"We need someone from the [Italian] government to go to Brussels and tell those gentlemen, ‘We are in this situation because of your damn austerity policies. We must put things back in their place. From now on, you can forget about the fiscal pact and the deficit limit of 3% of GDP. Do you want to throw us out of the single currency? Go ahead. Do you want to throw us out of the EU? Well, we’d like to remind you that we pay €18bn a year [into the EU budget] and only get €10bn back’. Who would throw us out?"As usual when Berlusconi is involved, these incendiary remarks form part of a broader communication strategy. Following his party's poor showing in the latest round of mayoral elections, Berlusconi wants to make clear to his electorate that he is still dictating the agenda to Italy's coalition government - and that he means business when it comes to keeping his flagship electoral promises, be it about scrapping a property tax on first homes or putting an end to EU-mandated austerity.
However, this time the explicit invite to ignore EU deficit rules is in clear contradiction with the line taken by Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta so far: Italy does want an easing of austerity at the EU level, but will keep its deficit below 3% of GDP and respect all its commitments. Therefore, Berlusconi's words risk shaking the coalition government at home, and undermining Italy's credibility vis-à-vis its eurozone partners.
It will be extremely interesting to see if, once in Brussels next week, Mr Letta pretends his coalition partner Berlusconi never said those words or takes Il Cavaliere's advice on board and adopts a tougher anti-austerity stance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the other Northern eurozone leaders.