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Opinion

Opinion

Italy’s president isn’t above the law

January 22, 2011

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In March 2010, Silvio Berlusconi’s government passed a law designed to protect the self-styled “most persecuted man in all history in the entire world” from prosecution in Italy’s courts. On Jan. 13, the country’s Constitutional Court partially struck down the law. It was right to do so. However, it is a sad measure of the dysfunctional nature of Italian politics that this decision may yet work to the advantage of Berlusconi — and the detriment of his country.

Berlusconi’s law of “legitimate impediment” exempted cabinet ministers from appearing in court on the basis that they are too busy. That proposition is an affront to the principle of equality before the law. No one, not even a billionaire media mogul who doubles as prime minister, is above the law. The court has yet to publish the details of its ruling, but should be applauded for upholding this principle.

However, the impact of the ruling on Berlusconi is likely to be slight. On the legal front, it will change little. ...

On the political front, the ruling may even — perversely — play into Berlusconi’s hands. He has spent much of his time in office bleating that he is the victim of a conspiracy by left-wing judges to unseat him. In conjunction with an investigation opened on Jan. 14 into claims that Berlusconi abused his office by trying to have a 17-year-old Moroccan nightclub dancer released from prison, the Constitutional Court’s ruling will enable him to sustain this narrative until the next election, which will probably occur this spring.

That is a huge shame for Italy. ... the country is likely to be treated to another installment of Berlusconi versus the judiciary. Italy deserves better.

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