In the days and weeks that preceded the G8 event, many in the media have done everything possible to undermine the reputation of the Italian government and above all, that of its prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. In particular, Berlusconi’s foes have raised a storm over his personal life, after photographs caught the images of some topless young women in his villa in Sardinia, along with allegations of relations with escort girls. For his part, Berlusconi dismissed the allegations as “all lies” and politically motivated.
On the eve of the summit, the daily L’UnitÃ , the official newspaper of the former Communist Party and now of the Italian Democratic Party, filled the first page with a gigantic title dedicated to Berlusconi that read “The Intruder”, meaning that the Prime Minister was not worthy of hosting such a prestigious event.
Much to their disappointment, the G8 summit was a success or, at least, was much more conclusive than any of the previous summits. Important agreements were reached in the fields of climate control, measures against economic crisis and a firm commitment to raise funds to fight poverty.
In late April, the Italian Prime Minister had announced that the summit of wealthy nations would take place in in the city of L’Aquila as a gesture of solidarity with the survivors of the April 6 earthquake that hit the town. It was a very risky move, but it paid off in the public opinion.
However, the meeting was also a setting for different kinds of encounters and useless speeches. US President Obama made again his latest show to reach out to controversial leaders trying to “improve the United State’s image in the world”. Consequently, after shaking hands few months ago with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, he shook hands in L’Aquila with Libyan ruler Qaddafi.
Washington TV reported that while Obama just smiled, looked friendly and shook hands with the Libyan dictator, at least “British PM Gordon Brown urged Qaddafi to allow the man convicted of bombing the Pan Am plane to serve the remainder of his sentence in Tripoli. The man is now terminally ill.” It is however remarkable, that while many in the media attacked Berlusconi few weeks ago for having invited Qaddafi, none of them said a word about Obama’s shaking hands with the Libyan ruler.
The forum also hosted statements on Israel, that as always do not stay in touch with reality. The G8 leaders have actually urged Israel “to lift the blockade imposed on the Gaza and immediately open Gaza Strip crossings”. The request seems not to take into consideration the security of Israeli civilians. Furthermore, the G8 urged Israel again to “quickly resume direct negotiations on all open questions, in line with the Roadmap, the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the Madrid principles”, without taking into consideration that it was the Palestinian leadership who recently refused Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offers.
During the summit, the G8 in a joint communique attacked "arbitrary restrictions on or intimidation of" UK embassy employees in Iran. These are strong and nice words, but until now the G8 did not make any serious move against the regime in Teheran; they abandoned the protesters and made the mullahs feel stronger than ever.
However, all in all, the G8 summit was a success, especially for Italy and for its Prime Minister. The meeting in L’Aquila was the most peaceful G8 summit in history, as no-global and troublemaker groups were allowed to organise themselves thanks to pre-emptive intervention of the Italian police.
The foreign press, notably in Britain, tried to deride Berlusconi in the run-up to the summit, quoting unnamed Western leaders as saying the organization had been chaotic. But US President Barack Obama praised Italy’s “strong leadership,” and German Chancellor Angela Merkel considered that the G8 had enjoyed “a nice, well organised summit.” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper also said that “You wouldn’t know Berlusconi is 72, he is remarkably energetic and a wonderful host.”
But the prophets of misfortune are not giving up. To them, Berlusconi is not an ordinary political opponent but “the enemy”, somebody to be fought by acts of resistance. These acts also include the judiciary, which through a group of magistrates called the “Red Gowns”, has tried for many years to nail down the Prime Minister with different kinds of accusations. Berlusconi has always come out of these accusations clean, but the virulence of the attacks has certainly poisoned political life in Italy and, as a consequence, political positions have begun to radicalize.
The most vocal politician in this regard is Antonio Di Pietro, a former magistrate, now the head of a populist party, Italia dei Valori, who went so far as to buy a full page of the International Herald Tribune appealing to the international community “to prevent our democracy in Italy being turned into a de facto dictatorship”. Of course, the timing of the appeal was while the G8 summit was in progress.
However, recently Berlusconi’s popularity has risen as he managed last year to win parliamentary elections, and, just last month, led his party to victory in the European elections as well as in a series of local elections. In the press conference that closed the summit, a journalist from La Repubblica, the most popular daily of the Left, asked the Prime Minister: “you said that my newspaper has been trying to undermine the G8 summit; having seen the outcome of the summit, are you still of the view that we intended to damage you?” Berlusconi answered: “The summit was a success only because you didn’t reach your goals”.