Given the Boot

That "wicked witch," Mr. Berlusconi (Photo: AFP).

Italy’s Premier Silvio Berlusconi spoiled the fun: While Europe enthusiastically celebrated the euro, the flamboyant media tycoon triggered the most severe crisis Italy has ever had in its relations with the European Union (EU). Berlusconi accepted the “resignation” of one of the strongest and most experienced pro-European voices in Italy, Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero, “leaving an empty political hole”(Il Sole/24 Ore, Jan. 7).

Ruggiero was ousted on Jan. 5, after having repeatedly criticized the cabinet for its alleged negative attitudes toward the EU. Left-leaning papers feared that the resignation would damage Italy’s reputation, while the conservative media welcomed the sacking. The European press was left puzzled. “Italy,” snapped Dagens Nyheter (Jan. 7), “[takes] on the role of the wicked witch....Berlusconi’s government is worryingly unpredictable.”

Berlusconi, as interim foreign minister, plans to overhaul the post and pledged to defend Italy’s national interests, sounding more hostile to the European idea than any Italian politician before. Gianfranco Fini of the post-Fascist Alleanza Nazionale turned overnight into the contender for the vacated post—a frightful prospect for Europe’s mostly center-left-oriented leaders. “Berlusconi,” wrote Corriere della Sera (Jan. 6), “as self-appointed guarantor of foreign policy, must now explain what policy he intends to guarantee.”

But not all the media were skeptical. Il Giornale (owned by Berlusconi) opined (Jan. 6), “It is a good thing that this soap opera has ended....Ruggiero had become the pet of the center-left.” L’Unità, however, proclaimed that day that the only one “capable of maintaining Italy’s credibility and reputation is leaving the scene.”

This is indeed a “serious loss,” EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti was quoted in The Guardian (Jan. 9), “for a country not overly well endowed with credible big hitters on the international stage.