Da Financial Times del 20/03/2006
Originale su http://news.ft.com/cms/s/7ce022d4-b76d-11da-b4c2-0000779e2340.html

Berlusconi lashes out at Italy’s business leaders

di Tony Barber

Rome - Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister seeking re-election next month, clashed at the weekend with some of Italy’s most prominent industrialists leading even his coalition partners to criticise his intemperate display.

At a conference of Confindustria, Italy’s employers’ association, some businessmen whistled and one called out “Shame on you!” as Mr Berlusconi told them that they would be out of their minds if they wanted to vote for the centre-left opposition.

“Something isn’t right if Confindustria attacks the government every day. Let’s open our eyes. We can’t be overcome by the pessimism that the newspapers preach every day to stop my government’s re-election” he said.

With less than three weeks to go before the April 9-10 election, Mr Berlusconi’s centre-right coalition is trailing the opposition, led by Romano Prodi, a former prime minister, by about 4 percentage points in opinion polls.

Although Confindustria is officially neutral in the campaign, its leaders have pulled no punches in pointing out that Mr Berlusconi’s government has presided over five years of mediocre economic growth and modest structural reform.

These criticisms have infuriated Mr Berlusconi, a billionaire businessman in his own right, and he stunned the audience at Saturday’s conference by lashing out at them and ignoring a moderator’s request for him to stop talking. “If there is a businessman who has gone out of his mind and supports the left, I think he must have a lot of skeletons in his cupboard and a lot of things to ask forgiveness for,” the prime minister declared.

He directed his most withering remarks at Diego Della Valle, chief executive of Tod’s, the luxury footwear maker, who is a known supporter of the opposition.

Mr Della Valle said later: “The state in which I saw Berlusconi worries me. The aggressiveness with which he says a whole load of stupid things is worrying, bearing in mind that he’s the man who governs the country.”

In a sign that some of his coalition partners may already be anticipating an election defeat and a post-Berlusconi era for the Italian centre-right, the prime minister’s recent performances have attracted criticism even from his most senior allies.

Gianni Alemanno, agriculture minister, on Sunday criticised Mr Berlusconi’s display at the Confindustria conference, saying: “I was embarrassed. When the prime minister goes to someone else’s home, he should respect the rules of the place.”

Andrea Pininfarina, vice-president of Confindustria, said Mr Berlusconi “was in a confused state of mind, perhaps caused by tiredness. We are not pessimists, we are realists, and the fact that Confindustria wants to know the true facts of the economic situation isn’t defeatism.”

Mr Berlusconi’s campaign has suffered several blows in the past month, including the resignations of two cabinet ministers. One quit because of a political espionage scandal and the other because he insulted Muslims by wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Last Tuesday, Mr Berlusconi, normally an assured television performer, looked nervous and impatient in a TV election debate that he was widely adjudged to have lost against Mr Prodi.

Gianfranco Fini, foreign minister and leader of the National Alliance, the government’s second largest party, and Pier Ferdinando Casini, speaker of parliament’s lower house, both said Mr Berlusconi had not handled the TV debate well.

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