Dhe return of Silvio Berlusconi to the Senate was only partially triumphant. The 86-year-old founder and party leader of the Christian Democratic Forza Italia is no longer good on his feet, he needs help getting out of the car and walking. Certainly, it was a great satisfaction for the entrepreneur and prime minister with the longest reign in the history of the Italian Republic that, in the elections of September 25, he was able to win a seat in the parliamentary chamber in his constituency in Monza from which he was relegated in 2013 removed after his final conviction for a tax offense.
But what happened at the constitutive session of the smaller parliamentary chamber on Thursday could not please the “Cavaliere”. Ignazio La Russa, the 75-year-old veteran of the right-wing conservative Brothers of Italy party of Giorgia Meloni, the new Prime Minister-designate, was elected the new Senate President. Berlusconi had given La Russa the important post of defense minister in his fourth and last cabinet between 2008 and 2011, and he had made Meloni minister for youth and sport.
But on Thursday and Friday, Berlusconi was no longer in charge of the haggling over the presidential posts in the two chambers of parliament, but just a spectator. In the tripartite alliance with Meloni’s brothers in Italy – election winner with 26 percent of the votes – and Matteo Salvini’s right-wing national Lega with almost nine percent, Berlusconi with his Forza Italia and a good eight percent of the vote is only the third force and cannot make any major demands.
Berlusconi jots down his anger on a note
When Ignazio La Russa was elected President of the Senate and thus the second man in the state – after President Sergio Mattarella – Berlusconi wanted to teach Giorgia Meloni, who he found rebellious, a lesson: the senators of Forza Italia should abstain from voting, at least in the first one ballot. Despite Forza Italia’s “protest vote”, La Russa got enough votes at the first attempt, namely 116 out of a total of 206, including 19 votes from the ranks of the opposition. That was an embarrassment for Berlusconi, the former master of deals and collusion.
He vented his anger at La Russa in a brief exchange of a swear word while writing a note of his disdain for Meloni. Berlusconi wrote that Meloni was “opinionated, haughty, arrogant and insulting”. He passed the note to his seat neighbor in the Senate, but its content had long since been captured by the cameras and made known to the nation. When asked about the note distributed by all the media on Friday evening, Meloni replied, clearly annoyed, that an important attribute was missing: “not blackmailable”.
Above all, Melon does not want to be blackmailed into entrusting Berlusconi confidant Licia Ronzulli with an important ministerial post. She reserves the last word on filling important posts in Parliament and especially in the cabinet, taking into account party representation between the three alliance partners.
This power logic of Melonis also corresponded to the election of the 42-year-old Lega politician Lorenzo Fontana as President of the House of Representatives. After all, the Lega is the second force in the alliance and, after Italy’s brothers in the Senate, had its turn in the larger parliamentary chamber. Fontana is also a representative of the arch-Catholic wing of the Lega, who ideologically is at least as close to the Italian brothers as he is to the liberal economic current in his own party.
Lega boss Matteo Salvini, who seems to have resigned himself to his role as one of two junior partners of Meloni, tried to smooth things over at the weekend. He was confident that “harmony would return between Giorgia and Silvio” soon, paving the way for the formation of a government for the entire five-year legislative period.
In accordance with the constitution, President Mattarella will first hold consultations with the presidents of the two chambers of parliament and with the faction and party leaders of all parties at the beginning of the week. He then gives the government mandate to the candidate who can count on majorities in both chambers for his cabinet list. By the end of this week it should be clear whether the dispute between Berlusconi and Meloni was the beginning of the end of a right-wing government before it even began. Or whether it was just a storm in a teacup, which from Berlusconi’s point of view is more half empty than half full.