ABUSE OF POWER

Pubblico qui l’editoriale di ieri del Times su Berlusconi perché mi sembra ci sia richiesta.

 

February 10 2011 12:01AM

The Italian Prime Minister has diminished public life for so long that it is hard to imagine a scandal sufficiently momentous that it would at last persuade him to relinquish office. But while Silvio Berlusconi’s grasp of civic duty is as nugatory as his sense of shame, the country’s legal officials are fortunately more sensitive to both.

Prosecutors in Milan have filed an application for Mr Berlusconi to stand trial immediately on charges of paying for sex with an under-aged girl and pressuring police to release her from custody. Tawdriness is a distinguishing characteristic of his political career, but criminal prosecution is a stage beyond the normal run of squalor. It ought not to be necessary to state this, but Mr Berlusconi is as much a stranger to self-knowledge as he is to propriety, so the obvious bears repetition: his conduct is incompatible with his position and he should resign at once.

Mr Berlusconi maintains that he is the victim of a political vendetta and denies ever having paid for sex. His protestations are beside the point. He is alleged to have paid several young women for sex, including Karima El Mahroug, a Moroccan nightclub dancer, when she was under 18, the minimum legal age for prostitution in Italy. Mr Berlusconi acknowledges having phoned police on her behalf when she was held on suspicion of theft. He is also due to resume facing three other trials on charges of corruption and tax fraud. In a flagrant breach of due process, his Government had passed a law granting him immunity from prosecution, and that act of political fiat has only just been rescinded.

Wiretap transcripts held by the investigating authorities appear to disclose cash payments to young women attending parties at the Prime Minister’s villa. And the word “parties” may itself be a euphemism. It is not only that there is a case for Mr Berlusconi to answer, and that he declines to be questioned about it. On the strength of what he admits, never mind what he is accused of, he is unfit to hold office.

Nor is this a matter merely of domestic interest in which Italy’s friends should stay silent. For throughout his political career, Mr Berlusconi has maintained a consistent counterpoint: as well as debasing domestic politics, he has disgraced diplomacy. Let us count the ways.

Mr Berlusconi referred to President Obama as “handsome, young and also suntanned”, which he then claimed was a compliment. He kept Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, waiting while he talked on his mobile phone. He attributed to his own “playboy charms” the agreement of President Halonen of Finland that the European Food Safety Authority would be established in Italy rather than her own country.

He advised financiers in New York to invest in Italy because of the beautiful secretaries. He likened a German MEP to a concentration camp guard. At Buckingham Palace he behaved with such bigmouthed boorishness, yelling after Mr Obama, that he visibly managed to irk even so polished a public performer as the Queen. At a press conference with Vladimir Putin he pretended to shoot a Russian journalist who was asking tough questions, whereupon she burst into tears. Given what has, in fact, happened in recent years to brave Russian journalists who ask difficult questions, such as the murdered Anna Politkovskaya, her sensitivity is understandable.

It is tempting to infer that the Italian Prime Minister is a buffoon whose utterances and acts betray an essential vanity and venality. Unfortunately the truth is far worse. Mr Berlusconi evinces no conception of the distinction between public duty and private gratification. He abuses political office for his own ends and defies anyone to stop him. It is long past time for this demeaning and destructive farce to end.

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