Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi listens during a news conference at Villa Gernetto in Gerno near Milan
Italy's former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi listens during a news conference at Villa Gernetto in Gerno near Milan (Reuters)

Silvio Berlusconi's showmanlike comeback may have found an unexpected aficionado in the most well respected financial paper in the world - the Financial Times.

The FT, which once garnished an enflamed anti-Silvio editorial with the title "In God's name, go!", is endorsing the 76-year-old media tycoon and his anti-austerity programme in the column, "Politics have burst the Monti bubble".

The author, Wolfgang Münchau, dubs Mario Monti's technocrat government a "bubble", a wizard's trick that, far from attracting long-lasting foreign and domestic investments, has started to deflate the economy and push it into a deep depression.

Perhaps surprisingly, Münchau's recipe to fix Italy resembles step-by-step Berlusconi's aggressive electoral programme.

"Anti-austerity but not anti-Europe; anti-Merkel but not anti-Germans; anti-heavy taxes and anti-Monti: Berlusconi's plan is more or less the content of the FT editorial," claimed Roberto D'Alimonte, professor of politics at Luiss-Guido Carli university.

To undo Monti's work seems a priority for Münchau, as he claims that the tax burden on Italian families has doubled this month and killed the pre-Christmas sales boom.

"The tax rises and spending cuts are having a counterproductive effect," he says. "By reducing both debt and growth, the debt-to-GDP ratio has increased in the short term and I doubt that it will fall by much in the long run."

In this framework, standing up to Angela Merkel - something that Monti, a well-known figure in the international elite, was unwilling or incapable of doing - is crucial to the FT columnist.

"A technocratic prime minister cannot be expected to produce a credible counter-threat if the answer is no," he claims.

German-centric policy

Echoing Münchau, Berlusconi has already stepped up his anti-European rhetoric, accusing Monti's government of dragging Italy into recession by following a "German-centric" policy.

"The Monti government has followed the Germano-centric policies which Europe has tried to impose on other states and it has created a crisis situation which is much worse than where we were when we were in government," he said, adding that the difference between Italian bonds and comparable German bunds are just a "scam" used to bring down his government a year ago.

Münchau seems to regret that Berlusconi did not say such a thing when he was prime minister and it is true that Italians have had enough of the flamboyant ex-premier. However, it is also true that "his diagnosis of Italy's problems since he left has been spot-on," the editorialist says.

Battle for the Senate

Italy's Prime Minister Monti gestures at the World Policy Conference in Cannes
Italy's Prime Minister Monti gestures at the World Policy Conference in Cannes (Reuters)

Nonetheless, according to some, Berlusconi will not be able to keep attacking Monti for long.

"It will not be so easy for him to blame Monti, both because he supported him until now in the parliament and because the anti-European arguments will be difficult to manage," said Giovanni Orsina, professor of history at Luiss-Guido Carli University in Rome.

There is also the possibility that Monti himself decides to leap into the political arena in the next elections at the forefront of a centrist alliance.

"Monti's decision to run in the election as the leader of a centrist coalition is quite plausible," says Orsina. "He can help doubling the votes for the centre, which starts from around 10 percent."

The professor defended his track record, saying his government had made great progress in the short term in tracking the debt crisis. He hinted that he wants to continue to influence ideas in whatever role he fills.

FT reports that Monti is in talks with centrist groups that are begging him to stand in Italy's elections early next year. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the head of Ferrari who launched a political movement last month, and Pier Ferdinando Casini, leader of the centrist Catholic UDC party, are among those pushing for the technocrat to become a campaigning politician.

So will it be Monti vs Berlusconi, then?

D'Alimonte thinks that the electoral war will be decided by a single battle in the Italian Senate.

"Berlusconi did not want to change the electoral law for this reason," he said. "The law allows him to choose faithful candidates for his party's list [closed list] and polarise the parliament in two factions - him and the 'communists'."

Known as the "pigsty", Italy's electoral law is at the centre of political instability in the euro's third largest economy.

The pigsty replaced a previous law that awarded three quarters of seats to candidates who won majorities in individual districts. But the system produced more fragmentation because majority systems only historically provide stability in countries such as Britain with its once-established two-party set-up.

"It robs the electorate of the power to choose candidates directly, voting instead for a fixed list selected by party leaders under a proportional system," says a Reuters article about the pigsty. "This enables the leaders to select compliant party hacks or favourites".

Back in 2006, despite all polls claiming the opposite, Berlusconi's House of Freedoms coalition won enough seats at the Senate to hijack the centre-left government led by Romano Prodi, who had an overwhelming majority in the lower house. History may repeat itself.

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