Monday, October 24, 2011

Can Berlusconi Pull It Off?

In my last post I wrote about the role that Italy might play in any solution to the European sovereign debt crisis. (See

It seems as if the pressure applied on the Italian prime minister might be paying off.
“Silvio Berlusconi has called a cabinet meeting for Monday evening to consider new economic reform proposals after the prime minister returned to Italy following his humiliation at the eurozone leaders’ summit in Brussels.

The emergency meeting was called in response to demands by the summit that Italy prepare legislation on structural reforms before the next meeting of eurozone leaders on Wednesday.” (

Mr. Berlusconi, in the face of political pressure and financial market pressure, is going to propose some “tough” measures to his coalition cabinet.  But, his Northern League coalition allies are flat out against some of the things he has presented.  Others in the coalition are seen as too divided internally to “agree on tough reforms”.

Still, Mr. Berlusconi is giving it a try.  His embarrassment in front of European Union members has been substantial.  It appears that he is attempting to “save face” before the eurozone officials assemble again on Wednesday.  An alternative, given that Berlusconi has been regularly losing support, is for him to resign in the face of too much opposition within the ruling coalition. 

Financial markets have also not been kind.  On Monday, the spread between the 10-year Italian BTP benchmark bond and the equivalent German issue jumped to 388 basis points.  The near term high for this spread is slightly more than 400 basis points.

Moody’s dropped the rating on Italian bonds three notches on October 4: Standard & Poor’s downgraded the Italian debt about a month before.  The rating agencies are poised for another possible lowering of the rating. 

Mario Calabresi, editor of Turin’s La Stampa newspaper stated the “we (Italians) are the sick man of Europe…”  As I stated in my last blogpost, the situation in Italy is comparable to the situation in Greece.  This can be seen as the cause of the current hostile focus on Italy by others in the eurozone. 

In this previous post, I argued that officials of the EU may finally be accepting the seriousness of the problem they face; that the issues now faced by the eurozone are solvency issues and not liquidity issues; and that the problem cannot be solved just on a state-by-state basis. 

Can Berlusconi bring this off?

I’m not sure he can.  But, this latest humiliation may really bring home to some Italians that they are not going to get “off the hook” this time.  Like Greece, efforts to bring on the reforms in Italy will result in more protests and riots like the ones seen in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. 
The times they are a changin’…

I’m not sure that the changes that are coming are the ones imagined by Bob Dylan when he wrote this line.  But, times have changed and societies and cultures are going to have to adapt.  Not everything is happening in “the Arab Spring.”       

European officials really seem to be getting serious now.

European negotiators have asked Greek debt holders to accept a 60 per cent cut in the face value of their bonds, a hardline stance that far exceeds losses agreed in a deal between private investors and eurozone authorities three months ago.“ (See but also see my post of October 23,
I am thinking that many European officials are tired, tired of going over the same thing month after month after month.  Maybe, just maybe they are realizing that unless they really get their “arms around the problems” that the difficulties will just continue to march along.  In essence, maybe, just maybe, they are coming to the conclusion that “kicking the can down the road” doesn’t work. 
Let’s hope Mr. Berlusconi sticks to his guns and is able to pull off the reforms needed to allow Europe to move ahead.  Time really seems to be running out.    

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