Italy. The year 2011 became heavy and gloomy, both for Italy and for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Even before the year had begun, the media froze in yet another so-called sex scandal between Berlusconi and a young woman, and during the second half of Italy. According to Countryaah official site, Italy was drawn into the eurozone’s debilitating debt crisis. It was the end of Berlusconi, who was forced to resign since more and more politicians abandoned him and the people’s dissatisfaction reached new record levels.
At the end of 2010, prosecutors in Milan began investigating the “Rubygate deal”, which could have more severe consequences for Berlusconi than previous prosecutions and charges. A young Moroccan, Karima el-Mahroug, a nightclub dancer with artist name Ruby, later told the press that she received € 7,000 in gift when she attended a dinner at Berlusconi in 2010. She was 17 at the time but has constantly denied that they had any sex contacts for a fee. According to the newspapers, however, the dinner guests had continued with an erotic play. The whole affair had become known when “Ruby” was arrested for mockery in Milan. Berlusconi became aware of this, called the police station and demanded that she be released because, as he claimed, she was one of the then Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s grandsons. The prime minister has referred to his kind heart and admitted that he wanted to help the girl to be free. In February 2011, he was formally charged with having sex with a minor as well as for abuse of power when he released her.
Between Berlusconi and the judiciary, especially judges in Milan, a legal-political tug of war has been going on for a number of years. A law passed through 2010 made certain members of the government immune to prosecution for 18 months. In early 2011, however, the Constitutional Court changed parts of the law and declared that an individual prosecutor/judge has the right to decide whether a minister should be prosecuted.
Although prosecutors sharpened the tone and claimed that Berlusconi had intercourse with a number of prostitutes – which is not illegal, however, there was no trial during the year. His lawyers were able to bring up the current “Ruby case” and three older cases, including bribery and fraud. On the other hand, his holding company Fininvest was fined in July for bribing a judge in the so-called Mondadori case in 1991. Berlusconi has often attacked the judges, saying that no other person has been subjected to so many legal proceedings; there are about 25 investigations, mainly concerning corruption.
However, Berlusconi became increasingly politically weakened. In local elections in May, the candidates for his Conservative Alliance People of Freedom (PdL) lost power in several cities, including in his hometown of Milan and in Naples.
Alongside the Greek debt crisis, Italy’s ill-fated economy came into focus, and a vicious cycle started when the outside world demanded ever higher interest rates on credit to Rome. In August, the European Central Bank promised to “buy” part of the large government debt – which amounts to almost 120% of GDP – against Rome’s economic reforms. But not even in previous years, when Berlusconi had a large majority behind him, did he deal with the long-standing weak growth or corruption within the state apparatus. The debt was allowed to grow for a long time, and when the situation became acute in 2011, the government’s support in Parliament had eroded so much that the reform plans dragged on over time.
Berlusconi must combine almost every major decision in Parliament with a vote of confidence in order not to lose. It worked because not many people wanted new elections, especially the weak and fragmented left. In October, the crisis got worse, and more or less open demands for Berlusconi’s departure came now also from the Vatican, business (Confindustria) and his close ally Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern Federation (Lega Nord, LN). The Prime Minister survived a vote with an emergency call, but his supporters now demanded the appointment of an expert government. After facing increasing pressure from the leaders in France and Germany, Berlusconi was forced to resign if only Parliament adopted an expanded reform program, including increased retirement age for women to 65 and frozen salaries in the public sector until 2014. The program had been voted down in early November following the departure of his party, but then everything happened quickly. On November 11-12, the reforms were voted on, and Berlusconi resigned immediately. A new so-called expert government took office under the leadership of economist Mario Monti, former EU Commissioner.
Economic Development, 1250–1500
The economic development in Italy quickly moved away from the natural economy towards an economic structure where the urban and monetary sectors dominated. This applied primarily to Northern Italy and was to increase the difference between the northern and southern parts of the country. This development went much faster in Italy than in other European countries, and already in the period 1250-1500 a capitalist organized economic life was created. The reasons were many, including the trade tradition that Venice had managed to maintain in the Middle Ages, the favorable position the country had between Eastern and Western and Northern Europe, and finally the access to money in the form of taxes on the papacy.
