Political cheat sheet: Understanding Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party

As part of our introductions to Italy's main political parties ahead of the 2018 general election, we take a look at the party led by Silvio Berlusconi and the senior ally in his centre-right coalition: Forza Italia (FI).

Political cheat sheet: Understanding Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia party
Forza Italia supporters wave flags during a Berlusconi speech. Photo: Eliano Imperiato/AFP


The first thing to know about FI is that it was launched in its current form in late 2013, but first existed between 1994-2009. There are some key differences between the two incarnations of the party, most notably that the current FI is much smaller, due to several splits and break-away movements (several are listed here).

The original Forza Italia was a centre-right party founded by Silvio Berlusconi in 1993. It burst onto the political scene as a fresh new voice, taking advantage of a moment of crisis following the Mani Pulite investigation which had uncovered corruption in most of Italy’s main parties at the time.

Berlusconi launched a centre-right alliance in 2007, the People of Freedom (PdL), which became a full political party two years later and governed in coalition with the Northern League. But in 2013, that party was dissolved following a vote, and the new Forza Italia was born. 

Read our guides to Italy's other main parties:

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Silvio Berlusconi speaks on Italian television. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP


FI is centre-right and the party today is more liberal than the earlier Forza Italia, as some of the more rightwing and conservative factions formed separate parties. But FI is still very diverse, encompassing multiple factions. The party's own constitution says it is based on “the ideals of liberal democratic, liberal Catholic, secular and reformist European traditions”.

So what does that mean?

The party is much more pro-EU than its coalition allies in the 2018 election, and belongs to the European People's Party. It also supports close relations with both Russia – Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin are old friends – and the United States.

It's pro-business, which is no surprise given Berlusconi's background as a media magnate, and is supportive of low tax rates for business-owners and the wealthy. And it's recently taken a swing to the right on migration, with the party leader pledging to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from the country if successful in the election, and to block new arrivals.


The graph below (FI is shown in light blue) shows opinion polling ahead of the 2018 election. (The data from before November 2013 refers to FI's predecessor, the People of Freedom (PdL) party, and the split which took place between the new FI and the New Centre-Right (NCD – now the Popular Alternative) partly explains the drop in support after that.) 

Municipal elections in 2017 showed the party was on the rise as it took control of Genoa in the north and the Sicilian governorship. And although it is predicted to receive fewer votes than in the 2013 election, Berlusconi's strength has always been in coalition-building. This time, he's allied himself with two parties further to the right, the Northern League and Brothers of Italy, and in early February, polls were showing the alliance at 35-37 percent of the vote, not far off the 40 percent threshold needed to govern.

In this graph of Italian political opinion polls from February 2013 to January 2018, Forza Italia is marked in light blue, and seen as the third most popular single party as of January 2018. Graph: Impru20/Wikimedia Commons

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Key players

The party is led by Silvio Berlusconi, and it's fair to say that a lot of its supporters cast their votes solely for him. This might strike international observers as odd, since the four-time PM is currently ineligible to hold public office. But though the man famed for his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties and serial off-colour gaffes has been written off as a political force time and again, he always seems to come back fighting.

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Antonio Tajani is one of the likeliest Forza Italia candidates for prime minister in the upcoming election. He became President of the European Parliament in January 2017 after previous roles in the European Commission and as an MEP. Tajani was also one of the founding members of the original Forza Italia in 1994, and acted as Berlusconi's spokesperson in his first government. 

Italy's Tajani elected head of EU Parliament

Antonio Tajani reacts after his election. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

Renato Brunetta is the party's leader in the Chamber of Deputies, Italy's Lower House of Parliament, and was Italian Minister for Public Administration and Innovation between 2008 and 2011. The Venetian has a background in academia and journalism, with roles as an economics professor and economic adviser for three Italian Prime Ministers on his CV.

Giovanni Toti is the president of Liguria in northwestern Italy. After some time in the youth wing of the Italian Socialist Party, Toti became an intern at the Berlusconi-founded Mediaset broadcaster, and rose up the ranks there before entering politics in 2014 as an advisor to Forza Italia.

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Here’s the first glimpse of the Italian Silvio Berlusconi film

The trailer is finally here for Paolo Sorrentino's biopic of Silvio Berlusconi, a man who the director called "an archetype of Italianness".

Here's the first glimpse of the Italian Silvio Berlusconi film
A scene from Paolo Sorrentino's film about Silvio Berlusconi, Loro. Image: Universal Pictures International Italy/YouTube

Filmed in Rome and Tuscany last summer, the hotly anticipated Italian-language feature – titled Loro or “Them” – does not yet have an official release date, but is expected to premier at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Sorrentino, best known internationally for his Oscar-winning film La Grande Bellezza (The Great Beauty) and the TV series The Young Pope, has said he wanted to profile Italy's most infamous living politician because “he is an archetype of Italianness and through him, you can describe Italians”.

To judge by the trailer released on Monday, the film will focus at least as much on Berlusconi's personal life as his long career in media and politics. 

“I was interested in the man that’s behind the politics, but I am not so interested in the political stuff,” Sorrentino told the BBC last year, explaining that he would also tell the story of those around the businessman-turned-politician who tried to use his position to “change the course of their own life”. 

The teaser features multiple women, many of them scantily clad, but only a passing glimpse of Berlusconi, played by Toni Servillo. 

Paolo Sorrentino (L) and Toni Servillo with the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for La Grande Bellezza. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/AFP

The Neapolitan actor – who starred in La Grande Bellezza as well as Il Divo, Sorrentino's musical biopic of another former premier, Giulio Andreotti – has already impressed the Italian media with what La Repubblica called his “metamorphosis”. Photos from the set showed Servillo sporting Berlusconi's trademark tan and distinctive hairline; now he's winning praise for his spot-on impression of the four-time prime minister's voice.

We've only heard him say one line so far. Loro's trailer opens with a man's voice asking, “What did you expect: to be the richest man in the country, become prime minister and be madly loved by everyone too?” 

As Berlusconi, Servillo replies: “Yes, that's exactly what I expected.”

It's not clear if the real Berlusconi has seen the film. While he originally offered to allow Sorrentino to shoot inside his private villas, by October last year he said he had heard unwelcome rumours that the film might be a “political aggression towards me”.   

According to La Repubblica, Sorrentino did get the chance to meet Berlusconi's second ex-wife, Veronica Lario, with whom the politician is engaged in a long-running legal battle over alimony. Played by Elena Sofia Ricci, Lario also features in the trailer, looking mournful on a trampoline.

Berlusconi's pet poodle Dudù also makes an appearance. 

The teaser comes just a week after Berlusconi's greatest political defeat to date: his Forza Italia party won just 14 percent of the vote in Italy's general election, making it second within the centre-right bloc to the populist League. Should the group manage to form a government, the League – not Berlusconi – now gets to decide who will be prime minister.

Little has been seen or heard from Berlusconi publicly since the results came in. Many expect it to be the last time that the 81-year-old leads his party into an election, despite his supposed political immortality.

“The world has an idea of Berlusconi [as] a very simple person,” Sorrentino told the BBC. “But… I understood that he is more and more complicated than this. I would love to try to describe this complex character.”