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by international syndicated columnist
& broadcaster Eric Margolis

May 20, 2001

Italy's Right Arm has Europe Howling

ROME - Last week's stunning victory in Italy's elections by Silvio Berlusconi's center-right coalition ended five year's of muddled rule by the socialist-communist alliance and set off howls of outrage from Europe's leftwing governments.

Europeans are used to professional politicians who rise through the ranks of political parties or state bureaucracies. They expect politicians and bureaucrats to be lazy, corrupt, incompetent dullards - a painful but unavoidable affliction like taxes or hemorrhoids. The EU's mushrooming Mega-Government has accelerated the trend towards a Euro-version of old Soviet bureaucracy.

Imagine, then, the consternation caused by Berlucsoni, a self-made business tycoon who beat the political apartchiks at their own game by employing media marketing techniques. Worse, this Milanese upstart vows to cut taxes, reduce bloated government, fight crime, raise pensions and, in the ultimate violation of politician's union rules, he had the cheek to promise to resign if he fails to deliver most of his promises.

In welcome contrast to the simpering anti-Americanism of Europe's socialists, one of Berlusconi's first acts was to announced he was `proud' to be America's partner. Belgium's hard left government refused to congratulate Berlusoni, and called his former ally Bossi, a `fascist racist.'

Back in 1994, Berlusconi held office for seven months before his government collapsed after the mercurial Umberto Bossi pulled his Northern League out of the conservative coalition. At the time, this column joking asked if Berlusconi might become Italy's `Ducesconi.' Italian and European leftists are now claiming the diminutive tycoon, who owns half of Italy's TV stations, may become a media dictator once his men take over the remaining left-leaning, state-owned TV networks. These are the same socialist and `reformed' communist parties that used to venerate the Soviet Union, East Germany, and Cuba.

Italy's president, Carlo Ciampi, asked Berlusconi to put his media interests in a blind trust, a practice common in the US but unknown in Italy, where media always serves special political or business interests. Berlusconi's backers retort the left has dominated state media since World War II. Now it's the right's turn.

True. Still, it would be much better for Berlusconi to divest. Interestingly, another media mogul, Michael Bloomberg, is about to announce his candidacy for Mayor of New York (also an important Italian electoral office!). Bloomberg told me last week he will follow Berlusconi's example by refusing to put his business and news media network into a trust.

Critics also accuse Berlusconi, the richest man in Italy and fifth richest in Europe, of business corruption. He has been indicted but never convicted. Berlusconi claims charges against him were trumped up by leftist enemies in the judiciary. One thing is certain: it is impossible to succeed in business in Italy without paying bribes to extorting tax collectors, regulators, local and national politicians, and, often, the Mafia. Everyone is expected to cheat. Official tax rates often reach 105% of income! The entire system is built around `tangenti,' (bribes), triple-bookkeeping, and tax evasion.

While opposing politicians are raising a hue and cry over Berlusoni's ethics, ordinary Italians just don't care, any more than many Americans cared about the flood of corruption and influence peddling that swamped the Clinton White House. What Italians want, and why they voted for Berlusconi, is to get bloodsucking government off their backs and to halt the flood of Third World immigrants that has brought an epidemic of crime, drugs, and disease to Italy.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin's description of fire, government is a useful servant but a terrible master. For Italy, the national government in Rome has always been a scourge. Its main function is to extort money from the productive sector of society which is then used to support an entire political class and its legal, academic, `cultural' and media allies. And, of course, to buy votes, particularly in the poorer south and Sicily. Canada's federal government operates similarly.

Today, Italy is the world's fifth wealthiest nation. Italy's economy is most likely Europe's second most powerful after Germany, and actually larger than those of Britain or France. But no one can be sure because so much of Italy's business is under-reported or conducted on the gray market. Cut down unnecessary government by a quarter, or even half, and Italy's dynamic entrepreneurs might one day begin to rival stolid Germany. This, however, will not happen until Italian businessmen can stop devoting half their remarkable energies and sharp wits to fighting their intrusive-abusive government.

Meanwhile, France, Germany, and Belgium's socialist governments are in a state of `agita,' fearful that Berlusconi's victory could encourage conservative counter-revolutions in their own countries. As a result, they and the leftwing media have been furiously vilifying and slandering Berlusconi and the Northern League's Umberto Bossi as dangerous racists and proto-Nazis - the same as was done to Austria's rightist politician Jorg Haider who, like Bossi, wants to halt immigration. The acid-tongued Haider fired back, calling the Belgian socialists `child-molestors' and `perverts.'

Italy desperately needs good government. However, no one has really been able to reform or even govern Italy since Mussolini. Let's hope Berlusconi's government, Italy's 59th since 1945, may have better luck than his unlamented predecessors.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2001

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For Syndication Information please contact:

Eric Margolis
c/o Editorial Department
The Toronto Sun
333 King St. East
Toronto Ontario Canada
M5A 3X5

Placed on WWW, with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation by Stewart Ogilby

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