You ain't seen nothing yet
23 March 2018 18:35 (South Africa)

Your guide to the new-look Italy, Greece and Spain

  • Rebecca Davis
    bec photo
    Rebecca Davis

    Rebecca Davis studied at Rhodes University and Oxford before working in lexicography at the Oxford English Dictionary. After deciding she’d rather make up words than define them, she returned to South Africa in 2011 to write for the Daily Maverick, which has been a magnificilious decision.  

  • Politics
greece spain italy

Within a few weeks, we’ve seen power change hands in Italy, Greece and Spain. Finding it hard to keep up? REBECCA DAVIS tries to make sense of it all.

It’s enough to make your head spin. If it wasn’t enough that in 2011 we’ve had to learn the names of new leaders in half the Arab world, now Europe’s gone and changed the team too. Here’s your cheat-sheet guide to the new bosses of Italy, Greece and Spain.


Old guard: The cabinet of Silvio Berlusconi, 8 May 2008 – 16 November 2011. Twenty-four ministers in total, in a coalition between Berlusconi’s Popolo della Liberta party (centre-right), Lega Nord and the Movement for Autonomy.

Prime Minister: Silvio Berlusconi, the longest-serving post-war Prime Minister of Italy

Best known for: Sex scandals and corruption allegations; being the owner of AC Milan; ranked by Forbes as the 118th richest man in the world (net worth of US $6.2 billion).

In his own words: “If occasionally I happen to look a beautiful girl in the face, it’s better to like beautiful girls than to be gay” (November 2010, motorcycle industry show).

What went wrong: Berlusconi’s leadership was dogged by scandal for years. He owns the largest broadcasting company in Italy, Mediaset, and was repeatedly accused of holding the Italian media in an iron grip. Allegations that he had appointed underage prostitutes to service his notorious “bunga bunga” parties did nothing for his credibility. His ultimate downfall, however, was his failure to push economic reforms through parliament, resulting in his losing the parliamentary majority. Berlusconi resigned on 16 November.

Proposed future career: Full-time legal defendant. Berlusconi faces a December packed with legal battles now that he can no longer claim immunity from prosecution. Hearings begin this week for trials related to fraud charges and paying under-age girls for sex.

New guard: The cabinet of Mario Monti, 16 November 2011 – present. Seventeen ministers altogether, 12 with portfolio and five without. All are technocrats, with more than a third being academics.

Prime Minister: Mario Monti, economist, academic and previously senator.

Best known for: Blocking General Electric’s $40 billion takeover of Honeywell, while acting as Europe’s competition czar; being very clever (he is described as having a “huge intellect”); not being elected – he was appointed by President Giorgio Napolitano.

In his own words: “Up until now Italy was part of the problem, now it is part of the solution.” (20 November 2011)

Toughest Cabinet jobs: Corrado Passera, CEO of Banca Intesa Sanpaolo, takes on the unenviable portfolio of Economic Development and Infrastructure. Paola Severino has been appointed Italy’s first female justice minister, and faces the difficult task of overseeing the handling of Berlusconi’s multiple days in court. Monti himself has it worst, however, as he’s taken on the role of minister of Economy and Finance himself. Brave man.

Biggest challenges: Lowering Italy’s borrowing costs, currently at the unsustainable level of 7%; restoring the Italian public’s faith in the political system; countering the protests of Italian students who criticise the new leaders for being a “bankers’ cabinet” 



Old guard: The second cabinet of George Papandreou, 7 October 2009 – 15 June 2011. Forty-one cabinet members drawn mainly from the Pasok party (social democratic)

Prime Minister: George Papandreou

Best known for: Being the third member of his family to serve as Greek Prime Minister; focusing on human rights (he was the first Greek politician to introduce affirmative action for the Muslim minority); working to foster closer relations with Cyprus, Turkey and Albania.

In his own words: “I would not wish my worst enemy to face what I’m going through.” (7 November 2011)

What went wrong: Papandreou inherited a government with a budget deficit of 12.7% of GDP and public debt of $410 billion. The economic crisis saw this state of affairs worsen drastically during his time in office, with his austerity measures widely seen as insufficient. For the man himself, the ultimate death-knell was his strange proposal on 31 October to hold a public referendum on the EU’s bailout deals, which caused so much outcry that he dropped it almost immediately. Despite surviving a confidence vote in parliament on 5 November, Papandreou agreed to step aside and formally resigned on 10 November.