In connection with the distance trade, some cities developed a large industry. When it came to the distribution of goods between Eastern and Western and Northern Europe, Venice and Genoa eventually came to win a kind of monopoly position. In between, however, they fought a tough and hard fight. Pisa had long been a competitor to Genoa, but after the naval battle at Meloria in 1284, Genoa’s rule was secured. The goods to Northern Europe went long through Germany and especially via France (the Champagne fairs), but when difficulties arose in France due to war and high tariffs, the Italians had to dare to send expensive goods by sea through Gibraltar from 1314. It went well, and then the flow to Northern Europe went this way.
Industrial large-scale operation first appeared in the clothing industry, where Florence took the lead and exported fine fabrics to all of Europe except the Orient. Much capital was needed to run this industry, for it took a long time from the raw materials in the form of wool and unfinished clothing to be purchased, mostly in England and Flanders, until payment came in for the finished goods sold in distant markets. The capital provided the basis for banking, which also got its headquarters in Florence. A profitable task was to convey the payments to the papal chair from the different countries, and very large profits were also deducted from lending activities. A large part of Europe’s princes were customers.
In the Italian cities, through this economic development, a bourgeoisie emerged different from the steady craftsmanship and trade position that dominated the majority of medieval cities elsewhere in Europe. It was a bourgeoisie with interests far beyond the city and city politics, and with the opportunity of free blows for some people and relatives. The most powerful genera include della Torre and Visconti in Milan, della Scala in Verona, Este in Ferrara and Medici in Florence.
The cities gradually evolved into urban states, which submerged large land areas and pursued politics with a far wider perspective than the old urban community. Therefore, the internal conflict in Italy became even sharper during this period. But despite constant wars, they succeeded not only in developing the economic culture, but in creating the high spiritual culture that has been called the Renaissance.
In the period 1250–1500, the foreign political influence was less than before and less than it was since, but that does not mean that it was completely lacking. The Pope had called the French King’s brother Karl by Anjou to help against the high-staffer Manfred (1254–1266) in Sicily. Manfred was conquered, but Karl began a terror that led to the rebellion on the island of Sicily in 1282 (Sicilian wasps). This rebellion was supported by King Peter 3 of Aragon, who was married to Manfred’s daughter. The dispute led to a settlement in 1302, where it was decided that Peter of Aragon’s son Fredrik should have Sicily and Karl of Anjou’s son Karl 2 Naples. When the main line of the Anjou house in Naples died in 1435, the crown went over to Alfonson 5 of Aragon, who also ruled Sicily.
The period 1500–1789
Economically, the period 1250–1500 had been a time of glory for Italy, primarily because it was the Italians who supplied goods from the East to Western and Northern Europe. But the great discoveries from around 1500 opened new trade avenues, and soon the flow of goods came out of Italy. This economic downturn put Italy in a very dangerous position foreign policy.
The major trading cities, such as Venice and Genoa, had pursued an offensive policy to safeguard their trade interests, winning large tracts of land at the expense of the Byzantine Empire. Now they were forced into the defensive by the expanding Turkish superpower, which had taken over the role of the Byzantines in the eastern Mediterranean, and eventually lost their large territories. At about the same time, France and the new Spanish empire under the Union monarchs Isabella of Castilla and Ferdinand of Aragon began to take an interest in Italy.
The contradictions between the French and Spanish dynasties in Naples and Sicily led Charles 8 of France to enter Italy in 1494. He quickly overcame all resistance. In Florence, Lorenzo il magnifico’s son Pietro bowed to him, with the result that the population expelled the medics from the city. Thus, the preacher of salvation, Savonarola, was given the opportunity to take power, and retained it until 1498, when he was burned. Charles 8 marched throughout the country and captured Naples, but his rule soon aroused such dissatisfaction that Venice, the Pope, Emperor Maximilian and Ferdinand of Spain joined him; it was only as far as Karl managed to get through to France. The Spanish line gained dominion over both Sicily and Naples. But France also energetically pursued its Italian policy.