Monday, May 14, 2001

Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large for The Washington Times, interviewed Italian billionaire and candidate for prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in Milan, Italy, on Tuesday. Here are selected parts of the interview:

Question: Is it realistic to think you can bring about constitutional changes that would give Italy something akin to a presidential system comparable to what de Gaulle did with the French Fifth Republic in 1958, or to the American Constitution?

Answer: Neither one is my objective for Italy. My model is the Swiss cantonal system, total devolution from the bureaucratic center. We have had 58 governments in 50 years. Our system is obsolete, totally inadequate, full of cobwebs and corruption, and simply doesn´t work. On top of that, we have an anti-capitalist leftist judiciary that was slowly infiltrated by the Communist Party during the Cold War, and its successor. It was a classic case of the long march of communism through our institutions. And since the end of the Cold War, they have continued, with different political labels, their attempt to seize Italy´s cultural power.

Q: What is your immediate action plan — first 100 days?

A: For starters, we will make reinvested profits tax deductible for businesses and eliminate the remaining 4 percent estate tax. We will abrogate such petty bureaucratic annoyances that prevent our citizens from remodeling their homes without approval from a lethargic, cumbersome bureaucracy that is like barnacles on a ship. The laws we will introduce in parliament will slash taxes, reducing the state´s take from 43 percent of (gross domestic product) to 33 percent. Our program is designed to promote the creation of 1.5 million jobs and boost growth by 4 percent a year. Education and the judiciary are long overdue for a major overhaul. We will also launch a major infrastructure modernization and expansion program.

Q: There has been considerable trans-Atlantic drift since the end of the Cold War, a drift that appears to be speeding up since the Bush administration came to power four months ago. What initiatives would Italy take under your leadership to put the relationship between both sides of the Atlantic back on track?

A: The decoupling of the Atlantic alliance, which some elements of the European left seem to favor, would be geopolitical folly. That is not to say we shouldn´t look at future security arrangements for the next 50 years. (Russian President Vladimir) Putin made important overtures to (NATO Secretary-General George) Robertson last February for a joint approach to missile defense to cope with threats from what Putin referred to for the first time as “rogue” states. At the same time, the Bush administration changed the nomenclature from national missile defense to missile defense. It was that word “national” that frightened NATO allies. It sounded as if the U.S. was considering disengaging from its commitments behind a new Maginot line. We now know this is not the case. And since Russia, America and Europe are moving toward a common perception about future threats, we should try to work out a common approach and system. Even though some of the players are off-key, we´re all singing from the same security sheet.

Q: The Economist … said in its April 28 issue that Berlusconi is not fit to lead the government of any country, least of all one of the world´s richest democracies. The article included a laundry list that your detractors put together, ranging from money laundering to complicity in murder to connections with the Mafia to bribing of politicians and judges. To which you say …?

A: Shameless and shameful. Libelous rubbish put together by left-wing magistrates, journalists and politicians who are petrified of my intention to renovate Italy and retire the old guard, and who can´t stand the thought of Italy being governed by a right-of-center government. … I have been acquitted or charges dropped in five court cases. And my lawyers are now putting together a major libel suit against the Economist.

Q: You are Italy´s richest man, with a fortune estimated at $14 billion in every area of finance, commerce, publishing, communications and football. As prime minister, you will also control 90 percent of all national TV broadcasting (your own networks plus the state-controlled channels). How will you avoid constant conflicts of interest?

A: When you own many businesses, including TV networks run by your own children, you just don´t put them on the auction block and walk away. America´s secretary of defense was given an extension of 90 days to find a way out of complex partnerships. In my case, a blind trust would seem to be the best way of separating my role as prime minister from my businesses.

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