By Lisa Bryant
Itay’s beleaguered Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to resign after parliament passed crucial economic reforms on Tuesday aimed at stabilizing Italy’s economy. The growing political crisis is spreading across the 17-nation eurozone.
Italy’s parliament passed the budget bill, a normally routine procedure, by 308 votes in favor. Berlusconi failed to garner a majority, though, and a striking 321 lawmakers did not vote at all.
The vote was widely viewed as a test of Berlusconi’s survival. There have been growing calls for the Italian leader to step down over sex scandals and Italy’s financial problems that threaten to make Europe’s third-largest economy the latest victim of the eurozone crisis.
Berlusconi’s political rivals and allies alike have been demanding his resignation.
Professor James Walston, chair of international relations at the American University of Rome, said, “Even his closest advisors have realized that Berlusconi has lost his magic. The sort of problems which Italy is facing are ones which Berlusconi is both unwilling and incapable of dealing with. And from close advisors and collaborators like [under-secretary Gianni] Letta, [Secretary-General of the People of Freedom Party Angelino] Alfano, to all sorts of backbenchers, have decided they do not want to be part of the government which causes major problems and possibly catastrophic problems for Italy and for the European Union.”
The Italian drama took place as European finance ministers scrambled in Brussels to build a firewall against the spreading debt crisis. Speaking to reporters before the talks Tuesday, Swedish Finance Minister Anders Borg was blunt in assessing the eroding international confidence in Europe.
“I think we do have a problem that Europe is running dry in credibility and [the] solution to high debt crisis must be lower debt and the responsibility is on the countries with high debt, and that is obviously Greece and Italy,” said Borg.
Greece also is in the midst of political upheaval as Prime Minister George Papandreou hands power over to a coalition government. Papandreou’s downfall came after he shocked and outraged Greek and European politicians by announcing a referendum on tough European Union austerity measures. The referendum was called off.
The spreading eurozone crisis already has caused the collapse of governments in Portugal and Ireland. The socialist government in Spain, which also is struggling with a high debt and budget deficit, also is expected to lose power in parliamentary elections this month.