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      Newly Engaged Berlusconi Returns Unwelcomed To Italian Arena

      Silvio Berlusconi got a chilly reception upon his comeback, but that has never deterred Berlusconi.
      By Amiel Ungar
      First Publish: 12/19/2012, 2:58 AM

      Berlusconi and Monti
      Berlusconi and Monti
      Reuters

      It is a horror film, remarked Italian actor Roberto Benigni, on "Bersani against the mummy." The mummy being referred to is former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who now that he has tasted the elixir of youth by getting engaged to a woman 49 years his junior, is ready to run again for Prime Minister.

      Benigni is far from an unbiased observer and he once acidly commented about Berlusconi's grandstanding, that "when he shows up at a wedding he wants to play the bride, and when he attends a funeral, he wants to play the corpse."

      Other European leaders have been scathing and dismissive about a comeback for the Italian media mogul. At a recent meeting of the European People's Party, the EU-wide party of Christian Democrats and center-right parties, Berlusconi was cold-shouldered.\

      The leaders prefer the current Prime Minister Mario Monti, whom they believe will preserve Italian financial stability. France's Socialist President Francois Hollande played down Berlusconi's chances,saying "I don't think there is a very serious likelihood"

      Berlusconi may be getting on in years, but he loves a fight and turned the chilly European reaction to his candidacy into an asset. He has enough media outlets to fight back. Il Giornale, part of the Berlusconi stable of newspapers, claimed that Italy was being treated like a colony and saying about the unelected Mario Monti that "everyone wants Monti – except the Italians."

      However, not only Berluscon's papers felt that the EU had gone overboard. Turin's La Stampa felt that a strongly-voiced European preference represented interference and disdain for Italian sovereignty.

      Undeterred Berluscon promised a parliament that would be smaller unicameral and largely free of politicians "80% of the candidates for parliament will be people who've never been in politics, with 50% arriving from the world of business and labor while 25-30% will come from the world of art and culture."

      Mario Monti may be the darling of the EU and the technocrats as a leader who has administered harsh fiscal medicines, but for that reason in Italy he is unloved by the electorate. Berlusconi's problem is that he's not running against Monti, but against a fairly united left that has already held primaries and tapped Pierluigi Bersani. 

      The Center-right is fragmented. Former Berlusconi ally Gianfranco Fini wants Monti to be the candidate of the center-right. The same applies to the Italian Catholic Church, that is not exactly enamored of Berlusconi's romantic escapades. Monti, however, has replied that he will only serve as prime minister after the forthcoming elections, if they do not produce a clear winner.

      The Center-right realizes that it is not ready for elections while the Center-left is. The polls also show a clear preference for the Center-left that is taking a page out of the French Socialist book by hinting that they could tinker with the current austerity plan and remove part of the burden from the disadvantaged.

      As Monti said he would resign once a budget has passed, the right intends to play for time by holding up the passage of the bill, presumably to give it further study. Given the volatility of financial markets, the Italian right cannot play this game over a protracted period.