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Italian senators propose Berlusconi expulsion

BREAKING NEWS: An Italian Senate committee on Friday proposed Silvio Berlusconi be expelled from parliament following his criminal conviction, dealing a further humiliating blow to the embattled billionaire. tycoon.

Italian senators propose Berlusconi expulsion
Photo: AFP

The senators, most of them leftist opponents of the three-time former premier, voted in favour of the motion which now has to go to the full Senate
for final approval expected later this month.

After hours of talks, the head of the committee, Dario Stefano, said it had "decided by a majority to propose to the Senate assembly to debate
invalidating the election of senator Berlusconi."

The procedure could add to the political tensions in Italy that threatened to topple the uneasy coalition government earlier this week and sent shockwaves through the financial markets.

Ejection from the Senate would mean Berlusconi being out of parliament for the first time since 1994, when the media and construction magnate first burst onto Italy's political scene.

Renato Schifani, the chief senator from Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, said the committee decision followed "a pre-written script".

"We all knew what would happen, but this is going over every limit of acceptability," Schifani said.

Daniele Capezzone, another pro-Berlusconi lawmaker, said: "The Senate committee has written a very black page for Italian democracy".

Berlusconi's lawyers did not attend Friday's hearing and said in a statement that the committee "does not even appear impartial".

"There is no chance for a defence," they said.

Berlusconi supporters in the committee have tried to stall the proceedings, which began last month.

Berlusconi said on Thursday that the Senate expulsion procedure was part of "an operation to get rid of the leader of the centre-right".

Asked about leaving parliament, he quipped: "I wish! It would mean I could rest a bit".

Berlusconi allies have said he could continue to lead his party even out of parliament but analysts say his failed challenge to Prime Minister Enrico
Letta shows he has lost control of the party.

Berlusconi said on Saturday that he was pulling his ministers out of the government and pushing for early elections but the ministers themselves and
other once loyal allies balked and he was forced into a U-turn in parliament on Wednesday.

Some PDL lawmakers have said they could break off and set up their own grouping in parliament, although the 77-year-old Berlusconi has played down divisions saying: "I see an absolutely united party with some internal differences".

Berlusconi has been a headline act on Italy's political scene for the past two decades, serving as prime minister for nearly 10 years and becoming
notorious for his buffoonish antics on the international stage and sleazy sex scandals.

Italy's supreme court on August 1 turned down Berlusconi's second and final appeal against a tax fraud ruling, handing him his first definitive conviction
in many years of legal woes.

A judge in Milan is due to decide this month whether Berlusconi should serve the one-year prison sentence he received as part of the conviction as
house arrest or community service.

He is also appealing convictions for having sex with an underage prostitute, abuse of office and leaking a confidential police wiretap to damage a political rival and is under investigation for bribing a senator to join his ranks.

Berlusconi's Senate expulsion would happen under a law approved last year with votes also from his own party and aimed at cleaning up Italian politics
by ridding parliament of criminals.

He would also be barred from the next elections.

Berlusconi has now appealed to the European Court of Human Rights over the law, saying that it should not apply to him because his alleged crimes were committed before the legislation was approved.

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ENERGY

What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

After Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas deliveries to Italy on Saturday, many are wondering what consequences the stoppage will have on the country’s energy supplies.

What does the shut-off of Russian gas supplies mean for Italy?

What’s going on?

Over the past three days, Italy has received none of the gas supplies it expected from Russian energy giant Gazprom. 

The impasse officially started last Saturday, when Gazprom announced it would not be able to deliver gas to Italy due to “the impossibility of gas transport through Austria” – Russian gas supplies are delivered to Italy through the Trans Austria Gas pipeline (TAG), which reaches into Italian territory near Tarvisio, Friuli Venezia-Giulia. 

READ ALSO: Russia suspends gas to Italy after ‘problem’ in Austria

Though Gazprom originally attributed the problem to Austrian gas grid operators refusing to confirm “transport nominations”, Austria’s energy regulator E-Control said that the Russian energy mammoth had failed to comply with new contractual agreements whose introduction had been “known to all market actors for months”. 

Additional information about the incident only emerged on Monday, when Claudio Descalzi, the CEO of Italy’s national energy provider ENI, said that supplies had been suspended after Gazprom failed to pay a 20-million-euro guarantee to Austrian gas carrier Gas Connect. 

