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Europe

European Press Review: Italy’s Checks and Balances

The decision by an Italian court to rescind a law providing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi with sweeping immunity dominates the major papers in Europe on Wednesday.

Writing in the Italian capital Rome, one commentator in the La Republicca newspaper observed that the elections that Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi won quite legitimately, do not relieve him of the need to respect the law. Berlusconi will no doubt be tempted to overturn the rules once again, citing a mandate from the people which he interprets as absolute. That is one way to destroy oneself -- one destroys institutions. The only way Berlusconi can survive this disaster is by sticking to a straight and narrow path and obeying the law, the paper concluded.

In Switzerland, the Berner Zeitung asked, rhetorically, if Berlusconi will have to reckon with a conviction, or perhaps even a prison sentence. No, the paper concluded, the duel between the judiciary and the head of government has not been brought to an end by the lifting of immunity. This power struggle is not over. But Berlusconi does face threats from within his coalition government. Gianfranco Fini is insisting on a cabinet reshuffle and Umberto Bossi is threatening to leave the coalition. Berlusconi is still trying to negotiate and act as the mediator, but he increasingly he regards himself as a victim of conspiracy surrounded by traitors. On board his yacht off the coast of Sardinia, he must feel like the captain of the Titanic, the paper wrote.

A German paper the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung commented that this ruling does not automatically mean that the corruption proceedings against Berlusconi will be allowed to finish. His lawyers have already shown that they are masters in the art of holding up trials. Nonetheless, the end of Berlusconi's period in office is edging closer, the editor’s predicted.

A paper in eastern Germany, the Thuringer Allgemeine, wrote that no other Western leader has had so few scruples in exploiting his power for private purposes. It is reminiscent of the way things are run in Moscow and it is no coincidence that Burlusconi’s relations with Putin appear so cordial, the paper opined.

Britain’s Financial Times led with the end of immunity for Berlusconi on its front page, but in an editorial it peered across the Atlantic. Ex-Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill is still shooting from the hip, the paper wrote. During his brief spell in charge of the Treasury, he rarely understood the virtue of silence, the paper commented. His blunt talk upset Argentineans, Brazilians, Wall Street traders and the financial markets. Now he has aimed his blunderbuss at the man who hired and fired him: President George W. Bush. In his book, O' Neill portrays Bush as disengaged, intellectually shallow and uninterested in economic policy. It is a caricature which will delight those, particularly in Europe, who take a dim view of Bush and his administration. The question is how much credence should one give to a disgruntled ex-employee out to betray confidences and settle scores.