November 10th, 2011
03:14 AM GMT
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Editor's note: CNN anchor Nina dos Santos spent four years in Italy as a correspondent and covered Silvio Berlusconi’s re-election in 2008.

(CNN) – As world leaders battled to stave off another recession, Silvio Berlusconi spent much of the summit season eyeing the contours of his female counterparts.

Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was the latest to suffer the ignominy of being ogled by the Italian Premier at the G20 in Cannes, while cameras caught Berlusconi leering at Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt in Brussels.

Berlusconi clearly has a head for figures. Unfortunately he has been focussing on the wrong kind for too long – much to the detriment of his long-suffering electorate.
During the past 17 years the charismatic businessman has dominated the fractious and volatile landscape of Italian politics.

As the sun finally sets on his time in office, he leaves the eurozone’s third-largest economy in tatters with the world’s fourth-largest debt pile.

Italy matters because it accounts for nearly 13% of the European Union’s total output. The nation’s debt load, however, is close to a fifth of the bloc’s total.

Another set of vital statistics, which fatefully for "Il Cavaliere" is also going in opposite directions.

While Italy’s obligations have continued to climb, growth has stagnated, meaning urgent austerity measures are needed to close the gap.

Now the country aims to eradicate its budget deficit by 2013 (a year earlier than previously planned).

That’s an ambitious plan by anyone’s standards, but given Italy’s slow pace of reform the government’s targets appear increasingly unrealistic, just like its cosmetically enhanced leader.

Berlusconi first rose to power in the mid-1990s. At the time, Italy was one of Europe’s richest places with a GDP per capita second-only to Germany. Between 2001 and 2008 the country slipped behind both the UK and France.

Years of missed deadlines and loopy legislation have left this olive belt economy more prone to recession than its neighbors.

The country has been through four slumps since adopting the single currency. Its annual growth averaged at just three quarters of a percent over the past 15 years.

Worse still, Italy's rigid labor market, which Berlusconi has failed to tackle, makes it difficult for the country’s young to climb onto the job ladder. The lack of flexibility will probably impede privatizations despite the abundance of family silver that could be up for sale.

Add to this an aging population that will soon be facing pension cuts.

Catholic charity Caritas estimates that 14% of Italians are facing poverty these days with a spike in those under 35 years old.

The scope of social unrest has not gone unnoticed by the new IMF Chief Christine Lagarde.

A victim of Berlusconi’s poisoned-chalice praise earlier this year, the former French finance minister warned that chronic unemployment could lead to a “lost generation” across the eurozone.

Italy’s jobless rate stood at 8.3% in September.

Soon even Berlusconi will be out of a job though it’s hard to imagine him "signing on" for income support.

As his country’s precarious finances threaten to make the eurozone poorer, the Italian media tycoon remains the 118th richest person on the planet with a personal fortune of $6.2 billion.

Yet Berlusconi is as much the symptom of his country’s crazy politics as he is the cause of its equally absurd economics.

The master of reinvention and king of comebacks, Berlusconi has long been seen as one of Europe’s most unstable leaders.

It is therefore somewhat ironic that he has presided over the country’s longest-running governments since World War II.

He will leave big problems to solve and equally big shoes to fill.

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. lolo40

    what a BS hateful article, i'm not saying he is a good PM but a article like this serves no purpose at all, to blame all of italy's issue on him is crap, the system is broken and taking shots at him now for looking at a woman and not only that but writing a article based on it is childish. Keep this feminism to yourself and talk about things that actually matter! cheers

    November 10, 2011 at 5:09 am |
  2. Beerbarrel

    Sigh... I am so jealous.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:15 am |
  3. female reader2011

    Unprofessional!!! This article does not present how Berlusconi's private life is related to Italy's financial problems...and WHY would the writer choose this photo? The woman has placed HER hand on the PM's shoulder. He looks as if he is merely responding to her.

    November 10, 2011 at 5:21 am |
  4. karajan

    CNN: Why are my comments always being "moderated" ??

    Is that because I tell the truth about Israel ??

    Your actions demonstrate what an absurdly biased, pro Israel, network you are.
    Give me JUST ONE instance where I have posted any false information regarding Israel.

    CNN is right alongside Fox News in it's mis- information tactics.

    Happy for me that there are very many more areas where I can post the TRUTH about Israel.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  5. Jim456

    For as much money this guy made I can buy pretty much all chicks on the planet

    November 10, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  6. ferruccio

    cari americani guardate in casa vostra l'esempio dei vostri presidenti prima di giudicare i nostri.

