European Law Blog #17 – Berlusconi Sentenced

European Law Blog #17 – Berlusconi Sentenced

On Monday came the shocking news that the 76-year-old former prime minister of Italy and infamous Lothario Silvio Berlusconi has been sentenced to seven years ‘in jail’. We say ‘in jail’ because the chances of him spending any time behind bars is highly unlikely, we suspect he will actually be loving life on a yacht for the foreseeable future. Elsewhere, the EU (Referendum) Bill was presented to Parliament this week by Tory backbencher, James Wharton MP. We also have some news from France, where their patience with the EU institutions is wearing thin. Of course, there’s another Tiny European Country profile, which is quickly turning into the highlight of ELB’s week.

‘I’m absolutely innocent’: Silvio sentenced

‘Banned’ from public office

The judgment, given in Milan, that concluded a two-year trial process has held that Silvio Berlusconi is to receive a sentence of seven years’ imprisonment and a permanent ban from public office for (1) having sex with a prostitute who was underaged at the time and (2) abusing his powers of public office. The sentence given was one year higher than that demanded by the prosecution in the case.

‘I don’t want in any way to abandon my battle to make Italy a country that is truly free and just.’

– Berlusconi, after the verdict

In relation to (1), it was alleged that Berlusconi had intercourse with the woman 13 times after inviting the woman concerned, Karima El Mahroug, to several of his ‘bunga-bunga’ parties in 2010, when she was 17 and he was still serving as PM of Italy. These parties were said to be private dinners where the women were invited to undertake some burlesque dancing, though the prosecution argued that these parties were created by Berlusconi for the purposes of prostitution. In Italy, employing the services of a prostitute is legal, but is restricted to those who are over 18.

In relation to (2), it was argued that Berlusconi had abused his position of authority by achieving the release of El Mahroug when she was arrested for an unrelated petty theft case, apparently for fear that she would reveal their relationship.

Image courtesy of Alessio85 on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence

Image courtesy of Alessio85 on Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence

Both Berlusconi and El Mahroug deny that they have had intercourse with each other and continue to protest their innocence, saying that the payment of €7,000 from Berlusconi to El Mahroug after the parties was a ‘gift’ and nothing more – though she admitted to lying about this in a separate trial. Berlusconi has argued that the case was a conspiracy by the left-wing judiciary to deprive him of power. According to BBC News’ Alan Johnston, there are many millions of Italians who believe Berlusconi’s theory. However, it is highly unlikely that he will attend his sentence in prison for two reasons. First, he will not carry out his sentence until he has exhausted the appeals process, which has been described as ‘lengthy’. Second, Italy has particularly lenient sentencing guidelines for those over 70.

The real problem, it is argued, is the major repercussions it will have on the political reputation and stability of the Italian coalition, which Berlusconi’s party is a part of. Having stalled for months in creating a government and with the worrying level of poverty rising in the country, Prime Minister Enrico Letta must deal with the possibility that the support of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party could be withdrawn. The BBC reports that Berlusconi could withdraw his support, upon which Letta depends, if the government does not protect him sufficiently, as well as the problems caused by Berlusconi’s ban from public office. What is certain is that Italy really doesn’t need this right now.

For the details of Berlusconi numerous criminal convictions and trials, see the BBC’s dedicated Q&A.

Wharton to the rescue: Referendum Bill published

Bill passes first reading

‘Do you think that the United Kingdom should
be a member of the European Union?’

– the question to appear on the referendum ballot.

On 19 June 2013, backbench MP James Wharton published the EU (Referendum) Bill. It was described as: ‘A Bill to make provision for the holding of a referendum in the United Kingdom on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union.’ According to The Spectator, the Bill includes some changes that attempt to tighten the Bill’s grip on the successive Parliament. The Bill includes the following provision:

The Secretary of State shall by order, and before 31 December 2016, appoint the
day on which the referendum is to be held. (section 1(3))

It also requires that the referendum be held before 31 December 2017 (section 1(2)). Does the principle that Parliament cannot bind its successors still exist?

Protests in Turkey threaten EU membership

Talks already at ‘glacial pace’

Following the escalating protests in Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands have registered their intention to block membership talks with Turkey. The blocking comes in the form of stalling talks about Turkey progressing onto their next EU policy area. EU ambassadors failed to reach a decision on whether to continue the talks because of Germany’s resistance and, if they do not change their mind, the talks will have to be postponed or cancelled.

Image courtesy of Meghan Rutherford on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence

Image courtesy of Meghan Rutherford on Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence

Germany has cited the crackdown on the protests by the Turkish police as a reason for resisting membership talks. Chancellor Angela Merkel had previously expressed that she was ‘appalled’ by the Turkish response to protestors before the move to block talks had been made. Some argue it is a play for election support by Merkel, whose party has pledged to resist Turkey’s accession in their manifesto. Supporters of Turkish membership argue that, at this time, the EU should be trying to improve civil rights and the rule of law in Turkey, rather than pushing them away.

The protests began against the privatisation of a park in Istanbul, but soon developed into anti-government protests and spread to the capital city, Ankara. The police have used tear gas and water cannons to break up the protests in Istanbul, resulting in several people being injured, despite the protest being reported as peaceful

Continental news round-up

The alternative Italian party the Five Star Movement has expelled one of their MPs from the party for criticising its leader, comedian Beppe Grillo.

‘This Brussels disease is going to be deadly for Europeans.’

– Arnaud Montebourg, French minister

The French Minister of Industry, Arnaud Montebourg, has criticised EU Commission President Jose Barroso for encouraging the far-right in France. He argues that the failure of the EU to engage with ordinary people has caused support to grow for extremist parties.

Reuters reports that polls are continually showing the anti-EU sentiment is rising fastest in France.

The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle has revealed that the EU authorities have known about the US’ Prism surveillance and yet did not confront the US authorities. The EU authorities received criticism in a 2012 European Parliament report regarding the matter.

A report has recommended a EU-wide training certificate for university lecturers in order to ensure teaching quality at degree level.

The Express has excitingly revealed that a Cumbrian pencil museum received more visitors in 2012 than the visitors’ centre of the European Parliament in Brussels. To be fair, it is the only pencil museum in the world and at £4.25 it is clearly a bargain.

The Commission has threatened the UK and France with legal action if they do not reduce the track access fees for the Eurotunnel.

Tiny European Country of the Week (TECoW)

This one is technically not a country, but ELB finds the nation of Gibraltar quite fascinating. A rock on the coast of southern Spain with a Marks & Spencer. What more could one want?

Image courtesy of Normann on Flickr under the Creative Commons Licence

Image courtesy of Normann on Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence

Name: Gibraltar
Location: Shares a land border with southern Spain at the end of the Iberian peninsula
Demonym: Gibraltarian
Official languages: English
Economy: Stable and dominated by four areas: financial services (it has a 0 per cent corporation tax), internet gaming, shipping and tourism (its goods are VAT free).
Currency: Great British Pound
Political status: British Overseas Territory, mainly governs its own affairs with the exceptions of defence and foreign affairs, which are dealt with by Westminster. It rejected calls for Spanish sovereignty in 1967 and 2002. It joined the EU with the UK in 1973.
Fun fact: It will soon have its own stock exchange, the GibEx. It is also one of the most densely populated areas on Earth with a population of 28,750 people in an area of 2.25 square miles.

The ELB is written by Associate Editor of TSL, Natalie Hearn. Law Graduate from the University of Birmingham, prospective EU Law Masters student at UCL, currently teaching English in Japan. Follow her on Twitter: @ninjahearn

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