Proposed future career: Technically Papandreou is still head of the Pasok party, but he’s unlikely to survive terribly long. Given that he’s been accused of suffering from “euthinophobia”, the fear of responsibility and duty, we suggest that George packs it in for a nice long retirement.

New guard: The interim cabinet of Lucas Papademos, made up of a coalition between Pasok, the New Democracy party and the Popular Orthodox Rally party, 11 November 2011 – present. Most cabinet members served under Papandreou but there are 12 new ministers, nine of whom are new to government office.

Prime Minister: Lucas Papademos, former governor of the Bank of Greece and ex European Central Bank vice-president

Best known for: Having a PhD in economics; overseeing Greece’s move from the drachma to the euro; being a strong advocate of fiscal discipline; not being elected

In his own words: “I am not a politician but I have dedicated the biggest part of my career to economic policy in Europe and Greece.” (10 November 2011)

Toughest Cabinet jobs: Undoubtedly Papademos’s own. The role of Greek Prime Minister is described currently as a “poisoned chalice”. The fact that he has no political experience renders him vulnerable to being undermined in parliament, and while his past work for the eurozone gives him strong European support, it also opens him up to criticism within a country which sees the EU and IMF as having too much influence over Greece’s internal affairs.

Biggest challenges: Where do we start? He has to push through more austerity measures in order to ratify the latest chunk of bailout aid, and he has to do it quickly because Greece is heading for bankruptcy mid-December. In order to do this he has to convince an angry country of striking workers that further austerity measures are indispensable to the country’s economic health. Good luck, sir. 



Old guard: The government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party, 17 April 2004 – 20 November 2011

Prime Minister: Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero

Best known for: Withdrawing Spanish troops from the Iraq war; legalising same-sex marriage; championing women (in his first cabinet he appointed equal numbers of men and women, and in his second, more women)

In his own words: "I don't want to be a great leader. I would rather be a good democrat." (22 November 2004)

What went wrong: As with Papandreou and Berlusconi, Zapatero’s downfall was his perceived inability to handle Spain’s economic crisis. Under his leadership unemployment has spiralled to the highest within the eurozone, at 21, 5%, and youth unemployment over 40%. Through leftie measures like legalising gay marriage and reforming abortion law, he is also accused of having polarised left and right factions within the country. On 2 April 2011 he announced that he would not be seeking re-election.

Proposed future career: He stays on as caretaker PM for another month. After that, there’s certainly a job available for him as Mr Bean’s body double – the physical similarity between Zapatero and Rowan Atkinson is a longstanding joke in Spain.

New guard: The government of Mariano Rajoy and the People’s Party (centre-right), who won 44% of Sunday’s vote and will be sworn in on 20 December 2011

Prime Minister: Mariano Rajoy, leader of the Opposition

Best known for: Presiding over the biggest electoral win for any party in three decades; failing in two previous bids for election victory; being patient and uncharismatic; growing a beard because car crash injuries prevented him from shaving.

In his own words: "There won't be any miracles. We never promised any." (20 November 2011)

Toughest cabinet jobs: Rajoy will be looking to whoever is appointed as foreign minister to compensate for his own lack of international experience and limited English. As with all three countries, though, worst job hands down will be the economy ministry.

Biggest challenges: Economy, economy, economy. News of the election victory failed to lift the financial markets, and Spain’s borrowing rate is edging towards 6.5% – not far from the danger zone of 7%. They will also have to tackle the unemployment crisis. In their favour, however, is the fact that their majority is sufficient to ensure that they won’t have to rely on support from any other parties to push policies through. DM


  • Rebecca Davis
    bec photo
    Rebecca Davis

    Rebecca Davis studied at Rhodes University and Oxford before working in lexicography at the Oxford English Dictionary. After deciding she’d rather make up words than define them, she returned to South Africa in 2011 to write for the Daily Maverick, which has been a magnificilious decision.  

  • Politics

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