Mediaset and Mondadori, one of Italy’s biggest publishing houses.

Who will take over Berlusconi’s media empire?

Berlusconi’s children each hold a 7.65% stake in Fininvest, according to Italian news media. The media mogul controlled about 61% of holdings in the company, which will now have to be divided among his kids.

But while cynicism, ambition and greed can be learned, the same disposition and hunger for success, and the ability to achieve it that characterised Berlusconi, cannot be inherited. It’s the same lesson that Logan Roy’s kids are taught over and over in ‘Succession’.

ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AP
In this May 21, 2009 file photo Italian former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's daughter Marina Berlusconi looks on, during the Italian Confindustria assembly in Rome.ALESSANDRA TARANTINO/AP

None of Berlusconi’s children, who mostly shied away from the media spotlight, have the same energy that their father was able to bring to the Italian public. But at least one of them appears to have the same business instinct: the eldest child, Marina Berlusconi.

The 56-year-old is widely seen as Berlusconi’s natural successor, and people familiar with the matter told Reuters that she is, in fact, going to be inheriting her father’s media empire, though Berlusconi never formally named her his successor.

Together with her brother Pier Silvio, who was put in charge of Mediaset, Marina has been directly involved in running her father’s companies since he entered politics in the early 1990s. She had served as deputy chairperson at Fininvest for nine years and she’s been on the company’s board since 2005.

MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP
Berlusconi's eldest son, Pier Silvio, is Vice-President of Italian-based mass media company Mediaset Group.MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP

The three kids Berlusconi had with his second wife, on the other hand, have always been kept at a distance from the family’s company. Barbara and Eleonora have never been given any high-profile executive roles within either Fininvest or Mediaset, though Barbara once took a senior role in running the then-Berlusconi’s football club Milan until it got sold off in 2017.

TIZIANA FABI/AFP
Silvio Berlusconi's children Luigi (R) and Eleonora (L) leave Berlusconi's residence, Palazzo Grazioli, on August 2, 2013 in Rome.TIZIANA FABI/AFP

Luigi, the youngest son, is a board member at Fininvest, representing his family’s side interests in the company together with Barbara. Eleonora is likely the least interested in her father’s legacy, considering she has chosen to give up her last name and goes under ‘Bartolini’, the real name of her mother Veronica Lario, born Miriam Bartolini.

OLIVIER MORIN/AFP
Former Italian Prime Minister's daughter and member of AC Milan's board, Barbara Berlusconi.OLIVIER MORIN/AFP

Under Italian law, Berlusconi’s children have a right to inherit two-thirds of his wealth in equal parts -- in Fininvest’s case, 8.13% of stakes in the company each. The remaining third can be disposed of as the deceased pleased -- which means that Berlusconi could have decided, in his will, to distribute the remaining 33% stake in Fininvest to Marina and Pier Silvio, giving them more power in the company.

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As of Tuesday, Berlusconi’s will has not yet been opened or made known to the public.

What is the future of Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia?

An even bigger question mark surrounds the issue of who will inherit the lead of Berlusconi’s party, Forza Italia. Many, even within the party, fear that Forza Italia might be dead without Berlusconi, its members scuttling to other right-wing parties like the League of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy.

Giovanni Miccichè, a former Berlusconi ally who left Forza Italia to form his own party in 2010, said on Monday Forza Italia had died with the former premier.

But ultimately, the decision to keep the party alive belongs to Berlusconi’s kids, who are inheriting the responsibility of keeping Forza Italia going without the man who’s been its uncontested leader since its creation, and who’s funded the party for the past decade.

“The symbol of Berlusconi’sparty, Forza Italia, now belongs to his heirs - his children,” tweeted Daniele Albertazzi, a politics professor at the University of Surrey, in the UK.

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“They are also the ones who would have the means to keep financing it - as [Berlusconi] continued to do throughout the years. Being a personal party, it is now part of [Berlusconi's] legacy: just like his companies.”

However, Albertazzi said, “the party “was already in terminal decline” before Berlusconi’s death. 

“[Berlusconi's] presence meant it could still attract some votes for a little longer, from people who had got used to supporting it during its golden years,” he tweeted.

“Even if [Berlusconi's] children decided to keep it going, who’s there to attract votes now?” he added. “Not only he never chose a successor, but there is literally NO-ONE within it today - let alone his children - who has the vision, charisma & knowledge to take this huge task on and try to steady the ship.”

But Albertazzi thinks that Meloni, the current prime minister, will try to keep the party afloat for her own interest. “I would not be surprised if Meloni stepped in to steady the ship and lend a hand, as Forza Italia reps start running around like headless chickens fearing for their future,” he wrote. 

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“In the immediate future, she does not need the aggravation of the party destabilising the govt by sliding into civil war, as its reps realise they ain't returning to Parliament...” he added.

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