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Europe, France, Germany, Greece, Italy

The Plot to Topple Berlusconi

Much as many were relieved to see the back of Silvio Berlusconi as Italy’s PM during the height of the Eurozone crisis in 2011, the revelations by Tim Geithner should have all democrats including those on the Left deeply worried.

EU officials approached the former US Treasury Secretary in November of that year with a plan to overthrow the billionaire media magnate, Geithner recounts in his new published book  ‘Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises’.

“They wanted us to refuse to back IMF loans to Italy as long as he refused to go,” he writes. Geithner told the conspiring Eurocrats them there was no question of obliging. Although the US has quite a record of overthrowing elected governments, in this case he said that much as it might be desirable: “We can’t have his blood on our hands”.

This plot should not be of enormous surprise, as there was plenty of speculation about backroom dealing, supported by an unprecedented campaign of financial terror by the bond markets against what is the world’s third largest debtor.

And there’s no doubt that Berlusconi was presiding over ‘a rancorous, unstable coalition’ and ‘increasingly distracted’ by the allegations sexual relations with Karim el-Mahroug, the Moroccan nightclub dancer, as the FT puts it.
But he was ‘still the sitting prime minister and his government was legitimate under the rules of Italy’s parliamentary democracy’. In the view of Britain’s conservative Daily Telegraph, Silvio’s ouster was a ‘constitutional scandal of the first order’.

This is not the first such revelation. Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, Italy’s former member on the European Central Banks’s executive board, suggested in his book last summer that the move to topple Berlusconi (and replace him with ex-EU commissioner Mario Monti) was decided after he began threatening a return to the country’s national currency, the Lira, in meetings with EU leaders.

And Monti himself confirmed in an interview with Financial Times in February  that he was at the centre of a secret plan to replace Berlusconi months before he was deposed. A plan run by Giorgio Napolitano, who as the country’s President is essentially ‘Europe”s – as well as America’s – man in Rome.

Part of the Plan B team for Italy’s government was Corrado Passera, a top banker who was to become the minister for economic development in Monti’s government. ‘He was given the green light in the summer by Mr Napolitano to prepare a confidential 196-page document containing his own proposals for a wide-ranging “shock therapy” for the Italian economy, according to the FT. The classic IMF blueprint ‘went through four successive drafts as Mr Napolitano and Mr Passera discussed it back and forth that summer and into the autumn.’

Also last week in a three-part account based on six months worth of interviews with mid-level bureaucrats up to prime ministers involved in the sharpest moments of the Eurozone crisis, the FT  revealed more on how another elected European leader was taken out. By EU officials and fellow governments France and Germany, out of deference to their skins and their banks (heavily exposed to Eurozone ‘periphery’ debt) as well as to the US (worried about the economic impact of Euro implosion on the US economy and how that would affect a forthcoming election).

This plot took place during a G20 Summit in Cannes that same November 2011, in the wake of Georges Papandreou’s ‘shock’ announcement that he was planning to let the Greek people decide, through a referendum, on the brutal and highly counter-productive austerity terms of his country’s IMF-EU-ECB ‘bail-out’. The Greek premier was rounded on by Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s then President and summit host, supported by Germany and other EU countries. The European Commission boss Jose Manuel Barroso then proceeded to orchestrate the elimination of Greece’s elected PM and his replacement him with former banker Lucas Papademos, who was to head a three-party ‘interim’  government including both Papandreou’s Pasok and the conservative opposition New Democracy.

Brussels-based journalist Peter Spiegel writes:

‘Mr Barroso had called Mr Samaras, the Greek opposition leader, from his hotel before the meeting. He knew Mr Samaras was desperate to avoid the referendum. Mr Samaras told Mr Barroso he was now willing to sign on to a national unity government between his New Democracy party and Pasok – something he had assiduously avoided for months in the hopes he could secure the premiership on his own. Mr Barroso summoned his cabinet and other commission staff to his suite… to plot strategy. He decided he would not tell Mr Sarkozy or Ms Merkel of the conversation but according to people in the room, they began discussing names of possible technocrats to take over from Mr Papandreou in a national unity government. The first person to come to Mr Barroso’s lips was Lucas Papademos, the Greek economist who had left his post as vice-president of the ECB a year earlier. Within a week, Mr Papademos would have the job.’

To be sure, formal parliamentary processes were respected in both Italy and Greece. The presidents appointed the new leaders in each of the two countries. But it remains that Mario Monti, the former Goldman Sachs advisor and European Commissioner, and Papademos were imposed in what were ‘coups d’etat in spirit’, if not in constitutional law, as the Telegraph puts it.

Silvio has called for a parliamentary inquiry.  “It’s a clear violation of democratic rules and an assault on the sovereignty of our country. The plot is an extremely serious news which confirms what I’ve been saying for a long time,” he said. But the man who for twenty years has dominated Italian politics won’t get an investigation. He’s not the force that he was, his Forza Italia Party trailing 3rd in the polls behind PM Renzi’s Democrats and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement.

Grillo, a comedian-turned-politician on a mission to destroy a wholly discredited political class, has previously cried scandal about Napolitano’s role in his political enemies’ downfall, and demanded he be impeached. Renzi’s Democrats, a centre-left formation, have shown no such concern, despite their name.

All political parties and movements that profess to be democratic – and that includes the strangely mute extraparliamentary radical left – should be enraged by these revelations.

Even if it means lining up with Silvio, who has no claim to democratic or patriotic credentials, having won three elections by virtue of his vast wealth and private TV monopoly, and a tax mega fraud conviction to boot. However,  to stay silent is to leave the ground open to the resurgent euroskeptic far right to claim they are the true defenders of national sovereignty, despite the fact that they favour rule by corporations, rather than the people. And this is something they are currently doing exceptionally well, as this week’s European Parliament elections are set to confirm.

This is not just about justice and truth about past foreign intervention and usurpation of popular power by local and foreign elites – although on this matter we could start, in Italy and Greece, all the way back to the imposition by the British and US of fascists and generals in Athens in the 1950-1970s, and the effective ban on communists from the halls of power in Rome until the fall of the Berlin Wall.

This is also about the future. For the crisis in Europe’s Single Currency zone is certainly not over. Italy and Portugal economies are once again contracting, France is stagnating again, and ‘lowflation’-deflation means the debts of Europe’s South will spiral ever higher.

And when the next Euro-crisis comes, you can bet there’s be another bid to topple a democratically elected leader, to save the big banks and the ruling classes’ Europroject.

 

About revoltingeurope

Writer on Europe's Left, trade union and social movements @tomgilltweets or @revoltingeurope

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