Politics is serious business, especially when the world’s economy is at stake, but
so much of what’s going on in the eurozone now – especially in Italy – resembles opera buffa. Today in Rome, amid rumours that Berlusconi would throw in the towel in January (but not
because of bunga bunga, because of bungling over economic reform), a few deputies in parliament came to blows.
The fisticuffs was over that hotly contended if not-very-sexy issue – the retirement age. At least two members of the Northern League, a key party of Berlusconi’s coalition, fought with
members from the opposition FLI. ‘Two deputies grabbed each other by the throat as other parliamentarians rushed to separate them,’ reports Reuters.
It appears the FLI’s Gianfranco Fini had appeared on television the night before, making acidic remarks about League leader Umberto Bossi’s moralizing on raising the pension age.
Bossi’s wife stopped working at age 39, Fini noted. Thus the Bossi and Fini factions slung it out today. There’s no video footage, but there’s a photo:
Pensions are the hot potato of Italian politics. They lay at the heart of the whispers this morning that Berlusconi had made a pact with Bossi to himself retire by early next year, paving the way
for elections in March. In exchange, it is said, Bossi is supporting Berlusconi on pension reform, which the League has hitherto strongly opposed. Among other things, the League had been against
raising the pension age by two years to 67. Berlusconi, for his part, is desperate to present a credible set of economic reforms at the EU summit where he has been derided and humiliated for his impotence over Italy’s mountain of
This is all hearsay at the moment, which adds to the current raggedy nature of Italian politics. Both the PM’s office and the Northern League have denied the rumour, which is not too
surprising, considering it would undermine Italy’s position at an international forum if it looks like its leader has come up with a plan on the basis he won’t be leader much longer.
The original reports emanated from two Italian newspapers – La Repubblica and La Stampa. Meanwhile, it appears that Italy’s austerity deal will indeed raise the pension age for all workers to 67 – by 2025.
If the reports of Berlusconi stepping down turn out to be true, then he will be the first political casualty of the eurozone crisis, and a big one. But, given the fact that Italy has virtually been
in political stasis over the past three years as its PM got mired in various financial and sexual imbroglios, the wonder might actually be that Berlusconi has held on for so long.