Silvio Berlusconi goes to European court to fight election ban

Six years after he was forced from office, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is set to attend a hearing on Wednesday 

Silvio Berlusconi (Photo: Quotidiano)
Silvio Berlusconi (Photo: Quotidiano)

An appeal against a ban on Silvio Berlusconi holding public office is to be heard by the European court of human rights, a move that could see Italy’s former prime minister leading the country again.

The hearing on Wednesday, six years after he was forced from office, follows his success at forging a victorious coalition from his centre-right Forza Italia and two far-right parties – the Northern League and Brothers of Italy – in regional elections in Sicily earlier this month.

The outcome of the ballot on the southern Italian island was seen as a rehearsal for how things could occur in national elections, which must be held before May next year. 

It also marked the beginning of a political comeback for the 81-year-old, despite being plagued by a tax fraud conviction, allegations of corruption and sex scandals.

Berlusconi, who was forced to resign from his third term as prime minister in 2011, over claims that he paid for sex with an underage sex worker, hired top lawyers from London’s Doughty Street Chambers to argue his case.

He was removed from parliament and banned from running for office for no less than six years in 2013.

“We’ll have just 30 minutes to set out our argument, the same goes for the government,” Andrea Saccucci, one of the lawyers who will represent Berlusconi in the Strasbourg court said.

“It’s pretty standard, but this hearing will attract a lot of attention for obvious reasons.”

Considering the length of time it takes for the court to deliver a verdict, it is unlikely to come before the general elections. The current five-year term for the Italian government officially expires on 15 March, although the vote could be held as late as May.

In 2012, Berlusconi was given a four-year jail term for the tax fraud conviction, but this was later commuted to four hours community service a week at a home for people with dementia in Milan.

A law known as the Severino decree, which ruled that anyone sentenced to two years or more in prison should be banned from office for at least six years, was passed after Berlusconi was convicted.

The team will argue that stripping Berlusconi of his democratic mandate was unfair given the support he retains in Italy, and that the move was open to political manipulation as it was decided by parliament.

“This decision could not be reviewed by a court, there was no appeal, no remedy available,” Saccucci said.

Regardless of whether the ban is lifted, Berlusconi, currently experiencing a high in his 30-year rollercoaster of a political career, could still end up calling the shots in Italy’s next government.

Roberto D’Alimonte, a political science professor at Rome’s Luiss University, said that with or without the pending court ruling, Berlusconi was a kingmaker.

“There’ll be no winner [in the elections], the winner will be Berlusconi. He is on the rise because he is liked, he has resources and because his rivals are weak and, in some cases, incompetent.”

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