Editor’s Note: In an interview with Bloomberg, Ruth Hanau Santini discusses former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, his impact on Italy’s economy and political environment, and the outlook for the European debt crisis.
BLOOMBERG: How did Berlusconi manage to stay in power for so long given all of the scandals?
RUTH SANTINI: Thanks for having me, first of all. So that’s a very interesting question. Berlusconi managed to win enormous public approval from the very beginning because he was jumping a situation of huge political and moral crisis at the beginning of the 90s, whereby the Italian political system was basically crumbling on the weight of huge political scandals in all the main political parties—from the Christian democrats to the socialist party, which basically then disappeared from the political scene. When these political scandals erupted, Berlusconi, by criticizing these politicians for their perceived lack of touch with reality and with the Italian public, managed to create an aura of being a self-made man, someone that was very down-to-earth, capable of turning situations around with an enormous gut instinct able to lead through a very complex political system, which then he was really able to shape. He was the main creator of the Italian bi-polar system, which never really existed before.
SANTINI: If we were talking about Berlusconi’s legacy, we are talking about the system that he created and put in place. He was the main stakeholder and he profited from that system he created. Let’s remember that he also reformed the electoral law, making a much less democratic electoral law. Of course he was able to get very different political parties together; he was a very shrewd politician. But he profited from that system he managed to create. One of the three main legacies that he will leave Italy is the political culture of tax evasion, corruption, ambiguity in terms of not being transparent, that is exactly one of the main legacies that will remain. Together with more structural legacies—the reforms he implemented. Wrong reforms, like the reform of education and of the university, and the reforms he promised and didn’t deliver on, like the reform of the public administration and the reform of the job market.