In what is widely considered a shocking move, a visibly shaken Silvio Berlusconi stood before the Senate in Italy on Wednesday and announced that his center-right party would support the fragile coalition government, a dramatic reversal after the former prime minister had spent days vowing to bring down the government and force new elections.
The move by Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party allowed the prime minister, Enrico Letta, to easily win a confidence vote in the Italian Senate Wednesday afternoon. Mr. Letta was expected to win a similar vote in the lower house of Parliament, where he commands a safe majority, later in the day.
“Putting together the expectations and the fact that Italy needs a government that produces institutional and structural reforms, we have decided to vote for the confidence motion, not without internal pain,” Mr. Berlusconi said.
The latest in political crisis in Rome came when Berlusconi threatened to withdraw his ministers from Letta’s government, which consists of a fragile left-right coalition charged with implementing painful structural reforms. Being convicted of tax fraud, being almost out of legal options for an appeal, and facing a potential ban from politics, Berlusconi hoped to give new life to his political career by toppling the government and forcing new elections.
However, he was headed off by a rebellion inside his own center-right party, a humiliating turn for the man who has occupied the center of Italian political life for the better of the last decade. Silvio Berlusconi, who has dominated Italy’s center-right for two decades, was confronted with an unexpected rebellion among many, with some saying publicly they would vote in support of Mr. Letta’s government. Earlier in the day, there had been reports that the center-right would split, though it was unclear if Mr. Berlusconi’s surprise announcement could hold the party together.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Letta made a 46-minute address to the Italian Senate that was broadcast on national television. Mr. Letta’s government was midwifed into existence five months ago by Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, after unresolved national elections. It was an unlikely coalition of Italy’s center-left and the center-right, led by Mr. Berlusconi.
Mr. Letta said that the credibility of Italy’s political class was at stake, not only with Italian citizens, but also with other Europeans. He argued that european neighbors fear the political instability in Rome could bring problems for the euro zone. He noted that the period when the Italian republic enjoyed political stability — from 1947 to 1968 — was also coincided with an era or rapid economic growth and public optimism.
Now, Mr. Letta said, a “new” Europe is taking form out of the euro crisis and Italy could not be stuck in a “bunker” of petty, partisan politics. The country, he said, needed a stable, collaborative government to tackle structural reforms on election laws and financial issues.
“The Europe of the next 15 years is being formed now,” he said. “We can’t confront this with an absence of leadership.”