Court allows Berlusconi to run for office, derailing Italy coalition talks

Court allows Berlusconi to run for office, derailing Italy coalition talks
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been on “good behavior" and a court in Milan has lifted his ban for public office over a 2013 tax fraud conviction. Meanwhile, talks to form a coalition government have stalled.

Berlusconi, 81, had to give up his seat in the Italian Senate and was barred from public office for six years following a conviction on tax fraud charges related to his business empire. A court in Milan lifted the ban early, citing his “good conduct.” The decision was made public on Saturday.

“Finally five years of injustice has come to end,” his party, Forza Italia, said in a statement. “Berlusconi can once again be a candidate.”

The reprieve appeared to have come too late for Il Cavaliere: Berlusconi had just given his blessing to his coalition partner Lega (League) to enter the government with the populist 5-Star Movement.

President Sergio Mattarella gave the two parties until Monday to strike an accord, saying he otherwise intended to appoint a technical government until a new election could be called. On Monday, however, 5-Star head Luigi Di Maio asked for yet another deadline extension.  

“The positions of the League and Five-Star are a significant distance apart on immigration,” Lega leader Matteo Salvini told reporters after a meeting with Mattarella. “We hope to see you soon – either because we’ll be getting down to work or because we’re saying goodbye.”

Salvini is demanding stricter border enforcement, given that over 600,000 migrants have landed in Italy since 2014, and loosening the European Union restrictions on fiscal policy.

“I want firms to pay fewer taxes and today I have external limits that don’t allow me to,” he said.

The March 4 election was inconclusive, giving both Lega and 5-Star about a third of the electorate, while the formerly ruling Democrats dropped to 19 percent. The leftist 5-Star and the nationalist Lega both share a Eurosceptic agenda, but coalition talks were complicated by 5-Star’s refusal to form a government with Forza Italia.

A new election in which Berlusconi is allowed to run might result in a different balance of power.

Berlusconi was in power for nine years overall, making him the longest-serving Italian PM since 1945, and the third-longest since the Italian unification. He is a media mogul and owned the football club AC Milan from 1986 to 2017.

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