The two-decade political career of Silvio Berlusconi, the former prime minister of Italy, has been a lost opportunity for his country, preventing the potential emergence of a responsible centrist or centre-right party. He entered politics in 1994 at a time of a power vacuum, caused by the discrediting of the corrupt political parties that had long formed Italy’s coalition governments.
His conviction on Monday for having paid for sexual intercourse with a minor and for abuse of power in an intervention with a police investigation of that same minor, Karima el-Mahroug, may no end his life as a politician; for almost all his time in public life, he has been facing at least one prosecution.
The verdict this week, with a seven-year prison sentence and a prohibition from holding public office, will be appealed. There is no end in sight either to Mr. Berlusconi’s court battles or his active prominence in politics.
Mr. Berlusconi’s business career has been remarkable. He opened up television broadcasting; previously, there was only one, state-owned national network, with a legislated monopoly. The resulting competition in broadcasting was welcome, but it was not good for Italy to have a prime minister who also controlled a very large proportion of the media.
The succession of political parties that Mr. Berlusconi has led have been in some sense conservative, but in practice they have not been fiscally conservative. As a result, he bears substantial responsibility for Italy’s leading role in the euro zone’s lamentable fiscal crisis.
Mr. Berlusconi continues to be a senator and his party has an important part in the broad governing coalition.
Other recent prime ministers have not caught the imagination of the Italian public. Italy will only liberate itself from the influence of the questionable Silvio Berlusconi when it finds a solid leader who also has a degree of charisma.