Italy’s Berlusconi agrees to resign amid mounting debt crisis
By Anthony Faiola,/The Washington Post – ROME — As Italy grappled with a mounting debt crisis Tuesday, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi agreed to resign after parliament passes a key budget bill that includes provisions demanded by fellow members of the European Union.
The embattled 75-year old media tycoon told Italian President Giorgio Napolitano he would step down once lawmakers approve the bill, which is scheduled to come to a vote next week. Berlusconi made the pledge hours after losing his parliamentary majority as the country teetered on the brink of a full-blown debt crisis. As his political support crumbled earlier in the day, he came under growing pressure to resign.
“I ask the premier to finally accept the reality of the situation and offer his resignation,” Pier Luigi Bersani, head of the opposition Democratic Party, said after the vote. “If he doesn’t, we will take the necessary measures. We cannot go on like this.”
The bruising vote came after one of Berlusconi’s most formidable political allies — Umberto Bossi of the right-wing Northern League, part of Berlusconi’s ruling coalition — took the extraordinary step Tuesday of calling for the prime minister’s resignation. The move increased the prospect that Berlusconi, the ultimate political survivor who has won more than 50 confidence votes over nearly two decades in power, could soon become the highest-profile political victim of Europe’s roiling debt crisis.
That would amount to a bitter twist of fate for Berlusconi, a flamboyant billionaire who has ruled Italy with a style that has been part Rupert Murdoch, part Hugh Hefner. It means his political undoing could come not from long-standing allegations of corruption and sex scandals, but instead from something as arcane as economics.
A highly divisive figure in Italy, where his approval ratings have reached rock-bottom levels, Berlusconi has lost support in recent weeks, and particularly over the past few days, because his confrontational style and fragile leadership are now seen as major stumbling blocks for passage of key economic reforms meant to combat the debt crisis.
“At this point, Berlusconi does not have any mandate, and his political willfulness to stay on is jeopardizing the ability of Italy to pass these reforms and get through this crisis,” said Giuseppe Ragusa, a professor of economics at Luissa University in Rome. “It isn’t good for Italy.”
Even as he struggled to retain power, his larger nation was overtaking Greece as the focus of Europe’s debt crisis. On Tuesday, worried investors continued driving up Italy’s borrowing costs — to more than 6.7 percent in early morning trading — bringing the nation closer to levels that — once crossed by Greece, Portugal and Ireland — led to a quick erosion of confidence that triggered international bailouts.