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Italy's Bunga Bunga Billionaire
Guess Who's Back?

When Silvio Berlusconi was expelled from Italy’s parliament last November over a tax fraud conviction, observers around the world raced each other to pen his political obituary. Surely this was the stake through the heart of this demagogic undead?

Not so fast. According to Renato Brunetta, the parliamentary leader of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party, the bunga bunga billionaire is planning on running for a seat in the European Parliament in the May elections. Nevermind the fact that Berlusconi is still awaiting sentencing for his tax fraud conviction; or that he is facing yet another investigation for allegedly bribing his “models” to obstruct justice; or that he is banned from holding Italian public office for the next six years. All that, along with any attempts to thwart his latest designs, only plays into his hands by allowing him to portray himself once again as the victim of the elites, the media, and—above all—those bloody Germans. As Mr. Brunetta put it, “With Berlusconi all things that generally appear normal are not normal.”

But if the prospect of Berlusconi’s return to the limelight seems almost farcical, the rhetoric he will employ to get there is worrying. A little taste of it can be had in this piece in the FT:

“In May we will attack a Germanised Europe,” said Mr Brunetta, an economist, denouncing Germany’s policies with its large current account surplus that he said were enriching northern Europe at the expense of the south.

“Populism in Europe is the toxic fallout from Ms Merkel,” he said, attacking what he called the Calvinist mentality of the German chancellor – “if you (southern Europe) are in crisis then it is your responsibility”.

It may be too soon to declare Berlusconi’s comeback. But as this latest turn in Italy’s endless political saga shows, it is always too soon to declare Berlusconi finished for good. Even his own party, which is currently leading in the polls, wouldn’t support him if his bid threatened to backfire. And even if he fails to obtain a seat in the European Parliament, he will still have reminded Italians—as well as weary onlookers—that he continues to pull strings from behind the scenes. As the FT notes, Berlusconi may also simply be staging an elaborate dress rehearsal for a run in the next general election.

On April 10, a Milan court will decide whether Berlusconi is to serve out his year-long sentence under house arrest or through community service. One can easily imagine him suggesting to his countrymen that he serve out his community service as Prime Minister.

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