Berlusconi at Bay

Silvio Berlusconi, who becomes President of the European Union on July 1 st , is a man of vision who once loved risk--and whose business bets paid off big. In the 1960's, he was the first to see that Milan, then a traditional Italian city where people walked to work, would become a modern metropolis, surrounded by American-style suburbs. So his fortune began in real estate development.

Fifteen years later, Signor Berlusoni understood that the Italian state's monopoly of television would not survive and jump-started what became Italy's main privately owned media group. But you don't win in TV and the real estate business without the right political connections. On both occasions, Berlusconi outwitted his competitors by siding with the Socialists, at the time the rising stars of Italian political life. His long association with Bettino Craxi, Milan's most influential politician in the 1970's and Italy's prime minister through much of the 1980's, started early.

On the other hand, political connections do not make a politician. Indeed, the jump from business into politics was probably not Berlusconi's own preference. By the 1990's, his media group was in trouble, weakened by excessive diversification (the decision to enter the retail-distribution business almost destroyed the group). Almost at the same time, ex-premier Craxi fled to Tunisia, chased there by the Italian courts at the height of the mani pulite (clean hands) investigation into the vast network of corruption known as Tangentopoli (Bribesville).

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

Registration is quick and easy and requires only your email address. If you already have an account with us, please log in. Or subscribe now for unlimited access.


Log in;
  1. An employee works at a chemical fiber weaving company VCG/Getty Images

    China in the Lead?

    For four decades, China has achieved unprecedented economic growth under a centralized, authoritarian political system, far outpacing growth in the Western liberal democracies. So, is Chinese President Xi Jinping right to double down on authoritarianism, and is the “China model” truly a viable rival to Western-style democratic capitalism?

  2. The assembly line at Ford Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

    Whither the Multilateral Trading System?

    The global economy today is dominated by three major players – China, the EU, and the US – with roughly equal trading volumes and limited incentive to fight for the rules-based global trading system. With cooperation unlikely, the world should prepare itself for the erosion of the World Trade Organization.

  3. Donald Trump Saul Loeb/Getty Images

    The Globalization of Our Discontent

    Globalization, which was supposed to benefit developed and developing countries alike, is now reviled almost everywhere, as the political backlash in Europe and the US has shown. The challenge is to minimize the risk that the backlash will intensify, and that starts by understanding – and avoiding – past mistakes.

  4. A general view of the Corn Market in the City of Manchester Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

    A Better British Story

    Despite all of the doom and gloom over the United Kingdom's impending withdrawal from the European Union, key manufacturing indicators are at their highest levels in four years, and the mood for investment may be improving. While parts of the UK are certainly weakening economically, others may finally be overcoming longstanding challenges.

  5. UK supermarket Waring Abbott/Getty Images

    The UK’s Multilateral Trade Future

    With Brexit looming, the UK has no choice but to redesign its future trading relationships. As a major producer of sophisticated components, its long-term trade strategy should focus on gaining deep and unfettered access to integrated cross-border supply chains – and that means adopting a multilateral approach.

  6. The Year Ahead 2018

    The world’s leading thinkers and policymakers examine what’s come apart in the past year, and anticipate what will define the year ahead.

    Order now