Stressed-out cabinet to unwind in Tuscan retreat

Italy's new grand coalition cabinet will hold a two-day retreat in a former monastery in Tuscany this weekend as it comes under pressure after less than a month in power, the government said on Thursday.

Stressed-out cabinet to unwind in Tuscan retreat
Italy's new Prime Minister Enrico Letta (C) delivers a speech next to his ministers on April 30th at the senate in Rome. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Ministers will have to pay their way at what is now a luxurious conference centre near Siena, the Abbazia di Spineto built in the 11th century. 

The closed-door consultations, hosted by Prime Minister Enrico Letta with 21 other ministers present, will start on Sunday and wrap up on Monday, the government said in a statement.

Letta said he wanted a "changing room" atmosphere at the retreat – like a football team.

The 46-year-old premier, who is one of the youngest prime ministers in Europe, faces a difficult balancing act in holding together his Democratic Party and its historic rival, Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party.

Ominously, the day the government was inaugurated on April 28th was marred by a shooting by a lone gunman outside the prime minister's office in which three people were injured.

Letta, a former youth political activist, has long been involved with the think tank world and is fond of US-style retreats, including by his own group VeDro which holds football tournaments during its summer gatherings.

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Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy’s elections

Scandal-plagued former premier Silvio Berlusconi said he plans to return to Italy's parliament in upcoming elections, almost a decade after being forced out over a conviction for tax fraud.

Berlusconi to run for Senate in Italy's elections

“I think that, in the end, I will be present myself as a candidate for the Senate, so that all these people who asked me will finally be happy,” the 85-year-old billionaire and media mogul told Rai radio on Wednesday.

After helping bring down Prime Minister Mario Draghi last month by withdrawing its support, Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia party looks set to return to power in elections on September 25th.

It is part of a right-wing coalition led by Giorgia Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy, which includes Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League.

Berlusconi brushed off reports he is worried about the possibility of Meloni – whose motto is “God, country and family” – becoming prime minister.

Noting the agreement between the parties that whoever wins the most votes chooses the prime minister, he said: “If it is Giorgia, I am sure she will prove capable of the difficult task.”

READ ALSO: Italy’s hard right set for election victory after left-wing alliance collapses

But he urged voters to back his party as the moderate voice in the coalition, emphasising its European, Atlanticist stance.

“Every extra vote in Forza Italia will strengthen the moderate, centrist profile of the coalition,” he said in a separate interview published Wednesday in the Il Giornale newspaper.

League party leader Matteo Salvini (L), Fratelli d’Italia leader Giorgia Meloni and Forza Italia leader Silvio Berlusconi pictured in October 2021. The trio look set to take power following snap elections in September. Photo by CLAUDIO PERI / ANSA / AFP

Berlusconi was Italy’s prime minister three times in the 1990s and 2000s, but has dominated public life for far longer as head of a vast media and sports empire.

The Senate expelled him in November 2013 following his conviction for tax fraud, and he was banned from taking part in a general election for six years.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, however, and threw his hat in the ring earlier this year to become Italy’s president — although his candidacy was predictably short-lived.

Berlusconi remains a hugely controversial figure  in Italy and embroiled in the many legal wrangles that have characterised his long career.

He remains on trial for allegedly paying guests to lie about his notorious “bunga-bunga” sex parties while prime minister.

Berlusconi has also suffered a string of health issues, some related to his hospitalisation for coronavirus in September 2020, after which he said he had almost died.