ROME – The promised, although limited, austerity reforms passed their final stage through the Italian Parliament on Saturday and Mr Silvio Berlusconi, for once, was as good as his word, immediately quitting the political field he had dominated for 17 years. The world now waits to see if his departure will be enough to appease the gods of the bond market, who, rather than Europe’s leaders, seem to be the ones deciding the fate of severely indebted nations.
Like the villain of an opera who, after being stabbed, takes an interminable time to stop singing and lie still upon the stage, Berlusconi’s end has been a drawn-out affair. Admitting last Tuesday that his political wounds were now mortal, and clutching his chest crying “traitors!” at those in his own party who deserted him, Berlusconi took five days to expire. And there was always the fear that, even as he hammed up his death scene, he would find a way of rallying for yet another encore.
In the end, all it took was a vote, a final cabinet meeting and a tendering of his resignation at the palace of President Giorgio Napolitano. The vote was by the Chamber of Deputies approving economic reforms, which include increasing the retirement age, but doing nothing to open up Italy’s inflexible labour market. The cabinet meeting was a brief affair, at 6pm Rome time, and then it was a short car ride to the palace.