Italy begins the process of electing its president today. At 3pm the grandi elettori gather in the equivalent of the Commons: senators, deputies of the Lower House, life senators (including former president Napolitano) and representatives of the Italian regions who are themselves Party members of most of the major parties in the Parliament. There are 1009 of them, 58 from the regions. On the first three ballots a two thirds majority is required for election - 673 votes. From the fourth ballot 505 votes suffice.
The inconvenience of the two thirds majority is usually overcome by major parties voting blank on the first three ballots; then they get down to it. Matteo Renzi has stated that the Partito Democratico's candidate is Sergio Mattarella, a distinguished judge of the constitutional court. Well, after the Napolitano disgraceful and unconstitutional years that sounds just the job. He won't be pushing into what is none of his business and may even undo the damage of a rampaging egoist and European Union fanatic warping the basis of Italian democracy.
Unfortunately the rampaging egoist etc., is working away, despite retirement, to replace himself with Giuliano Amato - the author of every major European Treaty: from Lisbon to Rome Amato and his committee have dotted every i, crossed every t. He has as well a certain reputation as Craxi's man and even now that isn't lived down easily. Craxi who fled the country and spent the rest of his life in Tunisia. Which brings us to Berlusconi. Not, of course, a socialist, and not fled, but convicted and determined to have that conviction lifted (and who can blame him, hounded from office by threats of prosecution and public shaming when he threatened Italy's commitment to Europe-ever-closer...)
Berlusconi has been in alliance with Renzi throughout Renzi's administration - to the fury of the old CP sections of the Partito Demcratico not least because the alliance across the political divide of centre left and centre right deprive them of all power. (What a pity Blair never allied with Conservative forces against the Brown/Balls/ Miliband tendency). Berlusconi's price for agreeing to Mattarella is his re-admittance, formally, into political life; he's been banned for some years so necessarily his style is hampered, acting from the back with proxies who tend to get above themselves. Mattarella, being the man he is, doesn't look the sort of president to hand out pardons to tax-evaders. So the lifting of Berlusconi's judicial shadows is going to have to come from Renzi and his administration. And that is going down very badly in the PD, who made 'hating Berlusconi' their mode of being, their only political purpose, for years. (Yes, silly, wasteful, irrelevant but the Left usually is).
Provision has been made, by tagging a special little clause to a much bigger piece of legislation, that gets Berlusca in the clear; but Renzi has put back the vote until after the presidential election. Anyone can imagine the fury on the Left as the Prime Minister drains power further into his hands. Napolitano gone and replaced by a severe constitutionalist who will retreat into the proper conduct of the office of president; Berlusconi absolved yet remaining in alliance even though he has been forced to accept a president of the Right who is not his first choice; the office of prime minister strengthened by the ending of perfect bi-cameralism and the stripping of power from the Senate; and, most of all, a prime minister no longer answerable to a disloyal Party (at least in large part) and undisturbed by inappropriate Presidential intervention.
It's not just Greece that is challenging northern European austerity and the imposition of damaging economic and fiscal policies on other parts of the Union. Renzi has had to sort out his own backyard first but he's nearly there - then there's hope he can bring some of the sillier, even dangerous, European ascendency to heel.