Da Financial Times del 11/01/2006
Originale su http://news.ft.com/cms/s/24e14aae-8248-11da-aea0-0000779e2340.html

Berlusconi still confident of election victory

di Tony Barber

Rome - Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's prime minister, has acknowledged that his centre-right government is trailing the centre-left opposition ahead of April's national election, but says he remains confident of victory.

"I don't think Italians are so imprudent as to give power to these political hirelings of the left, who have done nothing in their lives except make mistakes," Mr Berlusconi said in a television interview on Monday.

It was the first of numerous TV appearances that the premier is planning this week as he seeks to confound opinion polls that are predicting triumph in the April 9 election for the opposition, led by Romano Prodi.

"We are at a small disadvantage, but we will surely win," Mr Berlusconi said, referring to his House of Freedoms coalition, which in the latest polls is trailing the centre-left by anything from 1.5 to 7.5 percentage points.

Monday's interview allowed Mr Berlusconi to sketch the main themes of his forthcoming campaign - his view that the Italian economy is performing better than his critics admit, and that the opposition is dominated by irresponsible ideological extremists.

The government expects the economy to expand by 1.5 per cent, after a meagre 0.2 per cent in 2005. Last year was the ninth year out of 10 that Italy had fallen below the eurozone average.

Insofar as he acknowledges Italy's difficulties, Mr Berlusconi blames them on turbulence in the world economy after the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, on the European Central Bank's monetary policy and on what he calls "Prodi's euro" - the notion that Mr Prodi, when premier from 1996 to 1998, locked Italy into the eurozone at too high an exchange rate.

Mr Berlusconi reserved particular scorn for his centre-left opponents, saying: "Today the left isn't democratic. It would take us out of the Atlantic alliance. It left us with the world's third highest public debt . . ."

He also complained that the left was behind judicial investigations into his business activities that had never turned up any proof of wrongdoing.

Opposition politicians dismissed Mr Berlusconi's remarks, saying that after 4½ years as premier he had found nothing new to say to the Italian people.

"Berlusconi's repertoire is worn out, his outbursts are nauseating, his accusations are grotesque," said Franco Monaco of the opposition Margherita party. "It speaks volumes that after five years in government he is making recourse to the old script, riddled with propaganda and trite ideological polemics."

Mr Berlusconi has, however, benefited from the disclosure that Piero Fassino, leader of the Democrats of the Left, the largest opposition party, was caught up in an Italian bank takeover controversy that had previously seemed to embarrass only the government.

Mr Fassino supported Unipol, an Italian insurer indirectly controlled by Italy's co-operative movement, in its efforts to buy Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, and thereby stop Spain's BBVA bank from buying BNL.

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