Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi gestures during a
news conference at the end of the G20 Summit in Cannes,
France. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has refused to
step down despite a party rebellion that has brought his
centre-right coalition to the brink of collapse in the face of
a growing economic crisis.
Berlusconi is widely believed to have already lost the
numbers he needs to survive in parliament but he told
reporters at a G20 summit in France: "We have a majority
which I continue to believe is solid and so we will continue
The 75-year-old media magnate described party rebels as
traitors to the country but said they would return to the
fold once he spoke to them, despite the economic crisis that
has fuelled an open revolt in his ruling PDL party.
Underlining the foreboding atmosphere, yields on 10-year
Italian bonds hit a euro lifetime high of 6.43 percent at one
point on Friday, close to levels which led to bailouts of
Ireland and Portugal.
President Giorgio Napolitano issued the latest in a series of
alarmed calls for political consensus to pass painful
economic reforms, saying the country was suffering a grave
crisis of international confidence.
Berlusconi, caught in the crossfire from European powers and
the party revolt at home, agreed at the summit to IMF
monitoring of economic reforms which he has long promised but
failed to implement. He said he had turned down an offer of
IMF funding for Italy.
All this may soon be irrelevant to the prime minister who
returned home on Friday to face what looks increasingly like
a deadly rebellion by his own supporters.
The strains in his government were on display in Cannes where
Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti -- with whom he has long had
frigid relations -- refused to directly answer a question on
whether he agreed Berlusconi could continue.
With financial markets in turmoil over Greece, and Italy
viewed as the next domino to fall in the euro zone crisis,
calls are mounting for a new government to carry through
reforms convincing enough to regain international confidence.
Berlusconi says the only alternative to him is an early
election next spring, rather than the technocrat or national
unity government urged by many politicians and commentators.
Two deputies from Berlusconi's PDL party this week defected
to the centrist UDC, taking his support in the 630-seat lower
house of parliament to a likely 315 compared with the 316 he
needed to win a confidence vote last month.
But at least seven other former loyalists have called for a
new government and could vote against him.
"The (ruling) majority seems to be dissolving like a snowman
in spring," said respected commentator Stefano Folli in the
financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore. Other commentators spoke of
an "inexorable" revolt against Berlusconi.
Even Defence Ministry undersecretary Guido Crosetto, a
Berlusconi loyalist, said on television: "I don't know how
many days or weeks the government has left. Certainly a
majority relying on a few votes cannot continue for long."
Berlusconi, one of Italy's richest men, still has significant
powers of patronage and he and his closest aides are expected
to spend the weekend trying to win back support for a
parliamentary showdown on Tuesday.
Some rebels have already threatened to vote against
Berlusconi in the vote to sign off on the 2010 budget.
Berlusconi faced concerted calls to resign when he lost a
previous vote on this routine measure, which was almost
unprecedented. Although it is not a confidence motion, he
would come under huge pressure if he suffered a second
"Unpopular prescriptions are necessary and this challenge
cannot be faced with a 51 percent government," said UDC
leader Pier Ferdinando Casini, in a reference to Berlusconi's
weakness and a widespread feeling that the reforms can only
be passed with a broad consensus.
The premier has promised European leaders he will call a
formal confidence motion within 15 days to pass amendments to
a budget bill incorporating new measures to stimulate growth
and cut Italy's huge debt. That will be in the Senate where
he has a more solid majority but it could still bring him
Berlusconi said in Cannes these amendments contained 90
percent of reforms promised to European leaders, but a decree
law would also be drawn up with further measures.
Berlusconi, beset by a string of sex scandals and court
cases, has consistently resisted pressure from groups ranging
from a powerful business lobby to the Catholic Church to
President Napolitano said during a visit to the southern city
of Bari that Italy was at the centre of concern by
international and European institutions and must quickly
implement reforms it had promised to EU leaders.
"A serious crisis of confidence has emerged towards our
country, in Europe and not only in Europe. We must be aware
of this and rather than feeling wounded, be spurred on in our
pride and determination to respond," Napolitano said.