Wednesday 21 February 2018

Disgraced Berlusconi eyes political return with promises of huge tax cuts

Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi addresses a meeting of the EPP European People’s Party in Fiuggi, near Rome. Photo: Reuters
Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi addresses a meeting of the EPP European People’s Party in Fiuggi, near Rome. Photo: Reuters

Crispian Balmer in Rome

Disgraced former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has portrayed himself as a pro-European moderate as he made his formal return to Italian politics.

Speaking at a meeting of his Forza Italia party, Mr Berlusconi said he wanted to lead the group into the next national election, which is expected by next March, promising hefty tax cuts if the centre-right regained power.

Subsumed by sex scandals and legal woes, Mr Berlusconi largely vanished from politics after being ousted from power in 2011.

But he has emerged from the shadows this year and Forza Italia, with its traditional rightist allies the Northern League and Brothers of Italy, have combined backing of some 35pc, making them the largest single bloc.

"We predict a great victory for the centre-right," said Mr Berlusconi (81) looking thin and fit during a speech near Rome that effectively launched the Forza Italia election campaign.

While his allies have repeatedly denounced the EU, Mr Berlusconi said he wanted more Europe, not less, calling for common defence, foreign, industrial and fiscal policies.

"I do not think we can leave the euro," he said, further underscoring how the anti-euro rhetoric once heard from many Italian parties is receding as the vote nears.

Mr Berlusconi, who had open heart surgery last year, cannot run for office due to a 2013 tax fraud conviction. But he hopes the European Court of Human Rights will overturn this ban when it reviews his case in November.

"I expect that Europe completely restores my honour... But court or no court, I promise you that I will take part in the election campaign," said the four-times premier.

If Forza Italia won power, he said he would introduce a flat tax and eliminate inheritance tax, hike minimum pensions, offer pensions to housewives and give more to poor families.

Mr Berlusconi dismissed the chances of the ruling centre-left, saying the left was in retreat across Europe, and also took aim at the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which polls say is Italy's largest single party, with support under 30pc.

The 5-Star is expected to chose the 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio as its prime ministerial candidate next weekend. Mr Berlusconi dismissed him as a "little political meteorite" with no practical know-how.

Irish Independent

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