by Marzia De Giuli
ROME, April 15 (Xinhua) -- With next month's elections to the European parliament approaching, Italian three-time premier Silvio Berlusconi is struggling amid judiciary and political trouble that threaten his party's future for the first time since he entered politics in 1994.
Berlusconi's center-right party Forza Italia on Tuesday drew up the list of candidates to compete against the center-left Democratic Party of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and the anti-establishment Five-Star Movement led by activist Beppe Grillo for Italy's 73 seats in the May 22-25 elections.
The 77-year-old media tycoon is still heading Forza Italia in the opposition, despite being barred from standing in the elections and from holding public office for effect of a tax-fraud guilty conviction.
Also on Tuesday, a court in Milan ordered Berlusconi to do one year of social work to serve the verdict. He will be not allowed to leave his region of residence, but will be able to go to Rome three days a week, which political analysts said will allow him to continue his political activities.
"Certainly Berlusconi will remain in politics, because he is still the leader of his party," Aldo Cazzullo, a columnist of Corriere della Sera newspaper and author, said.
However, Cazzullo explained to Xinhua, Berlusconi's increasing age, the failure of his governments -- in 2011 he was forced to resign -- and the legal proceedings against him have "undoubtedly tarnished his image" so that "the European elections will be very difficult for him."
Berlusconi's pact with Renzi for structural reforms to revive the Italian recession-plagued economy has been defined as "solid" by both sides after they held talks on Monday.
Cazzullo, however, did not see a possible re-entry of Forza Italia in the Renzi left-right government months after Berlusconi's revived party withdrew support from the previous cabinet of Enrico Letta. Instead, Forza Italia may start a stronger opposition to the coalition after the European elections, he said.
Tuesday's ruling came days after Paolo Bonaiuti, former spokesman for Berlusconi, announced he had parted ways with Forza Italia to join the Nuovo Centrodestra, a splinter group led by Berlusconi's former heir apparent Angelino Alfano that is part of the government led by Renzi.
Meanwhile, former Senator Marcello Dell'Utri, cofounder of Forza Italia, has been arrested in Beirut and will be extradited to Italy for allegedly fleeing justice ahead of a likely jail conviction for mafia association.
Moreover, local reports said that Berlusconi was having trouble with his media empire: according to the Senator asset registry of Italy's current legislature which was made public on Monday, his taxable income in 2012 was a little over 4.5 million euros (6.2 million U.S. dollars) compared to more than 35 million euros (48 million U.S. dollars) in 2011.
Marco Damilano, a political columnist of L'Espresso news weekly and frequent commentator, summed up these latest developments saying that "Berlusconi is now in trouble as never happened before."
"Berlusconi cannot stand in the European elections, and without his drive pollsters have given less than 20 percent to his party. After Alfano, who is the current Interior Minister, betrayed him to remain in the government, his long-standing allies are also abandoning him," Damilano noted.
He noted that Forza Italia used to be "the novelty of Italian politics 20 years ago, and now it is the oldest party." In his view, after the European elections, Berlusconi's party could rejoin with Nuovo Centrodestra, which alone is not able to attract a sufficient center-right consensus.
However, Damilano continued that Berlusconi's "fault" was being unable to build a succession. There has been speculation in recent weeks that he could appoint a member of his family as the next leader of Forza Italia, but so far his daughters have ruled out the possibility.