Awkward questions to be asked of a man of conviction
on 27/10/2012 00:00:00
This was Silvio Berlusconi and I had just come from an end-of- summit briefing with then taoiseach Bertie Ahern, who was quietly confident Ireland would do all it could to pick up the pieces of the proposed European constitution, and do whatever it could to get agreement during its upcoming six-month presidency of the EU.
There wasn't a hint of irony as he talked about "ah sure, poor Silvio...".
Poor Silvio - one of the richest men in Europe and then prime minister of one of the EU's biggest states - was holding court in the main press conference room in Brussels, batting easy questions from journalists who were mostly unaware he had failed to deliver on what was the main job of the Italian presidency - the constitution.
After all, the official end -of-summit briefing said "Italy is coming away with excellent results; the EU food agency will be located in Parma" - out of touch with reality.
So when I put up my hand to ask if he took responsibility for the failure to reach agreement; if he accepted it was due in part to his browsing antique shops in Brussels and missing meetings with other EU leaders; turning up late; sending ministers to meet prime ministers; holding one-on-one closed-door sessions with leaders without even a note-taker; promising one person one thing, and another the direct opposite, so that when the British and French leaders compared notes they marched unannounced into the room and told him the game was up and it was time to call a halt, he wasn't impressed with my question and none of us were impressed with his answer. But the Italian journalists were thrilled. Some would have been fired had they asked it, because he owned or controlled all TV and many other media.
That's Berlusconi's Italy.
The Mafia has never been so wealthy. It is as strong in his native Milan as in Sicily. And while unelected prime minister Mario Monti is daring to take on some of the vested interests, he has not been able to touch the laws put in place by his predecessor to prevent him going to jail.
Nobody believes Silvio will go to jail. His two previous convictions were overturned. Italy - wonderful people, amazing country, pity about the politics.