Silvio Berlusconi is planning his comeback in Europe. Thus far, Brussels isn't taking the idea too seriously. But his appeal at the ECJ and a political rehabilitation in Italy might make it possible.
Those who know Silvio Berlusconi won't be surprised that he is planning a comeback on an international platform. At a meeting with his re-established political party, Forza Italia, in January, the former Italian prime minister announced his plans to run for office during European elections in May 2014 - despite the fact that a law forbids him from doing exactly that.
The so-called "Legge Severino" is a law prohibiting convicts to run for a post for six years. And then there's the Mediaset verdict imposing a two-year-ban from public office; both obstacles in the way of the former premier, who was convicted on tax fraud charges and is currently facing more recent charges of bribery.
Last chance: ECJ
For a while now, Berlusconi's lawyers have been working on a plan to circumvent the "Severino" law, according to reports in the Italian media. That plan leads directly to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxemburg, where Berlusconi has already filed for appeal proceedings.
Berlusconi pleads that there exists neither a Europe-wide law nor a precedent forbidding a convict from running for office. The former premier thus hopes the ban to run for office will be suspended. Whether or not the ECJ agrees with that line of reasoning, its ruling might not be passed in time for Berlusconi to still participate in the European elections.
But Berlusconi wouldn't be Berlusconi if he didn't already have a backup plan - and one which sounds even more adventurous: His path to Brussels might meander through other member states. Italian media have reported that Malta and Bulgaria have agreed to let Berlusconi come forward as a candidate for the European Parliament. But would that even be possible?
"The answer is no if he were to try to simply run for office abroad, and yes, if he were to take the nationality of another member state," said Stefano Polli of the Ansa news agency in Italy.
Or, at least that's the theory. "The fact is, it's difficult to judge the situation because something like this has never occurred in Europe before."
A counterforce to Germany
Berlusconi's supporters think it's unlikely that the former premier will campaign for another EU member state.
"I doubt that Berlusconi would do that," said Sandro Biasotti, an Italian parliamentarian for Berlusconi's Forza Italia party. "He is too devoted to Italy. He loves his country. We'll be hoping for the European Court of Justice until the very last minute, but time is running out."
Biasotti said it makes sense to be campaigning for the European elections with Berlusconi. "After all, he is the head of our party." But until recently Berlusconi was known as an EU skeptic. "We just want to be a counterforce to the harsh EU policies regarding the crisis management," Biasotti said.
The goal is to be a leading force, particularly against Germany, that can be looked at with respect but also with suspicion. "Germany has had a dominant position over the last years," Biasotti said, adding that the position has been too dominant.
"Italy cannot adhere to the criteria of the stability pact, and neither can Greece, France, and Spain. That means recession for us. But we can't die just to keep the stability pact." In order to finally get out of the crisis Biasotti demands loosening the criteria of the stability pact. "Even Germany has to realize that."
Forza Italia in European People's Party
It's rather unlikely that Berlusconi will personally make it into the European Parliament. What's not unlikely at all, however, is that he will have a determining influence on politics in Europe - even if just from behind the scenes.
That has to do with Berlusconi's rehabilitation in Italy due to his arrangement with the new party secretary of the left-wing Partito Democratico party, which brought him back into the middle of the domestic political scene.
And that's also what could help him and his Forza Italia party to get significant votes in European Parliament. According to the newest polls, Forza Italia is one of the strongest parties when it comes to European elections.
But how has Brussels taken the Berlusconi news?
"We didn't even talk about it here, because no one who has been convicted to more than four years can run for office in the European Parliament," said Erminia Mazzoni, an Italian Member of the European Parliament for the European People's Party, which Forza Italia would belong to. "Here in Brussels we are far away from such political gossip. What does make us think," she said, "is the question of where Forza Italia will be integrated within the European People's Party:"
After all, Berlusconi has re-established a party that is based on principles that are not in line with the values and principles of the European People's Party, Mazzoni says. The party also doesn't make a secret out of its anti-European stance.
"I doubt that Berlusconi will submit to the political line of the European People's Party," Mazzoni said.