Silvio Berlusconi’s scandal-ridden premiership ended in ignominy as he was forced to hide from a jeering crowd in Rome after handing in his resignation at a late-night meeting with President Giorgio Napolitano. His departure followed a historic vote in parliament that paved the way for a new government tasked with shoring up the ailing economy.
Berlusconi was forced to leave the presidential residence through a side entrance, to chants of “buffoon, buffoon” from thousands of demonstrators outside. The news agency Ansa reported that he told aides: “This is something that deeply saddens me.” The protesters, including a choir singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah, rejoiced at his departure.
The 75-year-old billionaire brought down the curtain on a government that has become plagued by scandals and seemed increasingly helpless in the face of the economic storm that has taken his country and the euro to the brink of catastrophe. The dramatic end of his 17-year domination of Italian politics came as the lower house of parliament approved a package of savage cuts and stimulus measures demanded by the EU to trim Italy’s massive €1.9 trillion debt.
After losing his majority in the house, a weakened Berlusconi had pledged to resign as soon as he had pushed the reform package through parliament. The reforms were passed by 380 votes to 26. Opposition parties did not participate.
The package was passed as José Manuel Barroso, president of the European commission, issued a sharp rebuke to Eurosceptics in the UK who want to use the crisis to disengage from the European Union. Writing in the Observer, he said all members of the EU need to unite and “advance together”.
Despite support eroding within his own ranks, Berlusconi was greeted by cheers of “Silvio, Silvio”, and given a standing ovation by his party as he took his seat in the chamber.
Napolitano is expected to nominate the former EU commissioner Mario Monti to head a “technocratic” government. Berlusconi will hand his successor the unenviable task of imposing measures such as a rise in VAT and the pension age, higher fuel prices and the sale of state assets on a nation that only half-believes it needs them.