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Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, shown at Rome's Chigi Palace in August, leads a country that has become the new epicentre of the European debt crisis. (TONY GENTILE/REUTERS/TONY GENTILE/REUTERS)
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, shown at Rome's Chigi Palace in August, leads a country that has become the new epicentre of the European debt crisis. (TONY GENTILE/REUTERS/TONY GENTILE/REUTERS)

THE WEEK

Ciao, Silvio. Italy's too close to a Greek-style abyss for more bunga bunga Add to ...

For what seems like an eternity, Silvio Berlusconi has been the Nosferatu of European politics, sucking his country dry and rising from the dead every time the lid seemed about to close. Although Nosferatu went home to sleep in a dirt-filled coffin, I think the Italian Prime Minister prefers a sun bed upholstered with well-padded party girls.

But this might finally be it: Ciao, Silvio, it’s been not so good to know you. Italy is dangerously close to a Greek-style financial abyss, and Mr. Berlusconi’s coalition allies are running away while frantically burning their “me and Silvio on the beach in Sardinia” pictures as they go. His approval rating is 22 per cent. This may be the week when the Prime Minister meets the stake.

You wonder if he’s going to try to bluff his way through. After all, he arrived at the G20 summit in Cannes wearing a flamboyant coat draped over his shoulders while his own advisers, in the words of The Guardian, compared him “to a mafia boss from The Sopranos.” He grinned during the leaders’ photo op, like a rooster so used to being cock of the walk that he doesn’t see the axe above his head. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, standing next to him, looked like she was trying to conjure up a family-sized bottle of hand sanitizer. Perhaps she’d heard about the rancid comments Mr. Berlusconi is said to have made about her to an Italian journalist. It’s never a smart move to insult the woman who carries Europe’s largest purse.

Even Italians appear heartily sick of the joke – bunga-bunga’d up the wazoo, if you’ll pardon the expression. “Literally laughed (or at least chuckled) at by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, Italy is at a new low point,” moaned an editorial in the Turin-based newspaper La Stampa. It’s one thing for Italians to be snickered at when everyone was still envious of their beautiful country, their endless lunches, their artfully disordered hair and manicured stubble. But now, with Europe’s fourth-biggest economy steaming toward possible disaster, Mr. Berlusconi’s not so funny any more. Suddenly, it’s like having Jerry Lewis at the helm of the Titanic.

In a way, it will be sad to see him go. The world is running out of goatish Rumpelstiltskins at an alarming rate. How many other macho, pint-sized puppet masters are left among global leaders? There’s Vladimir Putin, but at least he wrestles wild animals, not Junior Miss Calabria contestants, for fun.

Perhaps it’s time to turn our thoughts to Mr. Berlusconi’s post-political life. He’s shown talent in so many areas – tinkering (with the Italian constitution), evading (various fraud and sexual misconduct charges) and controlling (a vast swath of the country’s media).

He might, for instance, turn his attention to the Berlusconi Leadership Academy, an institution of higher learning first revealed in last year’s WikiLeaks cables, where he plans to train the next generation of Italian leaders and where he hopes to hire faculty “like Blair and Clinton.” Perhaps Germaine Greer will be approached to teach Gender Relations 101 (but only if Pamela Anderson turns it down.) Sadly, Mr. Berlusconi’s old pal Moammar Gadhafi – who allegedly wrote the Prime Minister a letter while on the run, begging him to stop the NATO bombings – will not be around to teach a course in Dictator Chic.

If the academy fails to rival the Kennedy School, there might yet be a career in stand-up comedy. Only the bitterest curmudgeon could fail to appreciate Mr. Berlusconi’s elegant witticisms, including his observation that Barack Obama is “young, handsome and even has a good tan” and, in regard to his own peccadilloes, “it’s better to have a passion for beautiful girls than to be gay.” Maybe Silvio and Charlie Sheen could hit the road together, though I’m not sure Charlie would survive a week in the company of the Pele of partying. Italian TV networks would be happy to run that show because, you know, Mr. Berlusconi owns them all.

Most likely, though, he’ll return to his first love: music. After all, it was only the prospective financial ruin of his country, and possibly all of Europe, that prevented the release of Mr. Berlusconi’s new CD, Il Vero Amore, on which he’s written the lyrics to 10 love songs, collaborating with musician Mariano Apicella. He did start out as a singer on a cruise ship, lest we forget. La Stampa has uncovered the lyrics to one song, which may make you curse the financial crisis for preventing its release: “Listen to the songs, they are for you. Listen when you are thirsty for caresses; sing them when you are hungry for tenderness …”

No matter what next week brings, il mondo é ai suoi piedi, as the Italians say. The world is at his Gucci loafers.

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