Tuesday

31st May 2016

Focus

Berlusconi wants to run in EP elections

  • Silvio Berlusconi - eyeing a seat in Brussels (Photo: European Parliament)

Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi - a convicted tax cheat – wants to be the lead candidate for his Forza Italia party in May’s European Parliament elections, despite being legally banned from doing so.

“If it will be possible, I will be happy to run,” Berlusconi said Friday, in a public phone call with supporters attending a party rally in Tuscany.

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In August, Berlusconi was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for fraudulent accounting at his family media firm, Mediaset. He has yet to serve his sentence, which was cut to one year due to the effects of a 2006 pardon law: Milan judges are expected to decide on 10 April whether he should be placed under house arrest or be allowed to perform community service.

But the scandal-prone politician was also kicked out of parliament and banned from standing in elections for six years, on account of a probity law against convicted lawmakers.

The 77-year-old says the law is unfair because it is being applied retroactively: it was passed in 2012, whereas Berlusconi’s tax fraud took place in 2003-4. He has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over the issue, and is banking on a “quick reply” in his favour.

In fact, the Strasbourg-based court is unlikely to deliver a ruling before mid-April, when Italian political parties have to present an official list of candidates to the interior ministry. Forza Italia could still put forward Berlusconi’s name, but the courts would strike it down, in a move that would likely spark fresh protests from his supporters against allegedly biased magistrates.

"I think it would be a grave breach of the right to represent Italian conservatives if Berlusconi were not allowed as a candidate," top Forza Italia executive Giovanni Toti told the La Stampa newspaper.

He also tweeted that rivals were “scared” by Berlusconi’s candidacy.

His election bid came at the end of a week dominated by Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s announcement of a 10-billion-euro tax cut for low-paid workers, due to come into effect in May.

Economists have long advised Italian governments to reduce taxes on labour, in order to boost growth and jobs in one of the eurozone’s most anemic economies. But Renzi, who took office only three weeks ago, admitted that his was also a vote-grabbing initiative ahead of the EU vote.

The ambitious centre-left leader has often been compared to the conservative Berlusconi, due to his populist touch. Another senior Forza Italia figure, Denis Verdini, has described Renzi as “very dangerous,” because “he knows how to present himself with slogans, he steals our arguments.”

A poll published Friday by the Ixe institute said Renzi’s Democratic Party would win 29.4 percent of the votes in the EU elections, against 23.4 percent for Forza Italia and 22.6 percent for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement of comedian Beppe Grillo. A far-left list linked to Greek leader Alexis Tsipras was in a distant fourth position, on 6.5 percent.

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