    November 10, 2011 at 11:33 am |
  7. Paolo Nasti

    CNN's (and The Economist) articles on and related pictures of Mr. Berlusconi are always, to say the least, biased and offensive. Your is simply malicious propaganda that has nothing to do with real news or professional journalism.

    November 10, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
  8. Lisa Sciolle

    Sr. B has five children, two who help run his empire and three that his second wife complains he pretty much ignores. Interesting comment by her. He simply has priorities that other government leaders put on the back burner. He has survived all the votes of confidence by making certain that each person who Could vote against him is compensated or rewarded in one way or another prior to the vote. Just politics. But that tactic works. It would seem that no one would ever have enough money so as to refuse his "generosity" for their vote. Well, that is everywhere, not just in Italy, of course. He is now free to continue his empire building with his first two children. A new era begins, but time will tell if Italy now has a new road or status quo road to follow.

    November 10, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  9. Flex

    Berlusconi main focus was not to diligently serve his people and country, like it or not, the fact is that he is self-centered, male chauvinist, full of himself pig, and a lot of those trends are the product of the Italian culture, but he ultimate choice of ending that way was his, since not all in Italy are as disgraceful as he's been..

    November 10, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
  10. Ranger44

    Flex, you know nothing about Italian culture. If you knew it, you wouldn't write such prejudist and ignorant comment.

    November 10, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  11. Ryan

    What a joke of an article! The "Main Stream" media have been after Berlusconi for years. Especially the Economist and Murdoch media. Probably because Berlusconi's Mediaset company is the only real rival to Murdoch's Sky Italia in Italy. It is really quite pathetic to blame Berlusconi's love life for the economic problems in Italy. Your accusation he was spending more time checking out female world leaders than concentrating on the financial/economic crisis is sickening. You should be fired from CNN immediately! RESIGN!

    November 10, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  12. Jenny

    Congratulations on your article! Berlusconi may be rich and powerful but he is a disgrace to himself and his country. I hope his countrymen become more mature and elect more worthy leaders

    November 10, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  13. JoeProfet

    @ferruccio, Totalmente d'accordo con te!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  14. epicjourney

    Makes me wonder about Herman Cain?

    November 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  15. Anon.

    oh fabulous – out with the fascist right wing and in with the communist leftists. This is JUST what Italy needs.

    Italians will never change: they worship Berlusconi but complain incessantly when nothing gets done.

    November 10, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
  16. Betty

    Useless article to say the least. Cannot believe someone that writes such rubbish is a journalist.
    Ciao Italiani! Non vi arrabiate... Siamo tutti un po' nella merda :)))

    November 10, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  17. Leonard

    Berlusconi diddled while Rome burned

    November 10, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  18. ferruccio

    Grazie JoeProfet, io sono state ben 3 volte nel tuo meraviglioso pese, se mi vuoi vedere vai su

    November 10, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  19. Cindy

    This is what happens when the voters don't take guys like him serious. This man has been in the headlines for years with his stalking of women, from meter maids to heads of state and they looked the other way. Now Rome is about to burn. Could this happen in the USA? It seems a lot of americans are ok with looking the other way also!

    November 10, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  20. sortakinda

    Berlusconi to Alec Baldwin: "What, am I Italian?"

    November 10, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  21. Joe

    To big to fail, to big to jail!!!

    November 10, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  22. Maximus

    If I were in a meeting with either of them, I'd ogle them too.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  23. Tony

    Women like a powerful man... His job is stressful... everybody needs a little relief.

    November 10, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  24. stanknasty

    @Jenny: you should look at JFK and Bill Clinton with all the women they slept are such a hypo.crite!!!! Look at your own backyard before you judge someone else... also Bill Clinton was impeached, he gropped and raped alot of women... he was a duchebag and yet no american journalist takes the log out of their eyes.... the American Media and the Left Wing Media in Europe are pathetic hypo.crites.

    November 10, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  25. stanknasty

    People complain about Berlusconi but there are thousands of women waiting for a chance to be with him because he is powerful, rich and a media mogul...women throw themselves at him...he has banged at his bunga bunga parties more than anyone else... this is how women get into positions in high places... they can't do it any other way...they have to bang their way into it... just like alot of these american journalists in CNN/FOX/ABC,CBS, NBS....

    November 10, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  26. Anonymous

    To avoid a "worst case scenario" plan B:

    Why can't the EU get more countries to join them like England, etc. AND THEN mirror the greatest if not the best example of a true democratic, one currency nation like USA? The EU countries can elect their own federal leader in the ECB rather than the "member' nations picking the leader. And THEY "representing and elected by the people" would have the ultimate decision making, legislating, printing currency power...???

    November 11, 2011 at 7:24 pm |
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