Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Is Berlusconi stepping into an EU trap?

Fascinating post today in the FT’s Brussels Blog about the likely re-ascendance of Silvio Berlusconi to power in Italy. Needless to say Brussels is not enthused about the prospect, which looks likely to happen in an April election after the collapse of Romano Prodi’s government. Not only is Berlusconi a rightist leader with an aggressive streak and hostility toward the rest of Europe, but also his European Union presidency (which rotates to a new country every six months under the current system) in July to December of 2003 was a fiasco.

However the FT points out that there are some in Brussels that may be looking forward to Silvio retaking the reigns because it would finally give them the impetus to launch a challenge to Berlusconi’s media empire.

Berlusconi owns Mediaset, by far the biggest commercial TV broadcaster in Italy which also owns the biggest national advertiser, the biggest publisher and much more. Effectively he’s able to control all the media in the country, which is how he was able to stay in power for so long in a country which normally can’t keep a stable government going longer than a year or two.

Now that the EU competition authorities have landed the high-profile ruling against Microsoft they’ve been emboldened to take on ever more powerful interests. It already made a first strike on Italy’s media market on January 31 when the European Court of Justice ruled that the Italian national broadcasting system fails to foster competition, essentially being a stich-up of Mediaset and Rai, the state-controlled broadcaster (meaning that when Berlusconi is in power he has a complete stranglehold on the nation’s media.) As the FT notes:
This was an important moment because it reminded Italians that, even if they cannot fix what is wrong in Italy, Europe can sometimes do it for them. Since Berlusconi entered politics in 1993-94, turning his media dominance into a serious national issue, Italy has had two spells of centre-left government: 1996-2001 and May 2006 to the present day. In neither spell did the centre-left succeed in passing laws to reform the media sector or curb politicians' conflicts of interest.
So essentially a Berlusconi win could give the EU reason to break up his Italian media empire. To say the least, it will be an interesting battle to watch unfold.

No comments: