Berlusconi's Last Dance: A Sharp Right Turn?

With a now-leaderless Democratic Party and no charismatic successor to take over from Berlusconi, his one-time backers may migrate to more extremist parties.

Berlusconi at a rally in Rome last month.
Berlusconi at a rally in Rome last month.
Giovanni Orsina


ROME Italy once had what was known as Berlusconiano voters.

Conservative by virtue of social class, they were also skittish, indifferent, anarchic, and wary of institutions, professional politicians and intellectuals alike impulses that can hardly be described as middle-of-the-road. And yet, with open arms they embraced Silvio Berlusconi's compromise between Italian anti-politics and political moderation, and comfortably settled into the center-right of the bipolar system of that time.

But the wave of changes over the last decade — the great recession, the sovereign debt crisis, migration — has profoundly altered the situation.

Aside from the traditional dialectic between the left and the right, a new political fault line has emerged, the fruit of opposing views on at least three fronts: between the old and the new, between the elite and the people, between the globalists (or pro-European Union) and the localists (or sovereignists). In short, the old European elite on one side, and on the other the new nationalist-populist forces. At least that's how they describe themselves.

The gulf between those who defended the status quo and those who opposed it has now widened, and among the discontented, those who were on the political right have adopted more extreme positions.

Add to that the gradual weakening of the leadership of Berlusconi, now 83 years old, and the result is that his previously successful ability to synthesize the politically moderate and protest forces (or, if one prefers, the center and the right) is now in crisis.

And so, good old Berlusconism now finds itself trapped between a position of conserving the status quo — a job ably managed until now by the center-left Democratic Party, which is being more and more decried as representing "The Establishment" — and a position of political protest from the right, which increasingly identifies itself more with the League party and, to a lesser extent, the far-right Brothers of Italy.

Today Berlusconi's party, the center-right Forza Italia, is entering the final phase of this story. Under Berlusconi​"s leadership, the ambiguity inherent in a party "of protest and of governance," of anti-politics and of moderatism, was an asset. Now it's a handicap.

While the Democratic Party and the League appear to be very far apart from one another politically, from an electoral standpoint the space (and, consequently, the slice of voters) that separates them is quite narrow, because public opinion has also polarized.

Moreover, the Democratic Party was headed by Matteo Renzi, who has just left to found his own centrist party, Italia Viva, leaving the so-called Establishment effectively leaderless. And to make matters worse, partly because of the overbearing presence of Berlusconi, no potential leader has emerged in Forza Italia with the same communicative impact to open up and own an electoral space that doesn't as yet exist.

Will the center-right space be invaded by Salvini , intent on recreating Berlusconi's old synthesis?

In conclusion, the electorate that Berlusconi built for himself has no successor in his own party, but is left to be absorbed by parties further to the right. Hence a possibility that is even being considered by Mara Carfagna — the former model and television showgirl that Berlusconi appointed minister of equal opportunity, and who now represents the moderates in the Forza Italia party — to jump ship, create a new party with the president of Liguria, Giovanni Toti, and broker an alliance with the League.

The creation of such a party would face two not inconsequential roadblocks. In a scenario where the electoral gulf between the center and the right remains intact, this new party would have to figure out if and how it is possible to remain on the right with the League while at the same time maintaining a clear and distinct moderate identity.

Recent incidents are emblematic of this dilemma: Carfagna butting heads with the League's Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia's decision to vote against creating an extraordinary parliamentary commission against intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism and inciting hate and violence.

Conversely, in a scenario where the right and the center move together once again, the game would involve seeing if the center-right space won't instead be invaded by Salvini himself, intent on recreating Berlusconi's old synthesis of protest politics and moderatism, this time on his own with the League, a potential move that amid a thousand ambiguities already shows signs of taking place.

*Giovanni Orsina is professor of Contemporary History at the Carlo Guido Liberal International University of Social Studies in Rome.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Olympic torch is lit at the Archaeological site of Olympia in Greece.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]


• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

• Poland/EU tensions: Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has accused the EU of "blackmail" and said the European Union is overstepping its powers, in a heated debate with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the rule of law. The escalation comes in the wake of a controversial ruling by Poland's Constitutional Tribunal that puts national laws over EU principles.

• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."


The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


Jashn-e Riwaaz

Indian retailer Fabindia's naming its new collection Jashn-e Riwaaz, an Urdu term meaning "celebration of tradition," has been met with severe backlash and calls for boycott from right-wing Hindu groups. They are accusing the brand of false appropriation by promoting a collection of clothes designed for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, but giving it a name in Urdu, a language spoken by many Muslims.


Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

➡️


I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more yay or yeesh about the artist currently known as Ye? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!