By Eric J. Lyman
ROME, Sept. 13 (Xinhua) -- This week concluded without the much-anticipated parliamentary vote on the political future of Italy's former Prime Minister and billionaire tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, but that inaction does not mean Berlusconi was a non-factor in Italy.
Six weeks ago, Italy's Supreme Court upheld a lower court's conviction against Berlusconi for tax fraud and false accounting. In more than 20 years of legal problems, it was the first definitive conviction against Berlusconi and it carried with it a year of house arrest (expected to start next month) and the possibility for a ban from politics (the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to "reconsider" that part of its ruling).
Italy's parliament decided to take things into its own hands as well, scheduling debate to start Monday (Sept. 9) over whether or not to strip Berlusconi of his Senate seat.
But Berlusconi has made it clear he has no intention of giving up the seat, at one point saying he would appeal any decision to the European Court for Human Rights. And in parliament, his allies threatened to withdraw their support for the government of Enrico Letta if Berlusconi is kicked out of the legislature, a move that would almost surely require Letta to step down.
On Monday and Tuesday, the various sides sought a compromise that would allow Berlusconi to be disciplined for his conviction, without forcing the government to collapse. But they made little progress, and when it became clear a decision on Berlusconi's Senate seat was no longer imminent, the ripples went far and wide: dramatically raising the stock price for Berlusconi's Mediaset while Italian bond yields rose as investors worried about the prospect that the Berlusconi saga could dragging on far longer than originally expected.
"It's in the interest of investors and the European Union that the situation is resolved quickly," said Fausto Perconte, an Italian-born author and retired professor of European Studies with the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. "Trouble is, it's not in Silvio Berlusconi's interest and so he and his allies are doing everything possible to delay or prevent the parliamentary vote."In trading this week, the yield on Italy's benchmark ten-year bond, trading on secondary markets, rose 12 basis points with lower-than-normal volume, as investors looked elsewhere.
But a positive reaction -- and one that helps Berlusconi -- is that the stock price for Mediaset, the cinema, television, and media giant he founded and controls, has surged this week: shares rose a little more than 10 percent since Monday's open, closing trading Friday at 3.40 euros, compared to 3.08 euros Monday -- easily recovering their losses from last week when it appeared Berlusconi could be ousted after a quick parliamentary vote. Mediaset has been one of the big winners on the Italian Stock Exchange this year -- due in part to the 76-year-old mogul's recovered political muscle nearly -- tripling from their all-time low of 1.16 euros a share back in December.
A poll released Friday showed that the vast majority of Italians, nearly three in four, think Berlusconi should be voted out of the Senate and the majority of them, 60 percent, said Berlusconi's allies should keep supporting the Letta government. The poll, conducted by the SWG Institute for Italian broadcaster RAI, showed little good news for Berlusconi: nearly half of those who said they voted for Berlusconi's coalition in February's national elections said he should leave.
They are not the only ones. On the European level, leaders are lining up to show their support for Letta and to call for Berlusconi to go quietly if he is voted out. The latest was Olli Rehn, the EU's commissioner for European Union Economic and monetary Affairs.
"It's important we can all avoid political instability and concentrate instead on economic reforms," Rehn said in Lithuania Friday.
That is what Letta has vowed to do, though it will become increasingly difficult if the crisis remains: the government has started a tax reform process that included eliminating the controversial IMU property tax, and work will soon get underway on hammering out the details of the country's 2014 budget, which must be passed by the end of the year.