Berlusconi, Silvio

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Berlusconi, Silvio

Silvio Berlusconi (bĕr´ləskō´nē), 1936–, Italian business executive and politician, premier (1994; 2001–6, 2008–11) of Italy, b. Milan. His first fortune was made in real estate during the 1960s. In the early 1980s Berlusconi founded commercial television networks that wooed the public away from the more stolid fare offered on government-run channels, and he became a billionaire as head of a media empire embracing television, advertising, film, and publishing as well as an investor in banking and medical biotechnology and owner of the AC Milan soccer team.

Entering politics as a strong advocate of a market-driven economy, he established the conservative Forza Italia party in 1994 and vaulted to prominence, largely through his excoriation of the corruption-tainted established parties and his ready access to publicity. In 1994 parliamentary elections, he was elected as a deputy and his right-wing coalition captured a majority; Berlusconi became premier. By the end of the year, however, his coalition collapsed and he resigned.

Subsequently accused of the very corruption he had vowed to expunge, Berlusconi, who alleged a left-wing plot against him, was convicted in 1997 and 1998 of financial crimes. The convictions were later overturned on appeal, but he also faced other bribery and other charges beginning in 1999. In 2001 he was again led a right-wing coalition to an electoral and became premier. In 2003, in an attempt to end his bribery trial, parliament passed a law making the premier (and other top Italian officials) immune from prosecution, but the constitutional court subsequently overturned the law. The following year he was acquitted of the bribery charges; the other charges were dismissed

After losses in local elections in 2005, he resigned and formed a new coalition government. His coalition narrowly lost in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Later in the year Berlusconi was tried on tax and accounting charges relating to his media companies; some of charges were later dropped, but in 2012 he was convicted on tax evasion charges, and the verdict was upheld in 2013. He returned to power in Apr., 2008, when his renamed People of Freedom party, and its coalition partners won control of the parliament.

His coalition subsequently passed legislation granting Italy's senior officeholders immunity from prosecution, but Italy's constitutional court overturned the law in 2009. In 2010 parliament passed a law allowing senior government figures to postpone trials against them for 18 months, but in 2011 the constitutional court ruled that a judge should decide whether a trial should be postponed. Subsequently, he faced prosecution or investigation in a number of cases, including one involving alleged underage prostitution (of which he was convicted in 2013; overturned 2014). Also in 2010, scandals and political divisions threatened to bring down his government.

He narrowly survived no-confidence votes in Dec., 2010, and, after being forced to adopt austerities in the face of a financial crisis, in Oct., 2011. A general loss of confidence in his government forced his resignation after an economic reform package was passed in Nov., 2011. He then supported Mario Monti's techocratic government until Dec., 2012; in the subsequent 2013 elections his coalition placed second and he was elected to the senate. In Mar., 2013, he was convicted of abuse of office in relation to the publication of wiretaps in 2005, but that was overturned a year later because of the statute of limitations. In Apr., 2013, his party became part of the new coalition government. Berlusconi withdrew his party from the coalition in September over his impending ouster (November) from the senate (because of his criminal convictions), but a party revolt forced him to support the government in a confidence vote. He subsequently withdrew his party from the government, which led to a split in his party, now again named Forza Italia.

See studies by P. Ginsburg (2004) and A Stille (2006).

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