Berlusconi: The Businessman Prime Minister

Never one to be out of the spotlight, media mogul Silvio Berlusconi is running for another term as Italy's prime minister. NEWSWEEK's Jacopo Barigazzi caught up with him in Rome, where they discussed Italy's economy, power sharing and the anti-Berlusconi movement. Excerpts:

Barigazzi: Italy could be on the brink of a recession. Is this the last chance for Italy?
The scenario is negative in general. In particular it is negative for Europe, and Italy has even more negative factors. But others are not in an easier situation: the world economy is facing a financial crisis in the U.S., with all the negative impact it can have, as well as the situation in the commodity markets. India and China are consuming not just commodities but also food products, and the price of wheat has skyrocketed. Then there's oil. To all these factors, Europe has to add a hypervaluated euro, which creates an enormous difficulty for exports.

Italy has even more negative factors. We have insufficient infrastructures. We have an inefficient public administration. Then there's a very high public debt. In the world's imagination, the garbage in Naples has turned Italy into a country covered with trash, which does damage to our tourism industry. It is damaging our exports in fashion, high technology and in the agro-industrial sector, for our valuable food and wines. To all of this, we have to add the policy of the left, which has opened our borders. We now have a presence of illegal immigrants higher than in other countries, and this means a fall in terms of security standards for our citizens and a higher degree of criminality. Figures show that 36 percent of crimes committed in Italy are committed by illegal immigrants, and in some big cities in the north, like Treviso, this percentage goes up to 50 percent. Then there's a last fact that sums up all the others, which is the sale of Alitalia.

Where will Alitalia be in six months?
I hope it will belong to a group of Italian entrepreneurs. I believe that a country like Italy, where tourism is an important part of its GDP, cannot renounce its flag carrier. If we had Air France colonizing Alitalia, I don't believe these tourists would come first to Rome, Florence or Naples. I think they would go first to France.

On Alitalia some say you are not an economic liberal anymore. What's your reply?
That they don't know me and that they write things far from the truth. I don't know who could be more of an economic liberal than me, since I'm an entrepreneur who was born and who has grown up in the market. I'm absolutely convinced that competition improves product quality and reduces prices.

Is it possible for just one side to resolve Italy's problems or will it be necessary to share power?
If we have a large majority, and if we have it in both chambers, we'll be able to operate.

You sound more prudent than in the past. Now, after you say something, you always add, "if we have the resources."
I'm much more prudent now because the situation is as it is. I'm a realist.

Some analysts see an end to so-called anti-Berlusconism, the radicals opposed to your presence in politics.
The left has simply learned it was a boomerang to use these approaches. I believe Italians know me for what I am, for what I've done. After five years of Berlusconi government they know they cannot think of someone more liberal than me. Watching the TV channels and reading the newspapers that are still owned by my family, they know there's never an attack against the left. They see I'm the most liberal publisher. I believe the radicals' attacks created a repulsion; the left understood it was not convenient anymore to continue.

How do you find Walter Veltroni as a rival?
He's a great talker, but the performance he's staging is over. Italians have realized that in Italy there are two lefts—that the left means 67 more taxes, increased taxes, open borders with a drop in security, the tragedy of garbage in Italy and the stopping of public works. These are the facts of the left. Then there are nice words and promises, and that's the left of Veltroni.

Once, you said, "I agree with the United States even before it speaks out." Would something change with a Democrat in the White House?
No, I don't think so. Relations between us and America are those of an ally that has a clear foreign policy, is loyal, and that never forgets that it saved us from Nazism and communism. I don't think that the U.S. foreign policy will change with a Democrat or a Republican. I had a very good relationship with President Clinton and President Bush, and for sure I'll have a very good relationship with the next U.S. president.