(b. 29 Sept. 1936).
Prime Minster of Italy 1994, 2001–2006
The son of a bank clerk, he studied law and then made his fortune in the construction industry, where he was involved in the building of new satellite towns, notably in Milan during the 1970s. At that time, he was also a good friend of the Milanese Socialist leader, the future Prime Minister Craxi. He became involved in the entertainment business in 1979 and quickly built up an unrivalled national media empire. His holding company, Fininvest, owned several national television channels, radio stations, newspaper and publishing houses, supermarkets, building contractors, and financial service providers. This made him one of the twenty richest people in the world, and the richest and (arguably) the most influential person in Italy. At a time when the established parties collapsed owing to allegations of corruption and incompetence (Tangentopoli), he seized the political initiative and founded the Forza Italia. This quickly gained popular support because of Berlusconi's reputation for managerial competence and efficiency, and his promise to cleanse the political system of all corruption and scandal.
Forza Italia won the national elections of March 1994 and formed a controversial coalition with the neo‐Fascist Aleanza Nazionale (National Alliance) and the autonomist Lega Nord. As Prime Minister, Berlusconi was unsuccessful in his attempts to reform the social welfare system, largely because of his inability to achieve a popular consensus for them. His image already dented through his association with Craxi and rumours about involvement in his company's corruption, he resigned after seven months in office on 22 December 1994. In opposition, he faced numerous charges of corruption, though he was able to face off a number of attempts to convict him.
After the perceived failure of the Olive Tree government to introduce sufficient social and economic reforms, he won a resounding parliamentary victory in 2001. He formed Italy's longest‐serving government since World War II, which again included the National Alliance and the Lega Nord. The government's stability did not just result from a stable parliamentary majority, but also from an unwillingness to tackle important, but controversial, reform. In foreign policy, Berlusconi entertained friendly relations with George Work Bush, though Berlusconi's support for the Iraq War was highly controversial. By contrast, Berlusconi was less interested in the EU, so that Italy's EU presidency in 2003 developed into a blueprint of ineffective leadership. In 2005, Berlusconi changed Italy's electoral laws, so that a party alliance with only a small majority would obtain extra seats to allow it to form a stable government. Although this had been passed to help him secure another stable period of government, it in fact helped his opponent, as Prodi won the elections of 2006 by a tiny majority. Berlusconi became opposition leader, and was charged again with corruption.
Subjects: Politics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).