Home > 2007-2010 news from Italy, G8 > G8 diary – Berlusconi ’serene’ ahead of G8 summit

G8 diary – Berlusconi ’serene’ ahead of G8 summit

July 6, 2009

“Everything is ready. I feel completely serene.”

Silvio Berlusconi, Italy’s three-time prime minister and billionaire media mogul, is confident in the success of the G8 summit he is hosting this week in the quake-ravaged city of L’Aquila.

For Berlusconi, 72, it will be the third G8 summit he has chaired, following Naples in 1994 and Genoa eight years ago. No other leader of the rich countries’ club has such a distinction and this summit will be the biggest to date, bringing together a total of 39 heads of government and international institutions.

The summit venue is the college compound of the Finance Ministry police, a cross between a military barracks and university campus about two km outside L’Aquila which was devastated by an earthquake on April
6. Nearly 300 people in the city and surrounding villages were killed and about 60,000 are still homeless, more than 22,000 living in government-provided tents.

The three-day summit starts on Wednesday but world leaders have already
started arriving in Rome. China’s Hu Jintao attended a business
conference on Monday where 38 agreements reported to total $2bn were
signed between Italian and Chinese companies, including car-maker Fiat
and Generali, Italy’s insurance giant breaking into the Chinese
pensions market.

Whether everything is really ready in L’Aquila is not clear. The media
centre for some 3,500 reporters was to open on Monday but has been put
back a day. But sidewalks have been covered in green carpeting and
approach roads resurfaced. A blanket security presence will keep away
any disgruntled tent people or anti-global protesters.

Almost daily aftershocks have added to the logistics nightmare of
shifting the venue to L’Aquila from the original site at La Maddalena,
a small island off Sardinia that had presented its own serious
accommodation problems.

Italian media report that under Plan B, world leaders could be
evacuated and flown to Rome in the event of another major tremor
measuring more than 4.0 on the Richter scale, but only if the summit
complex showed signs of damage. The April 6 quake measured 6.3. A
tremor of 4.1 shook the area last Friday, sending people back out into
the streets.

“There is no risk,” Mr Berlusconi told Il Giornale, a newspaper owned
by his brother.  “Even if there was another shock, the guests would be
completely safe.”

Mr Berlusconi is in serious need of a smooth and successful summit seen
to produce concrete results. Communiques on climate change and food
security could yield tangible progress. Italy is spearheading an
effort, backed by Germany, that is intended to lead to a systematic
working out of “global standards” for international business and
finance. Ethics has become a buzz-word.

Iran could also come in for a tough verbal lashing although Mr
Berlusconi has back-tracked since he earlier indicated he expected
sanctions to be imposed, even though the G8 is not the right forum for
such decisions.

At home and abroad, the prime minister’s standing has been seriously
damaged by a series of scandals surrounding his private life that began
when his wife, Veronica Lario, accused him of “frequenting minors” over
his unclear relationship with an 18-year-old would-be model. Since then
it has emerged that prosecutors are investigating whether a businessman
in Bari suspected of corruption also procured prostitutes for the prime
minister. Several women have gone public with their salacious tales.

Mr Berlusconi calls it all garbage and lies concocted by the left-wing
“walking corpse” opposition.Despite repeated claims that he is
completely unmoved by the media furore, his office has threatened to
sue foreign newspapers, specifically those belonging to the Murdoch
group, if they published photographs of his private parties.

Known for his attention to logistical detail, Mr Berlusconi has
overseen preparations in L’Aquila led by Guido Bertolaso, the
government’s Mr Fix-it who heads the civil protection agency which is
also in charge of earthquake relief.

A basket ball hoop has been specially installed for Barack Obama, US
president, outside his P1 accommodation block.

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