Descalzi also added that ENI was ready to step in and deposit the guarantee itself in order to unblock deliveries to Italy.

Logo of Italian energy regulator ENI.

Italian energy regulator ENI said it was ready to pay Austrian gas carriers a 20-million-euro guarantee to unblock deliveries. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

READ ALSO: Italy’s ENI ready to pay guarantee to unblock Russian gas

At the time of writing, however, no agreement between ENI, Gas Connect and Gazprom has yet been reached, with the stoppage expected to continue until Wednesday at the very least.

What would an indefinite stoppage mean for Italy’s upcoming winter season?

Though energy giant ENI appears to be confident that a compromise between all the involved parties will be reached shortly, the “indefinite shutdown” of the Nord Stream 1 pipeline in early September is somewhat of a menacing precedent. 

After fears of a long-term supply suspension cropped up over the weekend, outgoing Ecological Transition Minister Roberto Cingolani publicly reassured Italians that “barring any catastrophic events, Italy will have the whole of winter covered”.

It isn’t yet clear what exactly Cingolani meant by “catastrophic”, but the latest available data seem to suggest that Italy wouldn’t have to resort to emergency measures, chiefly gas rationing, should Gazprom halt deliveries indefinitely. 

Italian Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani.

Outgoing Minister for Ecological Transition Roberto Cingolani said that, “barring any catastrophic events”, Italy will have enough gas supplies for the winter. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

In 2021, prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Italy received around 20 billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year, which accounted for about 40 percent of the country’s annual gas imports. 

But, thanks to the supply diversification strategy carried out by outgoing PM Mario Draghi and his cabinet over the past few months, Russian gas currently accounts for, in the words of ENI’s CEO Claudio Descalzi, only “about nine to 10 percent” of Italian gas imports.

READ ALSO: Italy’s Draghi criticises Germany over latest energy plan

Granted, Italy still receives (or, given the current diplomatic deadlock, expects to receive) a non-negligible total of 20 million cubic metres of Russian gas per day. But, should supply lines between Rome and Moscow be shut off until further notice, Italy could fall back on existing gas stocks to meet winter consumption demands. 

Last Wednesday, Cingolani announced that the country had already filled up 90 percent of its national gas stocks – Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas – and the government was now working to bring that number up by an additional two or three percentage points.

These supplies, Cingolani said, are set to give Italy “greater flexibility” with respect to potential “spikes in winter consumption”.

Gas storage station in Loenhout, Belgium.

Italy has nine storage plants for an overall storage capacity of 17 billion cubic metres of gas. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

Finally, Italy is expected to receive an additional four billion cubic metres of gas from North Europe over the winter months – deliveries which will be complemented by the first shipments of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) from Egypt.

Both of these developments are expected to further reinforce Italy’s position in the energy market for the cold season.

What about the long-term consequences of an indefinite stoppage?

An indefinite shut-off of Russian gas supplies would effectively anticipate Italy’s independence from Moscow by nearly two years – Draghi’s plan has always been to wean the country off Russian gas by autumn 2024.

However, the Italian government’s strategy is (or, perhaps, was, as a new government is about to be formed) centred around a gradual phasing out of Russian supplies. As such, although not immediately problematic, a ‘cold-turkey’ scenario might create supply issues for Italy at some point during 2023.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How much are energy prices rising in Italy this autumn?

Granted, Algeria, whose supplies currently make up 36 percent of Italy’s national demand, is expected to ramp up gas exports and provide Rome with nine billion cubic metres of gas in 2023.

But, even when combined with LNG supplies from several African partners – these should add up to a total of four billion cubic metres of gas in 2023 – there’s a risk that Algerian gas might not be able to replace Russian gas on its own.

An employee works at the Tunisian Sergaz company, that controls the Tunisian segment of the Trans-Mediterranean (Transmed) pipeline, through which natural gas flows from Algeria to Italy.

Algerian gas supplies, which reach Italy through the Trans-Med pipeline (pictured above), might not be enough to replace Russian gas in 2023. Photo by Fethi BELAID / AFP

Therefore, should an indefinite shut-off be the ultimate outcome of the current diplomatic incident between ENI, Austria’s Gas Connect and Russia’s Gazprom, Italy, this time in the person of new PM Giorgia Meloni, might have to close deals with other suppliers or ask existing suppliers to ramp up production. 

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