- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2001

The recent electoral success of Silvo Berlusconis center-right party signals a new departure in Italian and European politics. Mr. Berlusconis conservative agenda promises to revolutionize Italian and European politics. He has promised to cut taxes, trim the bloated government, lift regulations from small business, reform pensions and education, and provide competitive bidding for public sector contracts. If Mr. Berlusconi succeeds, he will set an example of effective conservative rule in a country whose economy is stifled by red tape and bureaucracy. Presently, only Spain and Austria have conservative governments. Mr. Berlusconis leadership can potentially challenge the facile statist assumptions which dominate the European political and intellectual elite.

His victory is especially important for the Bush administration, which will no longer face united European opposition to American policies. The Italian leader has stated: "I want to make Italy America´s biggest ally in Europe." For example, Mr. Berlusconi endorses President Bush´s plans for missile defense, despite the reservations of all the other European leaders. Hence, Italy might herald an emerging conservative bloc of European countries which are sympathetic to the ideology of Mr. Bush.

The elections of both Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Bush reveal the limitations of the "Third Way" that is, the left´s ability to capture power in the 1990s by advocating fiscal responsibility combined with social liberalism. The success of both men stems from their ability to package their agendas with inspiring optimism. Mr. Bush´s "compassionate conservatism" champions limited government while also focusing on the need to help the disadvantaged. Mr. Berlusconi celebrates the free market´s ability to generate wealth and prosperity in sharp contrast to the traditional, right-wing Italian suspicion of capitalism. Messrs. Bush and Berlusconi have infused conservatism with renewed vigor.

Mr. Berlusconi has been compared to Ronald Reagan for his sunny celebrity style and free market ideology. Less flatteringly, he has been compared to Napoleon for his audacity and to Mussolini for his right-wing populism. Evidently he has unique flair and originality. Even the criminal charges which hang over him have not yet disqualified him from holding office since many Italians view him as a hero who was able to forge a financial empire by evading the nation´s burdensome tax code.

If Mr. Berlusconi can elude the accusations of corruption, he might be able to put an end to Italy´s fractious politics, reform its economy, undermine the statist ideology which dominates the European continent and provide the United States with a vital ally. He is a short man with a tall order. Let us hope he can rise to the challenge.


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